Attempting to be ‘good’ tourists on our last day in Amman
I love travel. I love planes. I love airports. I love that feeling of getting another stamp in my passport, of going into unchartered territory, of waking up on the other side of the world.
But I hate being a tourist. I hate associating with tourists. I despise the wide-eyed wonder and giggles of tourists when they see naked children beside the road. I groan at the “Well, that looks different! I wonder what it tastes like!” said loudly from the table across the room. I cringe when people stop in the middle of the road, lost and discombobulated.
For years the words “I’m not a tourist! I live here.” were on my lips when I went to bazaars in the Middle East. Even if I didn’t live in the place, I learned the phrase just so I could set myself apart.
I purposely try to book apartments off of websites or stay in guesthouses instead of hotels, just so I can give off the air that I know what I’m doing.
The problem is – sometimes I am a tourist. Often I don’t belong and I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know where to eat or shop. I don’t know local customs and can barely say hello. I don’t know any idioms and I don’t know how to get places.
I am a tourist. I am traveling or visiting a place for “pleasure.” That is the definition of being a tourist. I don’t live and work in the country I am visiting. I am not on a work trip. I am a tourist.
So why is it so hard to admit?
When you have lived in a place that others only visit, that place, that city and country, become a part of your soul and your heartbeat. You see through the lenses of one who lives there. You know where the best places are for fruit and vegetables; you have a favorite restaurant; you have friends and develop community. And when you’ve done that in a couple of different countries then it seems impossible to just visit places for pure pleasure. There has to be more. You have to connect and communicate across the boundaries that being a tourist perpetuates. When you know what it is to communicate on a deeper level, it is so difficult to feel stuck in the role of tourist; the role of one who is present only for “pleasure.” Not to work, not to live, just for fun. Somehow it seems wrong.
But the reality is, it isn’t wrong. Being a tourist can help people learn and grow, help people to see the world through new eyes. If tourism is done right, then people gain knowledge of a new place and new people. They see the old through tours, museums, and ruins. They see the new through interacting with real people on streets and in stores. Being a tourist is not a bad thing. Being a tourist can help us learn about governments and problems in countries, can help us learn to be better people and better stewards.
While living and working in a country is definitely my favorite, either long or short term, there are sometimes when I have no choice but to admit that I’m a tourist. My question then becomes “How can I be a ‘good’ tourist?”
But that’s for another day.
How about you? Are you a TCK or MK who hates being a tourist? Would love to hear your stories through the comments.