As promised, I have another juicy topic relating to my Europe trip this past summer to write about extensively this week.
Well, at least I think it’s juicy. Really, it’s more of an observation I made several times throughout my trip and have been reflecting on since returning. The good news is that I think most of you will be able to relate to it in one way or another at some point in your lives.
Cleveland has become a pretty popular city in recent years. Some may be reluctant to admit it, but it is true. There are a number of features Cleveland has to offer, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, LeBron James (again, finally!) and the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic hospital.
These features, in addition to many others, have attracted a large number of tourists. I interact with them weekly in the Papyrus store at Beachwood Place Mall where I work, and I see them almost every time I go downtown.
And, I have to admit, they can be pretty annoying. The worst part is being frequently subjected to a series of questions in which you can only understand maybe three of the words they are saying.
I won’t deny it: there have been many times when tourists have wandered into Papyrus. And, after spending 15 minutes or more trying to explain our sales and such to them, I would subtly turn and roll my eyes at my co-workers or make a comment about the tourists after they left.
That is, I did this until I experienced what it is like to be a tourist in a foreign country firsthand.
The theme of my previous column was discomfort, and it is entirely applicable in this column as well. I mean, I really did not understand the humility behind being a tourist until I was thrown into it headfirst.
I spent over two weeks of my time abroad trying to disguise my American-ness. In Spain, I made repeated, valiant efforts to speak Spanish to the locals.
This was often to no avail. My accent, in addition to my blonde hair, blue eyes and milky skin, made it immediately obvious that I did not belong among the gloriously dark-skinned Spaniards.
Afterwards, I had no chance of disguising myself with language in Italy. In all seriousness, the only Italian words I know are “ciao,” “grazie” and “per favore.”
So, instead of attempting to verbally communicate with the locals, I just pretended to know where I was going and what I was doing. I refused to ask for directions from any Italians, even when I was painfully lost, and especially after my sister and I were mercilessly pickpocketed.
I was adament on not looking like a tourist. It deeply bothered me to imagine myself in such a position. I did not want to be associated with the other stereotypical tourists who could only speak English, crowded the subways and got in the way of everyone’s pictures.
However, I soon came to an astounding realization: I was a tourist.
Mindblowing, right? Well, it was for me at the time. I had spent so much time and energy worrying about being perceived as an American tourist. But the bottom line was that I was indeed a tourist.
And why should I be ashamed of that? Why should anyone be ashamed? Don’t we want to take pride in our countries and share their unique beauty with others? Don’t we want others to understand and appreciate the world’s diverse cultures?
I truly wonder when the word “tourist” became such an insult. I think people should be commended for being brave enough to visit somewhere strange and exotic. Why wouldn’t that be strongly encouraged?
Being a tourist is an experience that everyone has at some point in their lives. The very nature of it is incredibly humbling, and it forces you to reconsider your attitude towards those who want to experience our wonderful country for themselves.
So, on behalf of all the tourists in the world exploring new horizons right now, I implore you, my readers, to think twice before rolling your eyes or making fun of those who are trying to find their way through our city.
Give them a hand, even, because one day you just may find yourself in the same position.