liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,
liz_marcs
liz_marcs

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To All the Tourists I've Loved (And Not Loved) Before...

Someone on my FList was asking about Boston (namely, how the hell to get free tourist literature) and it set my mind down a strange and bend-y path, namely, a semi-rant against tourism.

Or to put it more specifically, what I call "Ugly American Tourism."

So, as the tourist season fast approaches in my corner of the world, bringing with it the attendant joys and frustrations that tourists can bring, I've decided to share my thoughts as a life-long resident of "tourist central."

I suspect that these rules will apply to just about everyplace that is tourist central, and will echo the words of quite a few people who live in such places.

This may get rant-y in some parts. There may also be some use of bad language.

Just remember that I'm sharing this out of love.

[For a more positive take on tourist-love, check outbellatemple's Tourism is a dead language. It's equally as true as my own semi-rant below.]



1. When you act like an Ugly American, we hate you.

Part of it is that we're infuriated at your rudeness. This is our city and you are a guest. Would you walk into your neighbor's house and take a dump on the carpet? Then what makes you think that it's perfectly okay for you to take a metaphorical dump in our city?

Look, I'll be the first person to admit that Boston is far from perfect, but its issues really aren't all that different from any other large American city. What might make us a little different is that International Brigade of Tourists that descend on the city like clockwork.

Here's the thing to keep in mind: like people everywhere, everything you heard about us is true and false in equal measure. Yes, we are a proud, arrogant bunch. Yes, we are probably screamingly liberal compared to many parts of the U.S. Yes, we can tend to be reserved when dealing with people outside of our comfort zone. Yes, we can be provincial to fault in our world view, even when we are taking the rest of the world into account. And the way we talk to each other, even to our friends...

Well, there are definitely parts of the country that would label it "brusque" at best, and "rude" at worst. However, we don't see it as rude, we see it as normal communication. And no, we're not afraid to share our thoughts on yaoi, early and often. Argument is the mode of conversation around here.

All of the above being true (and somewhat false), you will find that we're are exceedingly helpful and polite when we come face-to-face with a confused and lost tourist. Truly. We'll dump so much information and helpful hints on your head that you'll get dizzy from information overload.

The key is: Be polite. That means using the words "please" and "thank you." That means asking instead of demanding. That means not unfavorably comparing Boston and its people to whatever corner of paradise you call home. That means not ripping apart the city and its people while you ask the local to do you a favor. A little honey will get you far around here, especially when it's clear that you're a tourist.

Plus, when you act like an Ugly American, you do more than piss us off, you embarrass us. We're your countrymen, for Christ's sake (regardless of what certain politicians and religious leaders like to claim about us). If you act like an ass, that reflects poorly on us, too, especially when we're showing a friend who isn't American around our beloved city.


2. Boston is our home, and we love it even when we hate it. We're proud of our city, so stop acting like you smell something bad.

We're proud of Boston (even when we're embarrassed by it). We like to show it off. We like to talk about how we're from here even when we are here (even though there are days we'd like to move to someplace with less baggage).

Look, do you want to know what's cool about being from the Greater Boston Area? No matter where I go in most of the world, I can say, "I'm from the Boston area" and everyone knows what that means. History. Education. Art. Theater. Culture.

Sure, they may imperfectly understand some things (My favorite conversation was with a New Orleans native who had never left her city in Jackson Square who became my best friend for life when she found out where I was from. Then she shared with me how her life-long dream was to move to Boston because, and I quote, "You're all so educated and rich and beautiful. Living in a city like that must be heaven." My response, "Ummmm, are you actually looking at me or someone else?"), but they've got an image in their head about what Boston and a Bostonian is.

We love showing off Boston. Visit, and we'll probably offer to take you on a tour personally if we know you even slightly. We love taking you places that you'll never see if you read the tour guides or come with a tour group. We'll offer to drive to some off-the-beaten-path places if we've got the time to spare.

That whole "Shining city on the hill" bit? Deep down inside, we actually believe that shit, even if there's not a single one of us that would admit to it. Although it's really hard to deny believing it when you're on the Mass Ave Bridge at night and looking at the lit-up gold capital dome because, dude, shining city on the hill in the flesh.

So, if you feel the need to share how awful in general you find the city with a random stranger who actually lives here, don't expect sunshine and puppies as a response. You may have some good points, we may even agree with some of what you say. However, you are not from here. You are a stranger and, by definition, are talking out of your ass. We live with these problems and work to fix them every day and, like citizens in any large U.S. metropolitan area, our successes are variable at best. That said, unless you're willing to stay, roll up your sleeves, and help fix things that are broken or need a little work, please refrain from gleefully pointing out how much (in your humble opinion) we all suck.


3. Yes, we really are Americans, so stop demanding that we wave the American flag in your face to prove it. We work our assess off preserving historical sites, often times using tax money. That's how we show our patriotism.

This is one of those stories that fall into a head-scratching territory. I've more than once during my college years heard tourists complain that there aren't nearly enough American flags on the Freedom Trail.

No shit.

It isn't that there aren't any American flags around, it's just that there aren't a whole lot at any of the historical sites. Not on the Freedom Trail, not on Battle Road through Lexington and Concord, and not anywhere that's of any real historical importance. They're there, but sometimes you have to look for them.

Saying, hell, even suggesting that this "lapse" indicates a lack of patriotic spirit is going to get you a fist to the face.

The thing is, Boston goes above and beyond preserving historical sites. We're a city where the oddly-shaped glass skyscraper is right next door to some brick brownstone dating back to the early 1700s that hasn't been torn down because John Adams once stopped by to say "hi" to the owners. We are the land of historically important cemeteries dating back to the 1600s sandwiched between buildings of 20th century construction. Putting a fresh coat of paint on some buildings is liable to start a city-wide war if the paint color used doesn't exactly match what would've been available at the time of the building's construction.

History isn't just a spectator sport around here. It's serious fucking business.

How serious?

One sport the locals engage in is making fun of the overly patriotic videos shown in some of the stops on the Freedom Trail and pointing out where they're following U.S. History text book reality instead of historical accuracy reality. We do it not because we Hate America(tm), but because we're really fucking patriotic. Besides, the truth is a hell of a lot more fun and interesting, so listen to the nice locals on this point, okay? We know our history, by osmosis if nothing else. Why? Because it stares us in the face 24-7, that's why.

So, if we decide to mark the Freedom Trail using a red-brick path or red paint where the red bricks don't go instead of lining the street with American flags, I really think you should give us a bye on that one. If it weren't for us, there'd be no Freedom Trail at all.


4. July 4 is a really bad time to visit. Pick another date, okay?

Look, I understand that July 4 in Boston is one of those places you need to visit before you die. It's like New Year's Eve in Times Square, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and Halloween in Salem. You gotta go because it's a thing.

Take my advice: Don't. Just don't.

All the locals who can leave that week pack their bags and run like hell so they're anywhere but here. The city is filled up with tourists to the point where it's about to burst. Traffic is a bitch. The T is stuffed full of people who have no fucking clue on where they're going. The local tour-guide operators are over-worked and in fear of their lives from stressed out, over-heated tourists.

Boston in early July is hell on earth. It's two belligerent drunks away from a city-wide riot. It's one errantly tossed cigarette away from the Great Chicago Fire.

In short, it's an apocalypse waiting to happen.

Trust me. Just stay away. You'll be happier for it.


5. We're glad you've decided to use your precious vacation time to come and visit us. Really. But please remember: Boston is a working city and real people live here.

Somewhat related to Point 1 on this list, but in case I was being too subtle before:

If you act like Boston is a place where nobody actually lives and is some kind of poorly-designed, soulless, historically-themed amusement park that employs a bunch of minimum-wave drones who dress up in local costume and pretend to live here for your amusement, we're going to slap you down and hard.

I've had people ask me why everyone in Boston has a "normal" accent. I've had people ask me in the middle of a conversation to say, "Pahk tha cah in Hahvahd Yahd." I've heard people complain that they have to (Horrors!) take public transportation or (God forbid!) walk from Point A to Point B because driving a car in and around Boston is just not pleasant. I've heard people standing in the middle of a sidewalk and gapping at the pretty historical buildings during morning rush-hour bitch that the crowd of people rushing to get to work on time nearly ran them over.

Listen, everyone around here understands that tourism is important. It's a major industry around here. We get visitors from all over the world. We get it.

However, it's not all about you.

Boston is a living, breathing city that has to serve the people who actually live and work here. It is here to serve us (even if it sometimes rides the failboat there). It exists because of us.

It does not exist for you. We accommodate you when and where we can, but you are not the primary concern. You're not even the secondary concern. Or the third. If you're in the Top 10 of Boston Concerns, it's because of the sheer number of tourists we deal with on a daily basis even during the off-season. So, yeah, you get catered to, somewhat. But Boston is not going to stop being Boston just because you want it to be something else.

So if you catch yourself thinking that Boston is chaotic (it is), and noisy (oh, hell yeah), and dirty (some neighborhoods are filthy), and way too much like the big city near where you live, here's a newsflash: It's exactly like the big-ass city near where you live, only with a lot more statues and plaques marking historical sites.


6. Enjoy your stay!

That's not sarcastic. Honestly. Should you decide to visit my corner of the world, I really do hope you enjoy your visit. There's a lot to recommend Boston as a place to visit, and it's definitely more than the sum of its historical parts.

We hope that you like the joint, and we do hope you come back to visit again. After all, we love to show off, and there's nothing more fun than showing off for visitors who can appreciate the show for what it is.

And on that note, I wish you happy traveling.
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