Am I a Hypocrite for Hating Tourists?

“What a beautiful day in New York,” I think to myself as I walk with my friend Cristen down Fifth Avenue. The sun is shining and I’m excited to visit some art galleries before heading over to the beautiful Central Park to hear some live music and play Frisbee. I’m in such a great mood, I believe nothing can bother me today.

That is, until sidewalk traffic completely stops moving near 56th. A line that looks to be the length of the entire East Coast seems to be coming out of Abercrombie and Fitch, with tourists shouting and jumping up and down excitedly. I am confused. With all of the amazing high-end shops on Fifth Avenue, this is what people are freaking out about?

“Haven’t these people ever seen a preppy clothing store before?” I ask Cristen, annoyed at the congestion the commotion is causing.

Just then, the girl in front of me, holding an enormous DSLR camera, stops short and I ram into her, spilling my strawberry banana smoothie onto my white shirt.

“Sorry!” she smiles, giggling sheepishly. Yea, you look sorry.

I scowl and huff at her, gritting my teeth. I don’t think I can be any more annoyed…until I see what she’s taking a photo of.

“Haven’t these people ever seen cement before?!” I scream.

The girl had literally taken a picture of a section of concrete wall. No shop sign, no store window, no decor of any kind. Just grey brick.

This may sound amusing, but walk anywhere in Times Square and it becomes life. At times, the streets of New York become so crammed with tourists it can take you a good 10 minutes to walk a block that is 260 feet long. And for a local trying to get to work or meet a friend for a drink, it’s damn aggravating.

Especially when you spill a strawberry banana smoothie on your white shirt. For a photo of a cement.

As my face burns red with frustration, Cristen turns to me calmly and asks, “And what do you think you’re like when you visit other countries, Miss World Traveler?”

Apparently garbage is very interesting to me

She has a point. While I never take photos of building materials, I have snapped my fair share of food stalls, passing cars, lamp posts, plants, rocks, sticks, insects, sewage drains, garbage…okay, yea, I take a lot of pointless photos. Was I this annoying to locals when I traveled?

I also thought this was interesting enough to stop traffic

Although I was still pissed about my once white shirt now being red and sticky, my heart softened a bit. Maybe she wanted to remember the architecture of the city, or maybe she really liked the color grey, or maybe she really had never seen cement before. I’m sure when I took photos of snail kebabs and tro-tros in Ghana, or thatched huts and buffalo in Thailand, they thought I was crazy; however, I genuinely had never seen these things before.

Wow! Soap! Never seen this stuff before!

So in response to my own questions, yes, I am a hypocrite. Although, I am starting to get better. When out and about in New York, I’ve begun trying to put myself back in a place of astonishment and wonder at every little thing which, as an added bonus, can actually be a fun way to view your home city.

You want to take a photo of a yellow taxi or jump and cry because you finally got to visit your first Hollister, be my guest. You’ll hear no complaints from me. Just don’t get so excited you spill my smoothie.

33 Comments

  1. This is a question I think many of us who are fortunate enough to live in places that lots and lots of other people want to visit ask ourselves. And it’s amazing how just taking a moment to picture oneself as the traveler not only dispels one’s frustration with the crowds, it makes one fall in love with one’s city all over again.

  2. Yep, you’re a hypocrite πŸ˜›

    I hate the tourists who get off the bus, take the photos, pay way too much for a souvenir made in China (and touted by the local as “handcrafted”), and get back on the bus letting anyone within earshot know how cheap their purchase was compared to back home.

  3. Haha, it is funny to see people with the same problems in New York as i have in London. Recently, i have started to warm to them, though, as they’re normally more relaxed than the working residents and i often find them quite amusing too.

  4. What do you think about the DSLR vs normal digital cameras debate? is it worth taking the big dslr on a trip if you’re not a professional photographer? What do you take with you? Im going backpacking next month and not sure if the dslr will be too much of a hassle!

    1. For backpacking I personally like to use a point-and-shoot. There are some really good ones on the market now! I think DSLR cameras can be really useful if you’re going to be shooting in tricky lighting, or trying to capture wildlife. There’s always photoshop, as well, to help you enhance your photos! πŸ™‚

  5. Love the dirty pictures of soap and garbage, ha I have just as many awful photos particularly blurry ones of patches of grass. I also have developed a thing for taking pictures of other people taking pictures. Like they are more interesting than what they are photographing.

    1. Ha, those can be quite artsy! πŸ˜‰ Sometimes you really just want to remember EVERYTHING about a place, from the garbage on the streets to the type of cement used to make a building to every piece of food you put in your mouth. When you’re not traveling, however, and other people are doing it, it can be so frustrating! So I guess the answer to my own question is, yes, I’m a hypocrite.

  6. I completely sympathize with this story! I feel like a hypocrite against tourists even while I am being a tourist. However, every time I feel like a I’m being unfair, I remind myself of this quote: “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been. Traveler’s don’t know where they’re going.” I”m not sure who said it originally,but it makes me feel better when I can safely put myself in the “traveler” category.

  7. I think that traveling has made me a lot more tolerant of the tourists in my hometown (Washington DC- we get a LOT of them). I don’t really understand the way people differentiate between travelers and tourists: If you’re wandering around a city you don’t live in, snapping pictures of stuff, then you’re a tourist.

    I do get annoyed at BAD tourist behavior pretty much everywhere thought!

    1. Ha, that’s definitely true! And I 100% agree with you the traveler vs. tourist debate. I actually wrote a post on that: http://jessieonajourney.com/2012/06/22/traveler-vs-tourist-why-does-it-matter/

      My belief is whether you’re the type of traveler who walks around with a fanny pack and giant camera, the kind who likes to sit in your hotel room all day or the kind who likes to do homestays and get to know the culture it doesn’t matter as long as you’re not hurting anyone and enjoying yourself πŸ™‚

      1. You make a very good point. Who cares if people sit in their hotel room all day and nip out to take a few photos every now and then. They’re not harming anyone so people who want to complain about something instead doing something to create positive impact should concentrate their attention on those who take pride in doing crazy things abroad with no regard for the local environment and customs

  8. I enjoyed your post a lot. I grew up on a small island where the money from tourism was a great boost to the economy and ‘new faces’ on the streets and in the bars made a welcome change.

    The funny thing is that we (me and my friends) never considered that visitors fell into different categories; they were all tourists. Most were fine, some were dumb.

    It coloured my whole attitude to travel and I still feel the same. But the travellers (or whatever people like to call themselves) I like the most are the ones who still find wonder everywhere.

    Enthusiasm is an appealing quality.

    1. Thanks so much πŸ™‚ And yes, I completely agree about enthusiasm. Travel is always great for getting that sense of wonder back when you feel you’ve lost it.

  9. Great post. For those of us that live full time in vacation destinations, there’s nothing like traveling and meeting amazing locals in far away places — it helps to remind us that the visitors in our communities appreciate that same kindness and respect. Having a husband that is enthusiastic about helping others doesn’t hurt, either … the trait continues to rub off on me!

  10. It’s the lack of awareness about ones surroundings that annoys me. When I lived in London I used to have a high threshold for tourists, but when someone is acting in plain ignorance of their surroundings, I get extremely peeved.

  11. @Paul – Same! I think if people weren’t always snapping photos in the middle of the sidewalk I wouldn’t get so annoyed ha.

  12. I’m the same about London, I get incredibly irritated by tourists who get in the way, especially ones who just stand at the ticket barriers of stations wondering why their ticket isn’t working. But now I do think I’m probably the same in someone elses country!

    1. @Chris: It’s so true! I get SO angry when people can’t figure out the subway ticket system. But then I think about all the times in Europe when I was slowing down the line trying to figure out how to read the schedule and I can sympathize. Ha!

  13. I took a 3 day trip to Fraser Island, Queensland, some time ago. Some of the people from overseas were fascinated by cockles. Personally I couldn’t imagine anyone being fascinated by cockles.

    But isn’t that one of the reasons we travel, to interface with the unfamiliar?

  14. Um, yeah it’s hypocritical. But I understand. Chiang Mai is full of Chinese tourists who are always walking out into the road in the way of traffic. It’s crazy.

    And the whole tourist vs. traveler thing is just silly. I remember thinking there was a big difference when I was younger. But let’s keep it real, if you’re visiting a country on a tourist visa then you’re a tourist.

    1. @Ryan: So true! I love your point with the tourist visa. A tourist really is a tourist, no matter how you’re traveling.

  15. Living in a place that is popular for tourists can really give you an attitude. We lived in Nashville, and then St. Croix, USVI where it is hard not to get fed up sometimes. Sometimes tourists seem to forget that real people live and work in these places. On St Croix it was very common for them to just walk down the middle of the street like it was Disneyland.

    On the up side, it has given us a heads up on what not to do now that we travel full time.

    1. @GypsyNesters: Totally agree. I feel like sometimes when traveling I’ll catch myself standing in the middle of the street with my map open or making it difficult for people to walk because I’m taking so many photos and I’ll remember how much that bothers me back in NYC. It definitely makes you more aware of yourself abroad.

  16. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt like I hated tourists… but there were times in Japan (where I’ve worked twice) I enjoyed being the only ε€–ε›½δΊΊ (foreigner) in a certain situation and there were times I was a bit peeved that someone was stealing my celebrity – if that makes sense. γ€€

  17. I think we’ve all been there, but as your travels expand so does your compassion and empathy. That’s why travel is the remedy for prejudice, when we see ourselves thru the eyes of people from other cultures and geographically diverse areas we realize we are all really the same.

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