Be honest. Admit it. We’ve all been the kind of tourist that makes locals buy shirts which read “If it’s tourist season — why can’t we shoot them?”
The best of us manage to avoid it most of the time, but tourists are, ya know. Annoying.
So, how do you reduce the amount of time you’re “that tourist,” perhaps welcomed for your money but certainly not for your person? As travel opens up again, destinations may well be desperate for us to come. But that doesn’t mean we should take advantage.
So, here, have a few tips:
Check Local Dining Etiquette
Want to know why most Americans think service in France is awful? They miss two things:
- French people dress up for dinner. Dress slacks and a button down will take you a long way. Jeans and a t-shirt aren’t really acceptable (heck, when I was in Paris I wore dress slacks and a button down everywhere I went because Paris). Not dressing up will cause waiters to assume the thing you least want a waiter to assume about you: You aren’t going to tip.
- In an American restaurant, you walk in and the host greets you and checks how many are in your party. In a French restaurant, you walk in and when you are ready to be seated you greet the host. If you haven’t said bonjour yet, they assume you aren’t quite ready to be seated. Which Americans take as being ignored. Oops.
Another one that catches Americans out: British pub etiquette. Restaurants are the same as in America. Pubs don’t work the same way, not even gastropubs.
In a pub, you choose your own table. You make a note of the number on the table. Then you send one or two people to the bar with your orders. Wait staff do not take orders. Wait staff also don’t deliver your drinks; you pick those up yourself at the bar for the table.
They do deliver your food. That’s what the table number is for.
If you don’t realize this you can be sitting waiting for a long time.
For your destination, check things like whether people dress up for dinner. What time do people normally eat? How much should you tip? Is tipping optional or mandatory?
Waiters are much happier to serve somebody who’s done their homework. Oh, and don’t complain if things don’t work the same way they do back home.
Study Public Transportation Systems
I live in Washington, D.C. The most annoying thing about the summer tourists? Many of them have no clue how to operate a turnstile. They mill around, blocking every single fare gate while they work out what they’re supposed to do.
Don’t be that person. Make sure that you:
- Know what the turnstiles look like and how they operate. Turnstiles in DC are different from NYC are different from London.
- Know how to buy a ticket.
- Know what the rules are. For example, it’s common in eastern Europe for streetcar systems to charge an extra half fare for a suitcase (because the trams are small). And they wait by the airport to hit you with a fine, too.
- Be polite.
- Avoid rush hour if you can. Please. Especially in London. The Tube is a nightmare at rush hour.
If you have never taken public transportation before, try to avoid arriving on a flight at 11pm when you’re exhausted and trying to take it to your hotel.
Oh, and if you haven’t, most systems have wider gates for wheelchairs. These are also handy when you have a heavy suitcase and as long as you let disabled people go first nobody will bat an eyelid.
And finally, for the love of whatever you hold sacred, don’t step off an escalator and then stop immediately. This isn’t just annoying, it’s dangerous.
Learn A Few Words of the Language
If you are going somewhere where English is not the first language, please take the trouble to at least learn Hello, Goodbye, Please and Thank You. (Except Iceland. The Icelanders don’t expect this because they have the hardest European language to learn, it’s a nightmare and they know it is. If you can they’ll appreciate it, but it won’t get you noticeably worse service if you don’t try).
In France, on the other hand? You had better at least manage Bonjour. The French are very proud of their language.
Spacial Awareness, People
This is the one I’m bad at, but I have an excuse (I’m not neurotypical and it’s one of the things my brain doesn’t like to do).
Show spacial awareness before getting out your phone or your camera. Move out of the traffic pattern. Try to avoid looking through the lens and then stepping backwards (or have a travel companion spot you).
Same if you’re checking your phone for directions. Please don’t be a speed bump in the sidewalk.
Finally, remember the aphorism my dad taught me as a child: “You are a guest in their home.”
Whether you are going to Greece or Japan or a small town in the Appalachians: You are a guest in their home.
Act accordingly. Please. We will travel again and we will perhaps be more appreciated, but we still don’t have the license to be “that tourist” when we can avoid it.