I was surprised at first to see that when I referred to some people yesterday as “clueless tourists”, this came across as a referendum on all tourists. Then I started thinking about it more, and now I’m intrigued.

If you went to see a movie and somebody talked loudly throughout the film, you might refer to them as a “clueless moviegoer”. Or you might refer to a diner who screams at their hapless waiter and then leaves no tip as a “clueless diner”.

Yet we would never think, upon hearing those phrases, that you felt this way about all moviegoers or diners. I wouldn’t think I should stop going to movies or restaurants for fear that I would be tarred by the same brush.

Every client for a service has an obligation to follow certain protocols, whether that service be a night out at the movies, dinner in a nice restaurant, or tourism.

In my experience, tourists do a very good job of understanding those protocols. The ones who don’t are the exception that proves the rule: They stand out as clueless precisely because most tourists are not at all clueless.

So why the asymmetry in how people view tourists, as compared to consumers of other services?

I haven’t a clue.

3 thoughts on “Clueless”

  1. Maybe it’s just in my own head, but I think there’s a stigma about tourists that says they have no idea what’s going on. Part of that is logical; if you’ve never been to a place, you will be at an information disadvantage compared to people who live there their whole life. But, from my experience with the media, and my own introspection, I think there is a “clueless tourist” stereotype.

    I was curious about what other people had to say about tourists, so I typed “tourists are” into Google. The first three suggestions were “jerks”, “annoying”, and “stupid”. Even when I looked up articles talking about tourists/ism being good for a place, the whole tone of the articles was “contrary to popular belief…”.

    I think there’s a “typical American tourist” stereotype that we’ll go someplace new, not appreciate the culture we’re in, take our pictures in the middle of a walkway, and head off to the next place in our guidebook, the next tourist attraction, oblivious to anything happening around us that isn’t “part of the attraction”. Even the phrase “tourist attraction” suggests inauthenticity. That a tourist can’t appreciate the culture of the people who actually live in a place, so they need a cheap little theme park, a brochure, a travel guide to break a city down into 5 bullet-point must-see attractions.

    Maybe the problem is many people have a misunderstanding of what tourism should be about. I think the philosophy of tourism that encourages our “clueless tourist” stereotype is the idea that a city, or country, someone’s homeland is a source of entertainment. It’s like tourists forget that people actually live in the places they visit. Like they think that whole place exists only as a tourist destination. That any of the locals should be a tour guide and know all about the places listed in their guidebook.

    While I was browsing the internet, I stumbled across a culture of people who intentionally avoid the “tourist attractions”, but instead go to new places as a learning experience. They take the time to find out about the culture they’re visiting, meet the people, eat their foods, sleep in the same places they sleep in, basically for a short while actually live in the place they’re visiting. Funnily enough, these people liked to make the distinction that /they/ were “travelers”, not “tourists”.

  2. Very cogent analysis!

    I think I’ve got it now: If I avoid all the touristy spots, hang out in local watering holes, eat the native cuisine, and live as much as possible like people from the region, but then I end up going up the wrong side of the stairs and getting in everyone’s way, that would make me a “clueless traveler”. 😉

  3. I think one must be careful here.

    I often complain about tourists, but that does not the same as me complaining about all tourists. I would not be shocked if there were people who dislike or generalize about all tourists, but I tend to think those people are exceptions.

    Rather, I suspect many people dislike a certain type of ‘clueless tourist’. Often clueless is in this context a synonym for discourteous and unconscientious or just plain rude. These are the people who think because they are on vacation, then everyone else can be just as leisurely. Stopping your group of eight all standing abreast on a busy sidewalk in Manhattan is just fine; having your whole family of seven try to use the three turnstiles in the subway for the first time ever during rush hour and blocking everyone else from getting through until one of you figures out the correct orientation; backing into a busy bike lane or lane for reg. traffic whilst taking the oh so artistic picture with your iPhone.

    What I am trying to say is that most tourists are just fine, regardless of whether they are trying to see the Statue of liberty or if they are trying to sample South Asian deserts on that one street ofSououth Asian desert places out in Jackson Heights, but there are people who cause problems because they cannot acknowledge that there are other people around the who are not in vacation. Some people are rude and/or clueless, and sometimes those people go on vacation to where you live.

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