Thoughts On A Tourist: Can One Ever Really Blend In?

Should there be any shame in being a tourist?

aj tourism
PHOTO AJ KIYOIZUMI

When traveling abroad, probably the worst term that someone can use to describe an activity, place, or person is “touristy.” The implications are that there should be shame associated with this term, as often it characterizes the loud, slow, culturally inept non-locals.

Sure, we can preach and say how great it is to ask the locals for places to eat and things to do, but at what point can we truly believe that we assimilate and become local? To some, becoming a local can be when you begin to be a regular at a café, or even just update your current city on Facebook.

I can’t help but agree that locals do often want to point you in the right direction of the best experiences — they want to show off their hometown. But I can’t help but notice this tenuous shift from being just a tourist to truly living in a city abroad and becoming a “local.”

When I was abroad in Florence for only two months, it didn’t take me long to realize that the people who were “locals” were not so in the strict sense of the word. Some of the biggest destinations actually have a declining number of true citizens in these predominantly tourist-driven cities.

My friends who stayed in homestays all had to take the bus for half an hour or so just to get to class in Florence, and this was simply because none of the real locals wanted to live in a city so overrun by tourism and tourist-driven businesses. The prices for goods are outrageous and the crowds are insatiable.

aj tourism
PHOTO AJ KIYOIZUMI

This paradox only brought more struggle to my internal debate about traveling. Should there be any shame in being a tourist? Sure, there are different definitions of this term for everyone, with some thinking that only the obnoxious, fanny-pack-clad complainers qualify as true tourists. But I can’t in any way pretend that I became a local of Florence, especially in only two months. Although, since having lived there, I’ve cultivated a love for and a connection to the city.

So I’d like to defend the term “tourist.” In my opinion, I think it is more noble to accept that label and admit that yes, you are discovering the world and want to try everything that makes each city unique. It’s so hard to say who is a true tourist and who is a true local these days, and the presumption of acting as if you know everything about a city after only living there for a couple of months is more offensive to me than being a traveler eager to explore.

Article written by AJ Kiyoizumi.

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