As summer draws to its end, I’ve had some time to reflect. Summer and Autumn in Maine is tourist season. It’s the time of year where locals try to avoid the hotspots while complaining about the increased traffic and wandering hordes that clog their beloved roads and beaches. Though I am new to Maine, I think I’ve wriggled myself into a unique position to observe both sides of the coin. I live in a tourist haven (Portland). I work in one of the hottest tourist destinations in New England (L.L. Bean). And I’m “from away,” the term true Mainers — those actually born in the state — call anyone who wasn’t raised amongst the pine groves and moose herds. I am both an “insider” and an “outsider.”
This gives me a unique perspective. Tourists get a bad rap. They’re looked down upon, sneered at, and generally given a hard time by locals. This is especially true in a large city like New York, but it even happens in smaller places like Portland, Maine, a city that makes a good portion of its yearly income with tourist dollars. Most people visiting a destination try desperately to avoid looking like a tourist. Indeed, it would do one well to not have the fanny pack look while staring up at the skyscrapers in a city like New York. While playing the part, for example, of obnoxious American or snooty Frenchman is probably a good reason for the negative view of tourists, the stereotypes in truth hold little merit.
Well, ok. Not all tourists are good tourists. Many truly do live up to the stereotypes. What follows is some friendly advice on being a good tourist.
- Learn how to walk. It’s amazing how many tourists forget this very basic of human maneuvers. Yes, the buildings are pretty; yes, there are many shops to distract you; yes, the traffic patterns and crosswalks can be confusing. None of those are excuses for darting out into traffic without so much as a cursory glance in either direction. Didn’t your mother teach you to look both ways before crossing the street?
- Lose the fanny pack. Also, the man purse, belly wallet, and ankle holster. Just use some damn common sense when carrying your valuables.
- Dress appropriately. A teal tank top and pink running shorts with flip-flops is not considered proper attire for dinner at a 4-star restaurant – especially for a man. I’m amazed people go out in public dressed like that.
- Put the camera away. I understand you want to remember the fun times you had with your friends and/or family. Believe me, I’m a photographer, and I know the urge to snap a pic of everything. But what’s the point of all those pictures if you never actually saw anything? Tourists are easy to spot: They’re the ones wearing the camera around their necks like some sort of amulet.
- Speak at a normal, conversational volume. I’m not stupid, and yes, I speak English. Even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t need you to raise your voice to me. I can hear you.
- Don’t assume. That I know where the closest bathroom is. That I’ve eaten in every restaurant in town and can give you a full review of each one. That I want to talk sports with you. That it’s ok for you to block the entire sidewalk while you pore over a cheapo cartoon map. Don’t. Assume.
- Get control of your kids. I know you want to leave the responsibilities of real life behind, but you chose to have kids and you chose to bring them along. Being on vacation doesn’t give you a free pass to be a crappy parent.
- Be prepared. For the weather. For emergencies. At the checkout line. In the restaurant. Whatever. Pretend you’re a Boy Scout and you’re trying to earn a Preparedness Merit Badge. Think one step ahead.
- Put the cell phone away. You’re on vacation, so I’m pretty sure the office can wait until you get back. Constantly chatting on the cell phone not only defeats the purpose of a vacation, but your obnoxious use of it also annoys the ever-living-s*!t out of everyone within a 40 foot radius. Also, if you’re in a checkout line at a store, politely conclude your call before you get to the register. Do you even realize how rude you’re being?
- Enjoy yourself. Your vacation is supposed to be relaxing. It’s ok to have some alone time. That’s the point. Stop stressing.