After you’ve been in a foreign country for long enough, hearing English is a bit jarring. Even in large crowds, the English voices seem to stand out, and it’s hard not to overhear. Sometimes, a shared language is a great starting point to make friends with a fellow traveler, and if you overhear them sounding interesting, I would encourage you to do just that. Other times, you hear lame tourist shit like this:
1. “I want to see the REAL America/Thailand/Peru”
First, it’s all real. Second, no, you probably actually don’t, because real life is mundane beyond belief. You don’t travel in order to experience other people’s menial jobs and hang out at their strip-malls and watch them take their kids to school. You really want a tourist experience, but without all the other tourists, don’t you? Well get in line.
2. ”People who don’t travel aren’t experiencing life”
This statement is about as obnoxious as people who claim that those who don’t have children aren’t experiencing life, or that those who travel are running away from life. There are many, many life experiences, and you’re not getting all of them. I’ve never herded sheep, taken a prolonged vow of silence, built a boat, or lived in a redwood tree, though I’m sure there are people out there who find these to be life-affirming and essential experiences (and really, save for the vow of silence, they all sound pretty awesome to me). People who don’t travel are still experiencing life – they’re experiencing their own lives, on their own terms. It is not your place to tell them that the path you’ve chosen is more valid than the path they’ve chosen, even if you do feel the need to defend your strange nomadic lifestyle.
3. “Wow, this amazing experience I’m having right now really reminds me of <other country>, except it was ten times better and crazier” or “This amazing experience will make a great blog post/facebook post.”
It is hard to always live in the moment, but being in the moment is the only way to get the most out of travel. We’re guilty of these kind of thoughts, as is every traveler, but they still grate every time we hear them from someone else. Comparing someone else’s biggest tree ever with that time you went to the redwoods is a good way to devalue their experience and take the magic out of their memories. Only a jerk would want to do something like that.
4. [Insert broad, sweeping, usually BS generalization here]
I’ve had actual people tell me that you can find vending machines selling used panties on every street corner in Japan (false), that Italian men are all rapists because their culture doesn’t allow for women to say “no” (false), and that Scandinavians are fleeing their home countries en masse because Sharia Law is taking over in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (false). To be fair, this is more frequently done by people who have not visited Japan, Italy, or Scandinavia, because anyone who has will immediately see how ludicrous these statements are. But sometimes people want to seem really knowledgeable so they run their mouths off in the hopes of impressing people. Don’t be one of those people!
5. “I like to travel like a local, not a tourist”
Usually uttered by people who who have no idea how to speak the local language and no interest in eating the local specialties. These are probably the loudest, most self-involved people you meet on the road. If they’re American, you’ll probably find them criticizing other Americans vociferously (actually, you’ll probably find them doing that regardless of their nationality).
6. “Ugh, WHY DON’T YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?”
The gross assumptions that come into play when tourists visit a foreign land and expect everyone to speak their language deserve an entire separate blog post, but for now, we’ll just tack it on here. It’s always really embarrassing for me when I meet other travelers complaining about locals who don’t speak English. It is not your place to determine which language they should speak and, as you are on their turf, show them just a little bit of respect. You don’t have to learn their language, but be humble, for goodness’ sake.