Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Stupid tourists!"

Thanks to my roommate for taking me on a car tour of Manhattan and Brooklyn Saturday. (I'm completely anal, so thanks to her patience with my "Um, could you crack your window when you smoke?" "Could you turn the heat down?" "Could you turn the radio down?" "Could you not flick ashes on me and not touch my boob when you gesture??" But that's just me. Despite me, she was a very patient guide.)

We saw bits of Brooklyn and Brighton Beach, stopping by the Atlantic for a brief whiff of East-coast ocean air. (I smelled it, she didn't.) To me, the Brighton Beach sea-bordering homes were depressing as hell. For one thing, they reminded me of San Francisco "suburban" homes, which I hated while I lived in that city. The main drag of Brighton Beach was Russian to the core---lots of shops and activity as we drove by there around 6pm on a Saturday night under a subway line, but... being around Russian immigrants depresses me. Call me shallow, but... When I lived in SF in the mid-90s, I was also in a Russian immigrant 'hood, which was also depressing, 'cause people always looked at me funny since I wasn't Russian! Though I took Russian for 2 semesters in college (the "glamour" of the 1917 Revolution inspiring me), and I enjoyed translating the Cyrillic of the store-fronts this past evening... No way would I want to live in this particular 'hood!

A friendly thing about our hours-long jaunt about town was the willingness of random folks on the street to give us directions when we got lost in Brooklyn. My roomie thought that was worth mentioning. I thought it seemed like normal behavior for New Yorkers---In the past 3 years, I've visited NYC 3 times and have been living here for 6 weeks now. Never once has anyone been rude to me when I asked them for help!

Which flashes me back to a couple of past-life experiences: One, as a kid, visiting St. Augustine, Florida, one of the oldest cities in the US... My mom, dad, brother, and I were out walking in the town and it started to rain. We all started to run for the car, and then a car-load of guys driving by yelled at us: "Stupid Yankees!" Jeez! I was 10 years old or something, but it made me feel creepy; even at that age, I was analyzing: "First of all, we're from Texas. Second of all, why on earth would we be 'Stupid Yankees'? Because we were caught in the rain??"

Another creepy tourist experience took place when I lived in San Francisco in the mid-90s: I'd been there as a grad student for about a year, and my Austin friend flew out to visit me. Her husband brewed beer for a brew-pub in Austin, and we were on the look-out for SF pubs, walking the streets, looking at a map as we walked... Sure enough, we got a carload of people yelling at us: "Stupid tourists!"

What the fuck?!

Which reminds me also of some snotty media comments I've read here and there regarding retirees who travel around the country sight-seeing... Why in the world would traveling the country to sight-see be a detrimental thing? Seriously, shouldn't the desire to see other places in the US be considered a GOOD thing? And not just as a retiree... shouldn't the fact that people come to your town to look around be a COMPLIMENT?

I think to New Yorkers (many of whom are new themselves) it IS indeed a compliment; an annoyance at times, yes, but also a compliment. I'd be mightily surprised if a New Yorker saw me studying my map on a street corner and yelled "Tourist!" at me. How provincial that would be. How dumb-ass.


Anonymous said...

Try going to Paris for the ultimate "stupid tourist" experience! The French have turned rudeness towards tourists into an art form.

Beth Austin said...

I didn't know if the rudeness of Parisians was a myth or reality... (I'd hoped it was just myth.)

Part of me understands their desire to avoid "Americanization"; but part also wants to just say, "Just be polite, wouldja? PLEASE! How hard is it to act like a normal polite person?"

My mom lived in Paris as a young woman and still, after 40 years, visits the city every few years because she loves it so...