Checking the Ugly Tourist at the Curb

Another round of classes in Santiago has me pondering what it is about travel that turns otherwise well-behaved, perhaps even model citizens, into traumatic, “IwantitIwantitIWANTIT!!!” children, demanding attention, not taking no for an answer (probably because they’ve learned that constants “whys,” or in the case of adults, “why is that,” will send frustrated hotel staff scurrying to give in, just for sake of a little civilized peace), and indulging in bouts of dramatic, boisterous, riotous, crass, peacock-strutting behavior.

Perhaps it was my weekend to be a serious, striving student, rather than a member of the adult league of travelers, that made me a little more contemplative of what creates the ugly tourist. Whatever may be the case, it was a definitely a case that needed exploration.

Surprising, country of origin has nothing particular with this behavior. Although U.S. travelers have often been tagged with the “ugly” label, no doubt a carryover from polyester leisure suits, Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts, sneakers, and loud voices, there was good representation from many European and Latin American countries as well. Granted, the latest volcanic eruption had grounded many feathers, but there really was little need to get them all in a ruffle, especially in Chile.

With few exceptions, such as national cellular chains that perceive customer service to be dispensable, I have found staff at hotels, restaurants, shops, entertainment venues, spas, museums and other tourist destinations to be most helpful, courteous and eager to please. The key is to always be friendly, polite and respectful in response. Arrogance is for the insecure, and should always be checked at the curb.

Travelers will find that Chileans are rapidly becoming conversant in many languages, and especially in English. Although possessing a strong desire to become fluent in Spanish, I find that complete immersion in the language is near impossible for the English language abounds everywhere.

Television, music, movies, menus, books, newspapers, and every other conceivable piece of communication can be found with varying degrees of English. While some of the translations will give one pause, such as a menu that offers fish served with green pee, or an article that confuses the phrase “make out,” with something completely different, I find that one could theoretically live in Chile for quite some time without needing to understand a word of Spanish. While such an attempt is not, by all means, recommended, as the true experience of expat life should be embracing one’s new environment completely and wholeheartedly, it is difficult to leave English behind.

There have been many times that I wished to leave English behind here, especially when dining in restaurants. I truly do not wish to be privy to obnoxiously loud and no-need-to-be boastful conversations about sex lives, pick-up lines, multiple marital statuses, minor job achievements, offspring accomplishments, and other subjects best left for truly private conversations. I would much prefer to enjoy my own dinner conversations.

Tourists and expats need to remember that multi-linguistic abilities abound in all parts of the world, and that conversations held in native tongue do not slip below the comprehension radar. Please try to refrain from any unnecessary acts of verbal rudeness, or to trumpet personal information that you wouldn’t want revealed at home.

Most importantly, tourists need to remember that they are one among many in travel, and should be considerate to not create a bad experience for others just to appease a self-centered pursuit. For the sake of your fellow travelers, please check your “ugly tourist” baggage at the curb, or better yet, don’t pack it at all.



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