Last summer I wrote a didactic open letter to the tourists of Martha’s Vineyard, wherein I scolded them for riding mopeds and being nauseatingly clueless. While I stand by my moped rant, I have since gained some perspective that has driven me to rewrite my opinion on those rude little… sorry, I mean inspired world travelers. I’m still in the process of stunting my leftover angst. But I’m glad that I'm putting in the effort because, as I’ve experienced in the last month, tourists can teach us locals a thing or two about taking in our surroundings in a new light.
My revelation stems from the fact that my role this summer isn’t anything close to what people would term a ‘local.’ I opted out of island life and decided to stick around in Boston, so while I know a thing or two about this city, I can’t pretend that I haven’t used Google Maps or mixed up some extremely important landmarks. Hovering somewhere between the antonyms of ‘local’ and ‘tourist’ has allowed me to have sympathies with both groups.
The shift in my opinion is largely contingent upon the fact that Boston tourists are supremely more jovial and laid-back than Martha’s Vineyard tourists. That probably has something to do with the numerous Midwesterners I see, or rather hear, around the city. I was crammed into a subway car the other day with three or four families from various degrees of the boondocks. One family had accidentally gotten on the wrong line on the way to their Duck Tour, and the others were trying to help direct them to the right T stop. It was the blind leading the blind like you have never seen before. They had such a “whatever happens, happens” attitude: I wished I could be so carefree and spontaneous. That’s the thing about tourists—or Midwesterners—with no obligations to care about, it’s OK to just enjoy the journey. When else will you have the time?
I spend a good chunk of my week working at a café up in the North End. The locals are nice enough, but they act like they’re in a hurry to get somewhere—which they usually are. With the exception of a handful of delightful regulars, the tourists take the cake for being the friendliest customers. They come up and inquire, “Which pastries are your favorites?!” Even though I don’t have all the time in the world to give them, they certainly want to take it from me. This can get frustrating when there are other customers to help, but it sure is nice to see people having a good carefree time—a conclusion I have only come to after the fact.
As I sit in the Boston Public Library writing this article, a herd of people dressed in Red Sox regalia is circling my table trying to get the best shot of Bates Hall. The ‘click click’ of their cameras is disrupting my thought process—albeit inadvertently generating a paragraph for this piece—and I can see the man at the next table take on a scowl. At this point in time, the Maddie of years past would have started thinking of the best-fitting curse word to inaudibly scream in the group’s direction, but today she couldn’t care less. The cameras are kind of annoying, sure, but these faux Red Sox fans are positively thrilled by the beauty of this room while I, for one, have come to take it for granted. Having them around reminds me that I should look up from my computer screen at the end of each paragraph to do nothing other than admire how nicely the intricate Romanesque arches frame the array of homeless people.
It’s easy to get frustrated by tourists. As is evident, I have had to do a lot of reflection in order to overlook the more obviously annoying side of living amongst a sea of clueless people. We’ve all been tourists before. Most sane people try to be as least touristy as possible when on vacation, but what about those who couldn’t care less about what other people think of them and have no fear of showing enthusiasm about being in a cool new place for the first time? It’s a cool new place, dammit! Why suppress that love when you could clothe yourself in it?
The qualities I always hated most about tourists are the ones I would like to work on bringing out in myself. Hopefully, when I study abroad next semester, I won’t be ashamed to act like a carefree, excessively enthusiastic, yet genuinely happy tourist.