Living in a destination city like Seville, I’ve had ample opportunity to observe tourists behaving badly. And before I go any further, let me just say that most visitors are perfectly delightful guests – energetic, cheerful, and appreciative, contributing to the city’s bonhomie as well as its bottom line. Some, however, seem to take their social cues from the drunken sailor/stoned frat boy school of social behavior. I’ve watched, aghast, as American girls loudly demanded drugs from a middle-aged Spanish barman, as Australian futboll fans blocked a city thoroughfare to sing rowdy songs off-key, and as three teens jumped off a high bridge into the river, risking their own lives and scaring the hell out of the fish.
Alcohol has long been the inspiration for such excesses, but today, there’s a new motivator: the selfie or video that captures the moment for social media. “From posing naked at Machu Picchu to filming their dives from hotel balconies into courtyard swimming pools,” writes the New York Times, “travelers across the world have been indulging in what officials and travel experts describe as an epidemic of narcissism and recklessness, as they try to turn vacation hubs and historic sites into their personal video and photography props.”
We’ve all seen the headlines:
French tourists arrested for nude photos at Angkor Wat
US Tourists Vandalized Rome’s Colosseum, Took Selfe
Selfie Snappers Smash Baroque Sculpture in Herculean Feat of Stupidity
Naked Tourists Caused Deadly Earthquake in Borneo; Tribal Leader Demands Fine of 10 Buffalo
A “Balconing” Tourist Throws Himself Off Roof Into a Pool in Ibiza (Spain)
Yes, they’ve had to invent a new term, “balconing,” to describe the now-common phenomena of someone jumping off a balcony or rooftop into a swimming pool while their friends film the event on their phones. Predictably, not all jumps are successful, as the sad fate of 23-year-old Dane Searls can attest. Such cautionary tales about the consequences of reckless behavior should give pause to even the wildest revelers, but of course, after the fifth Mai Tai, no one believes it could possibly happen to them.
With 1.13 billion international tourist visits last year, it’s getting harder and harder to come up with a truly original selfie. You standing in front of the Sphinx just isn’t going to cause a flutter. Many photos and videos that do go viral involve appalling misbehavior, as China’s beleaguered public relations department has discovered lately (see Flight Diverted after Passenger Reportedly Threw Hot Water at Crew Member). Embarrassing incidents have become so common that the Chinese government has begun blacklisting its worst offenders. For those still allowed out of the country, officials have issued The Guide to Civilized Tourism and Travel with such essential tips as “Don’t spit phlegm or gum, throw litter, urinate or defecate wherever you feel like it,” and “Don’t leave footprints on the toilet seat.”
Sadly, there is no English-language equivalent. So here’s my advice to visitors abroad. Remember that you are a guest in another country, and like all guests, your job is not simply to refrain from offensive behavior but to be a congenial companion. Don’t criticize a foreign place for being different; that’s why you traveled all that way to get there. Avoid behavior that endangers yourself or others, damages objects older than your great-grandmother, or frightens the fish. And always remember that you should never do anything you wouldn’t be willing to see on the front page of the New York Times. Because these days, it easily could wind up there – and on the screens of 3.17 billion electronic devices as well.
Almost exactly a year ago, I received word that both the paperback and e-book versions of my book Dancing in the Fountain would soon be posted on Amazon – which nowadays marks the official debut of your book. Finger poised to click “send” on my breathless email announcement, I waited. The paperback soon appeared, but there was no sign of the Kindle edition. A week later, I was still waiting, and I beginning to get concerned – and perhaps just a teeny tiny bit cranky – about the delay.
Meanwhile, life – as is so often the case – continued on, with Rich leaving for a family gathering in New Jersey, and the downstairs lavatory malfunctioning in an unspeakably foul and dramatic manner. As I paid the plumber $300 for the 15 minutes he’d spent clearing out the pipes, I remember thinking, “If only my publishing problems could be resolved as quickly and easily as my plumbing problems.”
How prophetic I was!
The following day, the lavatory staged an even more ghastly eruption, and for the next week my time was divided between calling the formatting/distribution house that had apparently routed my Kindle edition to a black hole, and dealing with the plumber, who kept upping the cost estimates at dizzying speed. He showed me blurry videos of our pipes’ interior, which looked remarkably like images from my last colonoscopy. I could just about make out some fuzzy gray blobs, but whether they were tree roots, polyps, or planetary nebulae I couldn’t tell you. “I’ll email you copies,” said the plumber helpfully. Really? What did he think I was going to do? Post them on Facebook?
In the meantime, friends who saw that the paperback edition of Dancing in the Fountain had appeared on Amazon emailed their congratulations. “This must be one of the happiest weeks of your life,” they wrote. Not so much as you’d think.
Not the same facility Rich used. Photo by G Paumier
Eventually, of course, the Kindle edition of my book did surface, and the plumbers finished clearing the blockages in our pipes and departed. Our sewage, and our lives, flowed on.
This summer, hiccups and obstructions have once again disrupted our plans, causing an all-too-familiar feeling of frustration we're calling “delay-jà-vu.” As I mentioned in my post Plan B, our long-anticipated train trip through Central and Eastern Europe, originally scheduled to start June 1, was delayed for a family wedding and then put off again so Rich could deal with a pesky pain in his leg. He’s much better now, thanks to acupuncture and an esoteric form of muscle-manipulating chiropractic treatments. This being California, the real surprise was that no one suggested shamanic drumming and/or medical marijuana, although my yoga teacher felt a wheat-free diet might have done the trick sooner.
In theory, by the time you read this, we’ll be in the air en route from California to London to Seville. A few days after that, we should be on a train to Barcelona, then taking a ferry to Genoa to begin our wanderings. By now, however, I’ve learned my lesson about plans and schedules. I don’t know what’s going to happen – a rail strike, worldwide monetary collapse, or simply an asteroid striking the earth and sending us hurtling toward the sun – but I can tell you one thing for sure: I’m still expecting delays.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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