After staying in Italy for the last two weeks, I have noticed something astonishing: there are way too many tourists. Aren’t I a tourist though? No. I am not. Tourists to me is a horrible word, it evokes the feelings of only going to a new place to look at the monuments or taking selfies in front of stuff. I am not a tourist… I am a visitor.
THERE’S A DIFFERENCE?
Yes, yes there is. I think of it has going to somebody else’s house. When you visit somebody’s home, you respect their rules and customs, no matter how crazy they sound to you. You eat the food that they prepare for you and you try to talk to them in their native language. To me, many tourists do not do that. Tourists only care about running to the next monument or eating at a restaurant that looks like it came from their home country or only speaking to people who know their native language. Tourists don’t care about attempting to try a local hole-in-the-wall eating place or adapting their schedule to fit in with the local customs or even attempting to speak their language.
HOW TO BE A VISITOR, NOT A TOURIST
So, how can you change from being a tourist into being a visitor? Well, for starters learn a little bit of Italian (or the country’s most popular language or that region’s most popular). It is that easy. I really thought that people were being melodramatic when they told me that Italians really like it when you at least try to speak their language… well they were right. Italians will be very happy with you if you at least learn the most basic words. Do not assume that everybody speaks English, ask: “Parle inglese?” If they say yes, then great if they say no, well then that is why you learned the most basic Italian phrases. Also, do not get mad or frustrated when they do not speak English, it is not their fault that you don’t know Italian. Why did you come to Italy if you wanted to go somewhere where English is the primary language? Moral: learn some Italian.
After you have learned some Italian, the next thing to do is to stop stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to look at the map glued to your hand. There is nothing wrong with having a map (I use it when I am going into a part of town I have never seen before) the problem is when you are blocking the street for other people who need to get to school or work or something else. How would you feel if you were trying to get to work and a pack of tourists stopped right in front of you to figure out where they are because they took a wrong turn? Pull over to one side, out of the way, and get your location there. Moral: don’t block streets or entrances.
So, you know some Italian and you are not blocking any streets, next try some different kinds of restaurants. Italy is known for its food but don’t limit yourself to only tourist locations, try something off the beaten path. How do you tell the difference between a place for locals and a place for tourists?
- Is it next to a monument? Yes – it is for tourists.
- Is the menu mainly in English? Yes – it is for tourists.
- Are there a dozen different gift shops around? Yes – it is for tourists.
- Is the menu in the host country’s language (or a language other than English)? Yes – it is for locals.
- Does the restaurant play music other than English songs? Yes – it might be for tourists or locals. Is the restaurant a McDonald’s or another fast-food chain? Yes – it is for tourists.
I know trying new food can be scary and somewhat hard, but if you put yourself out there and try something new, then I know you will have more fun than if you only go to the “American” style restaurants. Moral: try different types of food.
So, you have learned some Italian, stopped blocking walkways, and are eating new food, the next step is simple: talk to people. I do not mean to only talk to the people in your group or class (which you should talk to them because they are in your class) but also locals around town. What do you talk to locals about?
- Lost? Ask a local.
- Want to find the best restaurant? Ask a local.
- Want to know how to get to that certain monument? Ask a local.
- Need to find the nearest bathroom? Ask a local.
- Looking to make new and awesome friends? Talk to a local.
By talking to a local you are not only practicing Italian but you are also forming a friendship with that person that could last the rest of your lives. Moral: talk to locals.
MORAL OF EVERYTHING
I know it can be hard to see yourself as anything but a tourist when you are traveling to a different country, but by taking these steps you will no longer be seen as that annoying tourist but as a respectful visitor.