Stop Complaining All Over My City: The European Vacation

Olivia MarudanOp Ed35 Comments

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I am a current and upstanding resident of Paris, France. Fancy, no? Well to be honest, having spent a number of years living here, I’ve come to regard this ancient gorgeous city as a simple living space. In my day-to-day life I almost never see the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower and my idea of a landmark is the Carrefour market next to the 146 bus stop.

This level of apathy is almost always met with derision from my American friends. If I have a bad day I hear a lot of, “shut up, you live in Paris!” But for me, living the everyday hustle in Paris is exactly like living it in Seattle or Marrakesh or New York City. You get up, you work, you buy food, you eat, you maybe see friends that day, you snuggle with your dog and fall asleep to cheesy television programming. In a word, the experience becomes simply average.

But all of that was about to change! Two weeks ago I ventured out of my day-to-day and, thanks to an American friend who flew into town, stepped into the bubble of American-European resident tourist. I visited the small village of Cassis in the South of France, bussed it over to Spain to marvel at Barcelona and then took a ferry over to Italy so I could explore Rome. Along the way I discovered just how much I’ve changed since moving over here.

The first indication that nothing would be as it once was came as I overheard a couple behind me at the Port of Cassis. My friend and I had stopped into enjoy some ice cream and as I sat down a strong Midwestern accent struck me from behind, “Well, these types of towns wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for us tourists, you know. So we’re doing them a favor.” I groaned audibly and bit my lip. I didn’t want to make a scene, I wanted to enjoy my ice cream. What could even be gained by explaining to them that Cassis existed not just before the Pilgrims descended unto Plymouth Rock, but even before the Roman ruler Antoninus Pius made it a popular maritime port in the region? Given that multi-millennial ancestry I think it’s safe to say the town can survive without the massive influx of French, English and American tourists it sees yearly. But instead I stayed silent. I rolled my eyes, called it a fluke and let it go.

Yet this was an attitude I witnessed over and over again. That Europe should be grateful for the tourists who grace her muddy shores. After all, without all the revenue from postcards, hotel rooms and Eiffel Tower key chains, the economy of the EU would most certainly fail, amirite? Never once was it considered that Americans should be grateful they are allowed such free access to the continent. That Schengen agreements have made European travel not just simple but cheaper and more efficient is never brought up in ice cream parlors by red-faced couples in nondescript tank tops. Instead most tourists not only expect those who live in tourist towns to know English just because it is constantly visited upon them, they expect these townsfolk to treat them as if they were some sort of novelty.

Speaking with a local bartender brought home that point as he heaped praises upon my French. I know how to communicate but by no means is my French at any level one would describe as “excellent.” Yet just a few simple present-tense phrases and he was asking me to help him understand the English orders that were being lobbed his direction. By the end of the night I was crowned Queen of Translation and was given free rounds of Pastis as I fielded questions and explained drink combinations for a group of British tourists behind me.

In Rome I found this same attitude displayed in the form of a drunken blonde Australian girl who interrupted a conversation I was having outside of a club. She plopped down and asked the usual questions: where are we from, what are we doing? Do we speak English? Then she proceeded to go on a ten minute rant about how she tried to speak Italian to a cashier at a nearby grocery store but he didn’t so much as smile at her. “Innn farct,” she slurred, “he juurst threw down the money on a stand. Din’t even hand it to me. Din’t have the fucking de-decency to hand it to me.” I tried to explain to her that this was normal in Italy and in some parts of Europe. That the little plastic stand next to the receipt printer was for placing money on and it wasn’t a slight but just a cultural norm.

“Still,” she continued, “he din’t even try to speak back. The lady behind me he was allllllllllllll friendly with. I mean, if he was in Australia and he tried to speak Australian with me, I’d be fucking polite enough to speak Australian back.” It was about this point where I was holding the sangria in my mouth with all my might, lest I spray it all over her in an impolite fit of giggles. Given that my time in Italy had been amazing so far, I had no commiseration for her, but soon another Australian girl popped down next to us.

“Ugh, why can’t I sign into chat?” she grumbled staring at her iPhone. I looked at my friend and asked if he wanted to get going. “Where are you two from?” she asked, glancing up from her phone.

“America,” we replied.

“Ah, your first time in Europe?” she smiled, her eyes swimming in their sockets. I replied that actually I lived in Europe and this was his fourth time over, but it was his first time in Rome, so there was that. “Well, sweetie, what part of Europe?” she asked, slightly accusatory.

“France.”

“Oh really? Where in France?”

“Paris.” She sniffed in almost immediately, what she must have thought was an all-knowing smile plastered on her sunburned face. “Mmmhmmm, been there. They don’t care about tourists at all in that town do they?” she remarked as if she had just smelt dog shit. Up until then I had tried to be polite but this had gone too far and it was time to kibosh this shit and go back to my tent.

“No, they don’t. And why should they?” I said, my voice much harder than I had intended it to be. “All you guys do is come in and expect some red-carpet treatment and then complain loudly when it suddenly dawns on you that nobody in that town thinks you’re a special snowflake. So yeah, we don’t care, nor should we. Personally when I see groups of tourists I immediately calculate the shortest distance around them, because they walk slow and say stupid shit like, “˜Why don’t people treat us like motherfucking queens and kings because we spent 40 fucking Euros on some cheap ass RyanAir tickets–‘”

“And we’re going now,” my friend said, standing up and picking me up with him. I took a swig of my Sangria as he half pulled me away from the two girls, who either didn’t register what I said, or had simply ignored it as they continued text chatting on their iPhones.

However the train of complaints carried on and on. It seemed that everywhere I went people found it fashionable, witty even, to complain all about the city they were in. If it was Barcelona, then the comments were about the rain or that the cathedral was under construction. Even mundane issues that were solely the responsibility of the complaining party were tossed around in restaurant dining rooms across town. “I was cheated on that fan today, I just know I was,” people would huff, as if willfully handing over too much money for some plastic and fabric were the fault of the vendor. And the Plaza Catalunya? “Well, it’s probably a lot more beautiful without all these protesters,” remarked one lady in her twenties as she stared into the crowd of demonstrators camping on the rain-soaked concrete in hopes of making their country a better place to live.

I just didn’t understand. Why spend all the money to come to Europe, get a fancy hotel or nice hostel room and just go on and on about what you hate in the culture? It’s doubtful any of those holidaymakers were under duress to be in Europe. Unlikely that they couldn’t afford a 40 Euro plane ticket to leave the country if they really hated it. I wasn’t treated like shit in any of the places I visited. Then again, I don’t particularly feel I’m owed an Eat, Pray, Love experience. Really, in the end all of those people who run off to Europe and then complain endlessly about the experience just end up sounding like petulant children brimming with ingratitude for their own immense privilege. If you don’t like Europe, go home. We won’t miss you.

“There was this one lady who stood right in front of me on the metro in Rome,” a red-haired woman I met at the bar told me. She was from San Diego and was in Italy to eat food and look at men, both things I mightily approve of. The stools we sat on overlooked a bright blue pool, in which splashed a myriad of shockingly beautiful people. The bartender opened her beer and smiled as he handed it to her. She took it from him and then turned back to me. “That and being charged a service fee for a 30 dollar lunch really gave me a negative view of these people.” she mused, almost absentmindedly. I glanced at the bartender, who could hear her clearly and wondered how often he had to listen to sunburnt tourists complain about his culture in front of him.

“I’ve gotten only great service so far here,” I said, a pit of irritation growing in my stomach.

“Well, sure, you’re from here.”

“No, I’m not. I’m American.”

“Yes, but you live here, you understand these people. You even look like one of them.” I didn’t know what that meant. I lived in France, not Italy. The two were almost nothing alike and my knowledge of Italian consisted mostly of exclamations and “thank you.” I felt as foreign here as she did. However, I realized that for many tourists, Europe is just one large coagulated mass of stinky socialists living in theme parks full of pickpockets and exquisite architecture.

Which is not to say all visitors to Europe are rude or brimming with snide remarks.I’ve met plenty of vacationers who were perfectly nice and as polite as they could be. For many, a trip to Europe feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and so they treat it as such. They learn a few pleasantries, attempt to shop at the local markets and aren’t afraid to make fools out of themselves. These are the tourists that end up having the best time because they are endearing creatures that other humans naturally want to go out of their way to assist.

Yet for those who treat their traipse through Marseilles as just another blase thing to do on their Contiki Bus Tour (“No, not Contiki, Top Shelf,” one Australian woman told me with an agitated sigh), Europe will always be one sweaty mass of stuck-up locals. We will be cold and curt and purposefully give vague directions. We will cheat them at every possible opportunity and steal wallets if you let us get too close on the metro. We are your enemy and you saved our asses in WWII and so we should be grateful for every dime you spend here but instead we’re just culture of thankless assholes. Also we smoke too much and our cheese made your stomach hurt and the Holocaust. All of this and more has been said to me by self-righteous tourists with more money than perspective.

But what can I say? I’ve been converted to the dark side. I prefer my socialized medicine and like the fact that even most right-wing party members seem practically Democratic when compared to American party lines. This is my home but it doubles as your playground. It’s fine. I’m happy to share my streets with my fellow world citizens and even help show them around. I cannot count the number of times I’ve used the phrase, “gare means station” when pointing out Gare du Nord on a map for a lost stranger. But please, if you ever do visit us, don’t assume a pissing contest of awful experiences. Don’t tell me how rude your waiter was and how you don’t understand the tipping system of Spain. Google it. Then Google search “How to be a gracious guest” and please keep in mind that when you’re in another country, that is exactly what you are.

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Olivia Marudan

Cad. Boondoggler. Swindler. Ass. Plagiarist. Hutcher. A movable feast in the subtle culinary art of shit talking.
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Olivia MarudanStop Complaining All Over My City: The European Vacation

35 Comments on “Stop Complaining All Over My City: The European Vacation”

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  1. Profile photo of bricorama
    bricorama

    I think that the main problem, which has been mentioned before, its that Americans really build Europe up in their mind. And for many of them, especially ones that might not travel a lot in general, I don’t think they realize that traveling means being out of your own area, out of your comfort zone. Travelling, even domestically, means you’re going to eat some bad food, get lost, and have some creepy dude stare at you on public transit, but maybe he’s not staring at you (you special snowflake, you) maybe he’s just zoning out on his way home from work.

    It makes me sad that Midwesterners get a bad rap in Europe. I’m from the Midwest, but I tried to be overly polite and respectful while in Europe. I was on one of those overly-scheduled coach tours, spending only a few days in each place. The group I was with was comprised of students from my university… mostly some of the more conservative ones, but also some party kids. We spent two days in Paris and I was the only one who spoke any French besides the guide. That was unfortunate, because small French children have a better grasp on the French lanugage than I do.

    I have to say, everyone was really nice to me. In Dublin, I didn’t quite have an understanding of Euros and I apologized profusely. I was told repeatedly, “You’re grand! You’re grand!” In Paris, I spoke in French to one of the young hotel workers (I told him my room number in French to get in the breakfast room) and he nodded and smiled. He seemed to like me more for at least attempting to speak his language (unlike my fellow group members).
    Over all the trip wasn’t mindblowingly fantastic. I ate some bad food (never order a meat-ball sub in Dublin and expect Italian style meat balls) and felt creeped out on the subway, but it was a great experience. You can’t go that far out of your comfort zone and not be changed by your trip.

    If I go back, I will forgo the fancy tours around each city for walking around [semi-lost] instead. I will forgo going with a group of my peers, for going with a close friend or by myself. I will forgo fancy hotels for a hostel and I will probably save a lot of money. But I will still try to be polite and respectful of the cultures I encounter.

  2. Profile photo of Borogirl
    Borogirl

    Thanks for the great article. I think what springs to mind when I read it is the saying “wherever you go, there you are”. This goes for Europe, North America and Asia (still yet to dive into South America and Africa). In Europe you’ll sadly always find obnoxious drunk Australians (I am Aussie) who are going to 30 countries in 15 days. When my friend and I were backpacking around they would always befriend us, bitch about the other people on their bus and then complain about all the money they’d been ripped off by the locals (nevermind they’d paid wayyyy over the odds to sit on a bus and get pissed with other Aussies everyday – nevermind if you liked Barcelona and wanted to stay there for an extra day – Lichtenstein awaits so you can get your total countries number up!).

    I always found amazing people in every country I’ve been to (except for strangely Tibet where for some reason everyone was horrible!). People who would go out of their way to help someone, who would ask questions, who because I couldn’t mangle their language to make sense enough would grab the phrasebook out of my hand and point to words so we could converse or we’d work it out with charades and a smile. At the same time I’ve been warned about gypsies endlessly (met quite a few and they were all lovely) as well as people from neighbouring countries (including an American tour driver in Vegas who warned me about “Mexicans who would murder me in my sleep”. He just changed the topic when I mentioned that I’d been there for two weeks previously and had an amazing time and met amazing people.

    Sadly there are arseholes everywhere. At the same time there are also real people living lives in the cities that you visit who are amazing.

    In my hometown (Brisbane, Australia) we get nowhere near the number of tourists that somewhere like Paris would get but I do try to help people looking lost on street corners to hopefully repay my travel karma debt. I owe a lot.

  3. Profile photo of girlscientist
    girlscientist

    When I lived in Paris I gradually lost patience with helping tourists – and I got requests for directions/pictures almost every day. For the first few years, I was as nice and helpful as possible because I’d heard too many people complain about Parisian rudeness and I wanted people to go home with a good impression of the city.
    Then I realised that, no matter how nice I was to tourists, people abroad still felt free to complain to me about Paris. Also, not everyone requesting help was polite about it: some people thought that helping them was what I was for. In the end, I stopped helping people unless they were polite in their requests: I had places to go, and usually, I was late. I had better things to do than explain to entitled jerks that Gare de Lyon was right behind them.

  4. Profile photo of rah29
    rah29

    Thinking about this more, I think we want to be careful not to tread too much into the ‘if you’re not exploring the late-night street-food stalls like Anthony Bourdain you’re not a proper traveller’ territory. Some people are never going to be bold enough to wander aimlessly around a city where they don’t speak the language and don’t know what’s going on. That’s ok. I have older relatives who go on what to me seem like hackneyed, overly-scheduled bus tours with packs of other older people, but you know what, at least they’re out there seeing the world. They might not otherwise have left their country at all.

    The issue, to me, is attitude more than anything else. I don’t mind a giant pack of tourists getting off a bus, I really don’t, even if I grumble a little when they get in my way. What I mind is then listening to those tourists loudly complain about how gross or smelly Europe is, or how rude the locals are, or how much of a rip-off everything is (yes, many things cost more, but I won’t go bankrupt if I get sick kthanx). It is obnoxious to visit another country of your own volition and then complain that things just aren’t the way they are in ‘Murca/Britain/France/Germany/China/Japan (yes, European and Asian tourists can be just as bad – we here in Cam must put up with roving gangs of teenagers from the Continent all summer who, by virtue of being teenagers, are even more obnoxious than adult tourists).

    By that same token, it is equally obnoxious to be a Bourdain-type tourist (or ‘traveller’ as one likes to call oneself, mmmkay), visit another country and then complain it’s not ‘authentic’ enough for you – which I heard a lot from tourists in Dublin, my hometown. Yes, we have Starbuckses rather than old man pubs on every damn corner, that sucks for you but it means I get to have my soy latte so I’m so sorry I can’t conform to your wee little leprechaun stereotype. Trying to seek out a ‘real’ city means accepting that the people who live there don’t exist as characters in your imaginary travelogue, but have real lives and agency and dynamism that may not conform to the image you had in your head.

    1. Profile photo of Hague
      Hague

      I’ve been working for months on a post about how the traveler/tourist dichotomy is bullshit, but I can’t get it so that I don’t sound like a complete asshole. But yeah, take it from someone who studied this for 4 years: in the end, Bourdain-style travellers are really no better than package tourists.

    2. Profile photo of Borogirl
      Borogirl

      I always find that interesting about eating from street food stands. Whilst in some countries this has worked out well for me (China, India, Thailand), I wouldn’t necessarily eat off a street stall in my home country if it looked a bit dodgy so I’m definitely not going to do it overseas if it looks strange!

      And you know what, sometimes you do just want a cheeseburger and coke and a clean toilet. Sue me, I’ve eaten at McDonald’s in several of the great food regions of the world!

    3. Profile photo of bricorama
      bricorama

      I’ve only been to Europe once… it was the opposite of the Bourdain type trip, and for the most part a very structured coach tour trip, but the most fun I had was walking around (likely in circles) in Dublin because I didn’t have a clue where I was. I sadly didn’t have the same opportunity to just wander around in the other cities we visited.

  5. Profile photo of alecto
    alecto

    Oh my god, tourists.
    I grew up in the South of France, right in the middle of Provence, in a small, very touristy town, with lots of other small, touristy towns around it (actually not so far from Cassis, and Cassis is rather nice).
    But seriously, when I’m there during the summer months I usually find a rock to hide under because there’s ALWAYS someone complaining. Usually American or British; but we also get Italian, Northern French and Spanish assholes a fair bit. The Germans tend to be well-behaved, up until now at least. It drives me crazy.
    And the thing is, now I live in Taiwan, and when I meet other expats, we all have the “where are you from” convo, and someone is going to complain about their trip to Europe, or their trip to France. I can’t escape it.

  6. Profile photo of lostinmybox
    lostinmybox

    I feel like this general principle can apply to tourists to any foreign country. My friend and I have planned this amazing trip to Costa Rica where we want to do lots of hiking/outdoorsy/nature-y things. I’m a big backpacker and I love to travel (as in actually travel to explore different cultures and places) so we’re planning on a pretty intense trip. We now have another friend coming along with us who basically only wants to hang out on the beach, preferably in a resort-type setting. When we suggest alternatives to this she turns her nose up to most of them because “it’s dirty, gross, we might get kidnapped, etc.” It’s absolutely infuriating how closed minded she is, and I really have no idea how this trip is going to go at this point.

    1. Profile photo of mxandb
      mxandb

      I think the best thing to do would be tell her what you want out of the trip. Give her the list of things you must do – she can stay at whatever beach and chill or she can come along for an amazing experience but you must do A, B, C etc.
      Don’t let this trip become hers. Keep it as yours. :)

      (this is a lesson I learned the hard way, please have a list)

    2. Profile photo of QoB
      QoB

      Don’t be afraid to leave her behind. Seriously – offer her the chance to come, explain more if she seems interested, but in the end just leave her. She’ll be happier and you’ll be happier if you just do your thing and meet up for drinks in the evenings or something. Having a friend scream “I can’t believe you made me do that!” at you after a particularly fun activity is, suddenly, not fun.

  7. Profile photo of Sissy Larue
    Sissy Larue

    Overheard at Westminster Abbey this week (and I’m not even exaggerating):
    American tourist to guide: I just have one question. What the heck is Darwin doin’ buried in here? He ain’t no Christian!

    The guide tried to explain that it wasn’t an Evangelical church, that Darwin was a great British citizen, but in the end just shook her head.

  8. Profile photo of Amber
    Amber

    I moved from the US to Scotland and I am amazed at how much people can drink here. But, it is really annoying that when you tell people you don’t drink that they get slightly upset and keep trying to get you drunk. For almost a year now I have someone at least once a week bring up the subject of me not liking alcohol. People have been shocked when I tell them that I’ve never been drunk, the room actually became quiet when I said it.

    I also don’t like the assumption people here in Scotland make that I’m some religious conservative because I come from America. I’m an atheist and liberal so I hate having to disprove their notion.

    As bad as a rep as Americans having going abroad, so do the English. The papers here are always reporting about how Greece and Amsterdam are upset by the behaviour of English travellers. It made me slightly less embarressed being an American abroad. I am aware that when I travel I am representing the country I came from so I try to remain respectful. It’s a little hard for me because I’m a very picky eater. I try not to be rude and at least try the food, but it’s difficult for me.

    1. Profile photo of Juniper
      Juniper

      I may be barking up the wrong tree, but are you on the west coast? The religious sentiment tends to get a lot stronger there, as well as a the alcohol habits. (Though the east coast does have its moments.)

      1. Profile photo of Amber
        Amber

        No, I’m living in Aberdeen, Scotland. It’s a small college town with nothing to do here besides drinking. And since I am not a fan of alcohol, I am very bored.

  9. Profile photo of QoB
    QoB

    Ah, fond memories of a tourist at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, wondering loudly “if anyone here actually speaks American?”. I’m sad that that’s a true story.

    I have been known to bitch about the high percentage of ass-groping in Rome or the terrible lack of any people at all in Bundaberg, Australia, but I hope I had the common sense and decency to do it privately.

      1. Profile photo of QoB
        QoB

        Oh, I’m sure there were, but I was only there for 2 nights and it seemed like everyone except the US Marines on shore leave had gone to the beach for the whole time. Still, there were US Marines on shore leave, so:)

  10. Profile photo of freckle [M]
    freckle [M]

    Bravo, bravo!

    Luckily I haven’t even experienced it this bad, but simple any tourist that can only whine.. f**k of to Disneyland or some other fake, safe, brain-damaging park. Another country still means real world.

  11. Profile photo of Honeybadger
    Honeybadger

    I think that claiming you “love to travel” is something people like to say but when it comes down to it they don’t. Your experience with other cultures has a lot to do with what you make of the experience and if you stay in your bubble , even in your own town or city, you aren’t going to enjoy traveling. It’s ok not to like traveling and you should stay home and not make everyone else miserable and give tourists a bad name.

    1. Profile photo of mxandb
      mxandb

      So Damn True. One does not really like to travel if they do not like eating new and different foods, being in the culture rather than watching it, learning to work with and respect other people.

      (Just as: One does not like going on road trips if they do not like to drive.)

  12. Profile photo of Hague
    Hague

    Yup yup yup.
    It’s hilarious that Americans are falling all over the fact that The Netherlands may start denying them access to pot, when the reason the government is thinking about taking extreme measures has nothing to do with a war on drugs, but rather with drug tourism and the way tourists behave here when they are on pot and other drugs. Basically, if tourists as a group weren’t such assholes, things wouldn’t look quite as desperate as they do now.

    Though to be fair, it’s not just extra-European tourists who are a pain in the behind. It seems like as soon as people start travelling, even nationally, they become entitled little shits. Case in point: when I ride my bike from the train station to my house, the quickest route is through the inner courts of parliament. Gosh, you may say, is that even legal? Yes, it is. It’s a pedestrian area where cycling is allowed. So I am well within my rights to bike there. HOWEVER. I have gotten death glares, angry grumbling, and I have even been shouted at while trying to wind my way (carefully, I might add) through the throngs of tourists, because for some reason those visitors as a group decided they have more right to be there than little old me, who is just trying to get home.

    Ah, tourism.

    1. Profile photo of rah29
      rah29

      Hah, that’s why I hate my town in the summertime. It’s just thronged with tourists and no one else. It’s impossible to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time without bowling over a tourist or two or being propositioned to go punting. Can’t you tell by my pasty face and gollum-like posture that I’m a disgruntled postgradate trying to return a book to the library before it closes??!

    2. Profile photo of lostinmybox
      lostinmybox

      When I was living in Holland I always hated the snide comments from people back in the States, “oh, I know what you’re doing in Holland.” Smoking pot everyday? No. I was studying and researching my ass off. Sorry, the only people high off their asses are the tourist, and luckily they mostly stick to the Red Light dist. in Amsterdam.

      Don’t get me started about the tourist you walk in the bike lanes.

  13. Profile photo of rah29
    rah29

    Olivia, I think I am in love with you.

    I once worked on a summer school for American college students here in Cambridge. Some of the students were totally awesome kids, who really appreciated the place and threw themselves into the culture. Others, well….
    ‘Why are there so many bugs in England?’
    ‘Why does it rain all the time? In California it’s 100 degrees.’
    ‘Why can’t you get good Mexican food here?’
    ‘I can totally drink like twelve beers…’……realise English ale is stronger than Coors light, proceed to vomit all over a 500 year old floor and leave me to clean it up.

    In all seriousness though, I think part of the problem is actually that tourists show up with often massively romanticised visions of ‘Europe’, this magical place where everything is classy all the time. Whereas in reality, European cities are real places where actual people live and work. So people think every meal they have in Paris will be perfect; in fact, I have had some spectacularly bad meals in Paris (of course I’ve also had some spectacularly spectacular ones, and I’d rather be eating in Paris than anywhere else)! But you have to be willing to embrace the real city, warts and all, or else it will never live up to your imagination. The true magic of a city like Paris is in the bits beyond the Tour Eiffel and the Louvre.

    Though how anyone can grumble about Barcelona is completely beyond me. It’s the coolest city I’ve ever been to!

    1. Profile photo of Leona
      Leona

      Are you still at Cambridge? I’m here right now, as well, working away on my Ph.D in History! I’m always happy to run into other Cantabs on my favorite websites.
      And also: I completely agree about having romanticized views of European cities. When I’m riding a National Express coach from London to Cambridge or taking a TGV from Paris to Strasbourg, or walking up certain streets in Paris, I see a very different city than I had in my mind. It’s so much more multicultural, gritty, and sometimes (such as when the TGV is leaving the Gare de l’Est station) it’s dirty and ugly…but that’s just reality. There’s more beauty and personality to European cities and towns than the old tourist standbys. Just as Chicago is amazing- a clean city when you’re close to the lake, but kinda ugly if you’re driving in from the west through the suburbs.
      I like going off the beaten path to find non-tourist, local hotspots with good food and a better spot to really soak up the actual culture from the local people.

      1. Profile photo of rah29
        rah29

        Cool, a fellow Cantab!!! I’m wrapping up a PhD in POLIS and starting a postdoc. How’s the Seeley these days? Fun times? Enjoying this ridiculous weather we’re having? What do you work on?

        Yeah, it’s funny how people can interpret cities very differently – some are much more tourist-friendly than others, but just because a city isn’t immediately stunning doesn’t mean it’s not a cool place. Brussels is a great example. Everyone I know hates visiting Brussels as a tourist, but everyone I know who lives there absolutely loves it because the atmosphere is great if you’re a stagière or young researcher with a language or two under your belt (a bit like the DC of Europe, I’d imagine). Similarly, Warsaw. I lived there for a little while and tourists just completely ignored it in favour of the much prettier Krakow, but Warsaw is SUCH a cool city. You can party all night with awesome people in a secret bar in the shadow of some hideous communist building! You just have to be willing to seek it out and the city really opens up to you.

        1. Profile photo of QoB
          QoB

          I really liked Warsaw – I was only there for a week but I really felt I could just slip into it and it was very relaxed.
          Similarly with Sydney and Melbourne – Sydney is beautiful, but Melbourne repays the time you invest in it with hidden bars and rooftop movies and other excellent things.

    2. Profile photo of Pleased At Punch
      Pleased At Punch

      Tell me about it! This article is all about non-Europeans being rude in Europe, but Europeans can be just as bad: a few weeks ago I was walking down King’s Parade and a gaggle of adolescents starting screaming “Enfants de la patriiiiiiiiie…”. Being from Marseille myself, I was thoroughly ashamed of the French national anthem being loudly butchered in the street. I still regret not crossing the road and telling them (in my best Marseille French) to shut the hell up and get some respect: not only were they ruining it for themselves, the locals and the students, but also the other tourists who were busy keeping on the pavement.

      1. Profile photo of rah29
        rah29

        Oh man, those kids are the worst, they can be SO rude. The way they just hover on the road in their huge packs, never making room for anyone…. Young people these days… *unintelligable grad student grumbling*

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    mxandb

    Can’t agree more. Though I have only been in one other country (Ireland), I have seen this touristy bullshit in towns within my own state. These towns are not Dependent on tourist dollars. They have their own businesses, they have mills, they have ranches. They are not here to cater to “City folk” and their rude children.

    Sometimes I think it’s just a complete lack of respect. People treating other people like they are servants, entertainers, caretakers, the help. These towns are not “quaint,” they are not “rustic.” They are actually Home. Those rusted out trucks in the field are not there for style, aesthetic or photographic appeal. More often than not, where that truck sits is where it died. Or, it’s where it was moved to after dying to get it out of the way of the other machinery. It is not “authentic,” it is Actual. gah. It is life. Not amusement.

    (I will not be taking a friend on certain road trip ever again.)

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    hiphiphooray

    I wholeheartedly agree!!

    The best of my last trip to Italy was on the train to Florence, when one American girl found another in the aisle near me. She loudly went on an hour-long rant about being ripped off by a (obvious non-licensed) cabbie, the obnoxious Italians at the train station, and what a terrible country this was. I was so embarrassed, and couldn’t believe she was complaining in a car full of Italians that likely spoke English. Nonsense!

    1. Profile photo of Kate
      Kate

      Oh, I was in a Monoprix in France last year, and two American girls were walking through the store talking about everyone in English. They even started talking about me at one point, and I’m very obviously not French. I couldn’t believe it; in that town there weren’t many people who spoke English, but you can assume someone understands. (I had a similar experience in the US once; two girls who were very smug about having lived abroad started talking in front of and about people in Spanish. And since their Spanish-speaking ability isn’t as rare as they thought, of course there were people who understood them.)

      I feel like most tourists aren’t all that bad, though–people remember best the ones who are awful. I also think people are really pleased with themselves for being more sophisticated than the Midwestern tourists, and like to tell those stories.

      I do sympathize, though; I don’t like it when people complain all the time.

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