Op Ed

Another Take on the Native/Tourist Dynamic

I am an NYC-dweller who has the outside perspective of one who has spent half her life in another place (Virginia, to be exact). I was heading home on the subway yesterday after a not-fun day at work, and I was in a terrible mood due to something blog-related, so my fuse was shorter than normal. It was then that I found myself a foot away from a four-person group of tourists.

I’m not unfairly labeling here; they actually labeled themselves as such. Over my headphones I could hear them (especially the guy I ended up identifying as the family’s grown son) say such things as, “We’re not from here,” and “Where we come from…” in that upbeat but condescending way that has never endeared anyone to a native of anywhere, ever. The main thesis of their loud talking (not just to one another; they were trying to engage the people around them) was that they couldn’t believe that there are this many people on the subway car, and none of them are talking to each other!

This is a common weapon in the Us vs. Them arsenal. People from smaller towns say this about cityfolk, everyone else in America says this about East Coasters. Meanwhile, the cityfolk and East Coasters say that everyone else talks too much and should just leave them the hell alone. I think this all simply stems from the fact that big cities specifically, and the East Coast in general, are just more densely populated. That leads to both increased anonymity in public and general frustration with people that aren’t present in quieter, more tree-lined places.

Still, that doesn’t stop people from crowing about unfriendly New York City subway riders in the presence of dozens of them during evening rush hour. In the end, all I actually did yesterday was silently fume with my outrage meter cranked up to 11. However, here is the response I would have given, out loud, if I’d had either the ovaries to do it or the spontaneous eloquence to have had these words right then:

Look, there are a lot of reasons no one talks to each other on the subway. First of all, we’re all hesitant to interact unnecessarily with other subway strangers because of the decent possibility that they are a subway-weirdo who will try to convert us to their religion, break out in song and/or dance, or just be generally creepy and strange.

Second, once the novelty wears off, the subway is really unpleasant. It’s too crowded, it smells, most of the stations feature gangs of rats, stagnant garbage water, and uncirculated hot air. Everyone tolerates it because it’s the most efficient way to get around the city, but the time that you’re actually riding it is nearly unbearable. Also, the subway system is huge. Some people have to ride that shit for an hour or more in one go. So anyone who was in a good mood when they started is cranky within minutes of boarding.

Third, have you looked out the windows? See all those abandoned warehouses and run-down homes all around you? We are in a crappy part of a crappy borough in a city with unevenly distributed wealth. Most people here probably worked their asses off at work today and are going home to stressful, cash–strapped household. Or possibly even a second job.

So yeah, sorry. This isn’t a wacky adventure for any of us; this is our lives. You’re on vacation right now, but none of us are, probably because we can’t afford it. And if I were to take a vacation this summer, I certainly wouldn’t spend it going to other cities and then loudly criticizing its residents for not living their lives the same way I do.

Photo: Getty

Inspired by Olivia’s European perspective on tourists. And those subway jerks.

6 replies on “Another Take on the Native/Tourist Dynamic”

I see this dynamic every day on the train with the commuters versus the day-trippers/casual riders–the latter will do things like take up seats with their luggage, or spread out over superfluous seats, or put their feet up on seats (though commuters do this too and I enjoy making them move their feet so I can sit) and not understand why people are giving them the stink-eye.

I bet they get around in their own private chariots wherever they come from. A nice little bubble where you can smoke, curse or play the radio loudly on your way home from work. You don’t have to interact with anyone. I think it’s just a lack of experience and hopefully with a little more traveling they will realize how ridiculous their questioning is.

It always amuses me a bit to read about talking to strangers on the subway. Here (Dutchies) you must be the drunk town-loony to start talking to anyone and I even think the tourists turn a bit silent when they get in.

I don’t know what it is. But the last time I stranger started talking to me on the subway, I was so surprised that I couldn’t reply for a couple of seconds.

Subway is were the minds wander or shut down, me thinks.

What bugs me about that attitude is that small-town America/Canada/wherever is not all that friendly. People do not always say hello to each other. People are just as, if not more, insular and clique-ish and some people are just assholes. That’s right. Assholes. I have lived in a small-town (population 20,000) now for nine months after moving from Toronto, and although everyone from here has a superiority complex about being in a friendly small town, people here are jerks.

Tourists often forget that the cities that they’re in have real walking, breathing people populating the streets who exist there for more than a holiday weekend.

I lived in relatively small towns until my late 20s (150,000 being the largest population).

I’ve found that the people in those towns were far more rude (per capita) than people who live in (or very near, abutted ‘burbs) Chicago. Smaller towns seem to breed narrow-minded POVs, intolerance to diversity, and entitlement issues out the wazoo. I’ve found that people who grew up and stayed in the ‘burbs to be more on par with small-town people than with people who live in large cities.

The handful of times I’ve been to NYC, I’ve not found it to be any more rude than Chicago. I went to bars by myself and people always chatted with me. If I smiled at someone on the street, they smiled back usually and sometimes threw out a hello.

People who visit cities tend to only see the parts where tourists are…they never venture in to get the real feel of one, thus they continue their narrow-minded beliefs about that city.

Yes! To all of this. I spend a lot of time silently fuming at obnoxious tourists since I spend an hour+ on the Chiago el every day, and I work near the main tourist area, and live near a baseball stadium. My ride home is often after a really long day in lab, on a train so crowded that strangers are literally pressed intimately against me on all sides, in a hot, smelly train car. Last night, my train smelled so bad, I was actually looking around for solid human waste to make sure I wasn’t stepping in any. I’m pretty sure I was standing where someone had recently urinated. And my train ride that morning was spent warily watching a mentally ill man rant and pace up and down the train car, all while growing increasingly irritated and loud. When you also add in the perverts, flashers, aggressive guys, rude pushy people, and the risk of having your purse/ipod/wallet snatched if you’re distracted, no, I’m not usually interested in talking to people on my commute. I’ve had the occasional chit chat about a book I’m reading or whatever, but that’s not the norm. For a reason.

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