Miss Manners: Improving tourist behavior beginning with the selfie

August 3 at 12:00 AM

This summer’s damper on recreational travel gives us pause to muse about tourism itself.

There are those of us who, much as we cherish our hometowns, are yearning to be somewhere else — revisiting another beloved place, or just roaming around. Then there are those who live at popular destinations and have a love-hate relationship with tourists: love the money, hate the crowds.

And some are in both those categories: We can’t stand those awful people who come here, but we feel free to grace someplace else.

Miss Manners is not given to bashing tourists. Considering how she likes to travel, it would be unbecoming. When others brag of frequenting places “where none of the tourists go,” she has to resist saying, “Well, at least until you got there.”

But she does admit that touristic behavior could stand some improvement. And she says this in the interest of tourists themselves — ourselves — as well as those who are driven crazy by trying to go through their ordinary routines while having to dodge crowds of people blithely blocking them while taking photographs of themselves.

The selfie habit might be a good place to start. Yes, yes, you want to preserve the memory of being in that lovely place. But perhaps not at every step you take. You don’t look that different blocking every site on your list. And frankly, your friends are not truly thrilled to see all this posted.

What irritates the locals is not only having to walk around you on their way to work or school. It is knowing that it is not their treasured wonders that interest you; it is yourself, with those merely serving as background.

It takes only a little homework to counter that. Anyone who neglected the reading for a college course but managed, the night before the examination, to cram in enough material to pass ought to be able to pick up the rudiments of history and culture when traveling. Asking intelligent questions is as flattering as asking stupidly basic ones is annoying.

You can often strike up conversations that way, and talking to the local people is one of the joys of travel. Miss Manners knows of lifelong family friendships that began with an interesting question posed to a shopkeeper or even a passerby — interesting enough to require retiring to a cafe for further discussion. (The shopkeeper put a “Back Soon” sign on his door rather than give up elucidating matters to the tourist.)

This is more likely to work with artisans than sellers of ordinary souvenirs. Anyway, you probably want to go home with something that your stay-at-home friends haven’t found cheaper online.

Of course, knowing the language is of inestimable help for foreign travel. But aside from Parisians who pretend not to understand Americans’ high school French, foreigners who understand English are generally appreciative of even rudimentary attempts at their native language. At a minimum, one should memorize the words for “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m so sorry, I don’t speak your language.”

Finally, Miss Manners believes in giving back in return for the pleasure a place has given you. For those just passing through, it could be a donation to an organization they have enjoyed, such as a museum; for frequent visitors, joining such a support group.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

2020, by Judith Martin