14 November 2011

The Authoritative Guide to Being an Expert Tourist (vol. 1)

Congratulations on advancing this far, young tourist. You've done well.

You have mastered the Security Line Rumba, that dance of slipping off your shoes and emptying your pockets while pirouetting to avoid the trio of hungover conventioneers whacking you with their carry-ons as they try to dig out their laptops.

Your internal Irish Pub radar is so well-honed that you can smell the Guinness and County Cork tchotchkes from three miles away.

You have perfected the Goofy Tourist Picture Pose, every bit as ridiculous and labored as a supermodel's pout-strut, but accessorized so much more creatively, with the Eiffel Tower as a hat or Manneken Pis pee(r)ing over your shoulder or Mary Tyler Moore as your bronzed arm-candy (see fig. 1). (See further reading section below.)

Fig. 1
But those were just the basics. You have proven your interest and commitment. Now you must prove yourself. It is time to move on to the Advanced Touristing Techniques. And I, your Touristing Guru Master Expert Dude, am here to help. Master just a few more skills, young camera-toting, globe-trotting, guidebook-waving grasshopper, and you, too, will be able to call yourself a true Advanced Expert Tourist.

This will be an ongoing set of lessons--the wisdom of the ancients cannot be explained in a single blog post, nor can true proficiency be attained if your focus is not pure and constant. I ask--nay, implore--you to begin practicing forthwith and to dedicate yourself to the cause with singular vigor. More lessons will follow shortly.


Get out of the way or join the dance: Two methods of interacting with other camera-toting tourists.

Method 1: The camera-duck/tourist-pivot
The scenario: You're walking through a busy tourist area and you spot someone seemingly staring--hard--into space, a big, cheesy grin affixed to his or her face.

Rookie mistake: After staring hard at the person, trying to determine what that demented Jack Nicholson-in-The Shining grin is all about (and whether or not you should be sprinting away), you realize that said person is posing for a picture. You stop abruptly so as not to walk into the frame, but your halting, flustered demeanor makes the poser and the photographer both become self-conscious, and the poser starts to apologize just as the camera shutter clicks, necessitating a do-over or ten. The spontaneity is lost, the moment ruined, and it's all your fault.

Advanced technique: After much time on the tourist trail and much practice spotting the assorted and multitudinous but not-very-elusive breeds of photo-posers, you will hone your vision and instinct and be able to spot them from a minimum of twenty strides away. Pretend you don't see them but stay out of the frame. Don't break stride, don't make eye contact, just duck or pivot around them.

Recommended practice: Ducking and/or pivoting without breaking stride. I suggest at least five reps of ten pivots and fifteen walking-ducks per day.

Method 2: The Tourist Dance
The scenario: Same as above, but suddenly you're in a social mood and want to interact.

Rookie mistake: You stand around awkwardly, waiting for the photographer or the poser to see you, hoping they'll ask you to take a picture. Uneasy glances are exchanged until the photographer gets so weirded out by your silent, leering presence that he/she chucks the camera hard in your face before they both make a run for it. Laugh not, young tourist. This could be you--according to research by the esteemed Tourists Are People Too Institute, two out of every five tourists require facial stitches from this precise scenario. And two more of those five will require hospitalization after taking the opposite approach and getting in the photographer's face and yelling, in a condescending, you-don't-speak-English-do-you voice, "WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO TAKE A PHOTO OF BOTH OF YOU, 'CAUSE I TOTALLY COULD" and then refusing accept a polite "No, thanks" as an answer, and persisting ... and, eventually, getting a swift, solid punt in the crotch. Take it from this squeaky-voiced expert: you do NOT want this to happen.

Advanced technique: Lead by example. Incidentally, this also works if there's just one person around and isn't even looking at you--it just so happens to be a perfect ice-breaker for meeting people (like, say, that alluring stranger over there--TAPTI studies also show that being an Advanced Tourist makes you at least seventy-nine percent more attractive and intriguing). Walk up confidently but politely, holding your own camera slightly in front of you with one hand and subtly gesturing toward yourself and giving a friendly smile. If you are unsure what language the other person speaks--or want to maintain an air of mystery about your own nationality--point to your camera and then to yourself and say, "Photo?" Chances are, by this time, the other person is doing the same thing--holding out a camera, trying to guess your language, "Excusi, mein foto, tak, domo arigato ... okay?" For the full dancing and ice-breaking effect, make sure you show the other person your handiwork on the screen, and double-check his or her photo of you as well.

Important note: You want the overall message to be charming, but persuasive, the general sentiment being, "I'd sure appreciate if you would take my picture, and then I'll take yours, and then we'll strike up conversation in whatever common language we share--or, failing that, endearingly awkward hand gestures--& then you'll invite me to go stay with you in your villa." TAPTI research has shown that, indeed, you can convey that precise message, down to the incongruous ampersand, entirely with the subtle way you point and gesture with your camera. Be aware, however, holding your camera at a slightly improper angle can be misinterpreted and may, again, lead to misunderstandings and severe bodily harm. Especially in certain parts of Switzerland. (Oh, the stories I could tell from that innocent time before I learned the Tourist Wisdom!)

Recommended practice: Work on those hand gestures and the precise questioning intonation of your query. Since not everyone speaks English, even on the tourist trail, be sure to have a backup language, too--practice saying both "Photo?" and "¿Foto?"

Additional notes
After years of diligent study and meticulous attention to the art and craft of touristing, you will be ready to apply your skills in the field. For complete Touristic Fulfillment, however, you will need to make a pilgrimage to specific sites where other Advanced Tourists gather--it is in these settings that you will truly understand what it means to be a Tourist and will finally be able to practice such sacred collective rites as Synchronized Touristing (see fig. 2).

Fig. 2 

Upcoming lessons:
  • Achieving just the right reluctant, self-aware eye-roll when you refer to yourself as a tourist. 
  • What to do when you hear the telltale sound of a Peruvian pan-flute. 
  • The utter importance of wearing black socks. 
  • Tourist origami: How to re-fold a map so that the currently-relevant area is all that shows and you're not holding an immense flag of a sheet of paper and basically asking people to relieve you of your wallet and various easily-sellable internal organs. 

Further reading:
For additional insights on the matter of the art and science of the Goofy Tourist Picture Pose, please refer to the world's foremost authority on the matter, a digital volume entitled Tacky Tourist Photos (Garnick et al., 2009-present).


  1. Please write about shoes that do not shout "I AM AN AMERICAN!" I know that you have an opinion.

  2. Ah, tourist photos. I work down the road from the British parliament. My tube station is immediately opposite Big Ben, so every day I exit the tube, cross the road, and dance my way through hundreds of tourists. Because if you could only take one photo that sums up London, what will it be?

    The first week in the job, I waited patiently to avoid obstructing photos. But lordy, it would double my ten minute walk to twenty minutes. Now I do my best to stay out of the way, but I’m just keeping on walking, occassionally ducking, occassionally leaping into the road.


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