Quit Judging Snap-Happy Tourists
It’s a well-worn archetype, that of the foreigner striding through busy city streets with a smartphone or an expensive-looking camera in hand, snapping a new image every few moments. Every few months I have the pleasure of spotting them, the tour groups that come through the city with their beaming smiles and modest clothing. They say little but they smile often as they watch this alternate universe unfold before them. Occasionally, I’m able to pinpoint their country of origin by their accent or mannerisms, but often they, and their culture, remain just as much a mystery to me as my home town is to them.
Typical reactions range from light amusement to outright discomfort, especially if, at any moment, the lens might happen to point in your direction. At times, the odd racially-charged remark might even become part of the fabric of conversation, like an offensive error in the pattern.
The trouble with the judgments afforded to these tourists is that while they might seem like run-of-the-mill prejudice – an endemic issue in itself – they are symptomatic of a nation full of people who have forgotten the beauty of their own backyard. While people from other lands come to give our home a prized position amongst the pictures of their family and friends on their cameras and phones, some of us take it for granted, and then wonder why they refuse to do the same.
The truth is that the act of taking pictures is only the surface of something far more important: reverence.
Isn’t a tourist who discovers the beauty in inane daily life through the lens of a camera more likely to keep their fast food wrappers from filling up the picture?
Just so, someone who buys a phrasebook to learn basic English probably won’t be caught spilling angry words in the direction of a bewildered bus driver. In fact, if prejudice were a form of pollution, your average international visitor would be nearer to carbon-neutral than most residents, so it’s time to ask ourselves why we’re so quick to judge.
Whether you think the photography trend is interesting, strange, or perfectly ordinary, there’s something to be said for appreciating the land you walk on, and you can bet that a tourist who spends their days taking pictures of your home country appreciates every inch. When they’re not busy clicking the shutter, you’ll probably see them treating the natural world around them, and the people in it, with respect.
Camera-toting tourists are a reminder to appreciate the miraculous beauty of the world around you, even those parts of it you’ve seen it before, so when you do find yourself in uncharted territory, consider it your opportunity to take a leaf from the book of an enthusiastic stranger.
Buy a phrasebook, and do your best to use it. Bonus points if you can squeeze in a few language classes before take-off. Even if it’s a struggle making it through a few sentences and your pronunciation leaves much to be desired, the locals in your destination will appreciate it to no end.
Try the local specialty, but for the love of God, make sure the wrappers end up in the right bin. The world is polluted enough, so if you can’t leave a place in better condition than you found it, then at least don’t leave it looking worse.
Take as many blurry pictures as you damn well please, even if you know you’ll probably never give them a second look. Photograph your hotel room, the sunrises and sunsets, the people you meet along the way, and of course, the food. High-resolution food porn is Instagram gold.
Whatever you do, make sure to fill that memory card with as many memories as you can find. Then, by the time you get back home, you might just see your own backyard in a whole new light.
Photo by Benjamin Sow