Photo: Shanti Hesse/Shutterstock

An Open Letter to the Locals Laughing at My Tour Group

by Alyssa James Oct 9, 2014
Dear Locals,

Well, of course I saw you roll your eyes. You laughed pretty loudly when you noticed your friend doing the same. I know, it’s easy to make fun of the girl with the Hello Kitty backpack taking peace-sign selfies in front of what seems like every big rock, tall tree, and bronzed statue we encounter.

If I were being honest, I’d tell you that I wish this group of middle-aged Americans would stop lifting their huge DSLRs to furiously snap photos of everything our Melburnian tour guide points at. As if their cargo pants and Columbia fleece vests weren’t drawing enough attention to us, they add loud “oohs” and “aahs” and incessant click! click! click! sounds to the mix. I just want yell, “Your camera’s on auto mode, relax!”

Believe me, you really didn’t have to go out of your way to imitate the girl wearing high heels (on a walking tour!) who seems to think every stop we make is a set for her photo shoot. I’m sure she’s suffering enough in those shoes. My point is I hate to stand out when I travel, and I’m well aware that we look a bit strange. I’ve got vicarious embarrassment down to a tee and, well, our tour guide has a man bun. Cut me some slack.

I’m just here to say: I get it. You think we’re silly paying money to look at buildings and monuments you walk past every day. You don’t understand why every group of foreigners you come across takes 500 pictures of Big Ben from different angles, or feels the need to stand in the middle of the sidewalk staring at a derelict building in Brick Lane.

I know exactly where you’re coming from. I’m from Toronto, a city that sees its fair share of tour groups — East Asian tourists descend on the city in huge coach buses with Chinese, Japanese, or Korean characters detailed on the side. They park in inconvenient places and appear to have cameras for hands, snapping away at every building and busker on the street where the rest of us are just trying to live our lives.

After a while, I learned not to buy coffees from the Second Cup on Bloor Street West because it was directly opposite the Royal Ontario Museum. On a regular day that’s a busy sidewalk spot, but when the tour buses arrive it’s a pedestrian pileup. The visitors stream out of the bus, run across the road to the Second Cup, and look for the perfect angle to get the whole Michael Lee-Chin Crystal into one image. I’ve spilled far too many lattés while narrowly avoiding getting poked in the eye by a woman’s visor because she stopped suddenly in front me. There’s a reason people think this Crystal is a stain on the city, and it isn’t just the protruding Daniel Libeskind design.

When it’s your everyday reality, it’s pretty annoying. But then there was this afternoon in June when I was walking down St. Patrick Street to meet a friend. It’s mostly residential, in the middle of the downtown Toronto, so I was surprised to see a tour bus slowing to a stop. Just before I rolled my eyes, I decided to look at what they were seeing. It was 54 1/2 St. Patrick Street, so numbered because the house occupying the lot was sawed in half. Literally. The right side was sold to a developer and destroyed in the 1970s; the hole on the other side was sealed and remains a family home today.

I’d walked down that street many times before and never noticed there’s half a Victorian house on the street. I felt silly that I didn’t see the city I loved in the same way these tourists did: with awe, inspiration, anticipation. I had that ‘been there, done that’ attitude that accomplishes nothing but close you off to learning new things.

So while I empathize with you — we’re blocking your view, your commute to work, your happy hour drinking — I also don’t. Surely you’ve been that person taking selfies at a Buddhist monastery or ‘holding up’ the Leaning Tower of Pisa at one time or another. No? I don’t believe you — show me your Instagram.

Look, just because it’s your hometown doesn’t mean you can’t still experience that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you uncover a new place. Quit your snickering, reserve your judgement. Ask yourself: What do they see that I don’t?

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