Recent graffiti on the stuccoed walls of holiday destination Spain has sparked some controversy, and no little debate, regarding the future of holidaymakers in not only that region but many others like it.... Where cruise ship numbers, coach parties and package holidays are beginning to put a strain on the patience of the residents, with soaring rental and food prices lying at the heart of the problem, but the enforced changes to the character of the landscape is also an underlying issue. It is up to every traveller, holidaymaker and tourist to help smooth over the cracked stucco and forge a greater relationship with those who, quite rightly, feel that their own lives are being negatively affected by these rude, dominant and troublesome interlopers. The wealth and financial stability that holidaymakers bring to particular regions needs to be put on the back-burner for the time being it seems... So here goes - A few helpful and often overlooked ways we can help as annoying usurpers.
1. Selfie Sticks can be the first thing to go in the bin.
These personal 'Space Invaders' highlight the ignorant traveller's position so starkly that the banning has already begun, and not before time. Narcissism sticks not only end up discarded by the roadside but also sticking out of bins and from the sockets of other peoples twitching faces. So abhorrent in fact, that they have become a firm favourite with itinerant street sellers and there is no greater sign of a worthless piece of tat than that. We should have some decorum, have some sense, have some dignity and consign these damnations to the scrapheap of cheap human detritus where they belong. Oh, and if you think I'm being unfair or demeaning to the stick users, imagine a world where everyone not only owned one... but used them wherever they went; on every street, in every alleyway, every piazza and park, filled with grinning idiots, arms extended, swords drawn. We wouldn't be able to move and the each and every place would be spoilt recklessly with our pointless, pointy tools of crap? Banned they should be, as wheeled luggage is banned in Venice, but how many of us are still dragging our damaging and noise polluting bags of dirty laundry behind us, and not giving a single jot?
2. Avoid buying tat, fake products and pointless memorabilia.
Keep it real. I've said it before and I'll say it again, why go to Florence and buy a mini helicopter, ball of sticky gel or helium filled balloon? Why? Leaving the highly complex issues of vagrancy and its affect on the local community, what possible benefit are we deriving from purchasing such rubbish and why here? There may be a small window of opportunity to spend your hard earned money on tat when you are at a seaside fairground but in the heart of Renaissance Italy, you must surely be joking? It's not helping anybody. The knock on affects of buying cheap knock-offs and fake luxury goods isn't doing anyone any favours, and the suppliers of such rubbish aren't only involved with the illegal import of Louis Vuitton handbags either. The implications further down the food chain are immense.
3. Learn the language, even if it's just a few pleasantries. Capisci?
Staring blankly at a shopkeeper or restaurateur as they cheerily say Buongiorno, Bienvenue or Hola! as you enter really isn't going to get your experience off on the best footing. I've seen many a Twit Advisor review end with "They couldn't even Speak English.". Learning your helloes, goodbyes, thank you's and pleases really isn't a lot to ask and learning as you go, by chatting to waiters and locals, goes a long way to creating a better atmosphere all round. Being able to read a menu in a foreign language is not only culturally rewarding but it makes the whole dining experience an altogether richer experience for all involved. Of course, if your menus are available in every language and have pictures, then you will feel that you don't need to worry and that the damage to the community and culture has already been done. It really is a wasted opportunity not to at least try a few lines even if it's just "Officer, can't we discuss this calmly?"
4. Dress for the occasion, location and situation.
Wear in the world? It doesn't have to be glamorous, just befitting your surroundings, although preferably something that doesn't cause offence to the locals or to a camera lens. Again, it's really not about restrictions, its about enjoying yourself and feeling part of the landscape. I appreciate that everyone has different tastes and that if we all dressed identically, well, then life would become a bit of a drudge, but this shouldn't preclude a certain level of involvement, consideration, care and imagination. Linen is linen for a reason; as is silk, cotton, worsted, wool, etc. What may suit a gym may not be exactly what's required when visiting the Louvre, and there seems to be very little sympathy around when I see somebody wobbling around on cobbles in 3 inch heals or staring into the sun with their baseball cap on back to front. How many photo's do you see on Instagram or Facebook, for example, whereby the person standing in front of something beautiful is ruining the shot. It's not a great leap to imagine that a certain amount of blending in will help calm the residents ire.
5. Do as the locals do, eat as the locals eat, drink as the locals drink.
The introduction of global corporate brands is becoming a major issue for not only local residents but probably, and more importantly, for local tradespeople too. If we really feel that we need to go to a Starbuck's when holidaying in Rome, then we really need our heads testing. Home to some of the finest coffee in the world and some even finer traditions and cultures based around it, to demand a Starbuck's because it's recognisable and we you might drink it at home, is tantamount to caffeine induced lunacy. If this desire were to take hold, then what would become of Italian coffee houses, the espresso and the local Pasticceria? High streets and plaza's across the globe are becoming indistinguishable from each other, and why is this? It's because of the demands of the reluctant tourist. Maybe if they are tucked away in some grotesque modern shopping mall somewhere then it might be viewed as a decent compromise, but should you ever find yourself in a Dunkin Donuts, a KFC, a Starbuck's, a MacDonald's or a Domino's whilst touring, when there are other options banging on your passport's door, then please go home and save everyone the grief. Obviously, the damage is even greater when the discarded wrappers and cups are just left sitting on ancient walls and in cluttered gutters. How do you see it ending if we all did this? Why are you there? Oh, yeah, ... to use the loo. Don't stick to your local brew when it comes to booze either. There are so many delights and traditions when it comes to aperitifs, afternoon snifters, digestifs, beers, spirits, ciders, wines, cordials, sherries, vermouths, liqueurs etc that to stick to what you normally drink is a mortal holiday sin, and if you can't think what to have and where, then ask someone, ... and if you don't want to ask someone, take your head out of the terrible Tom Cruise movie on the flight over and read up on the local delights before you arrive. It helps the economy, it helps you feel part of the place you're visiting and the locals like it when you join in and are inquisitive. You will be pleasantly surprised... After all, local wines can be quite cheap and really are quite evocative of the area, sitting well in your given surroundings - It's a shame to order something from elsewhere, even if the quality is better... It's the moment, the here and now that matters most.. and you probably won't ever drink it at home.
6. Be courteous, kind, understanding and smile ... You're on holiday.
We can all get a little grumpy after a long journey or a kerfuffle over lost luggage, a closed car rental or if we've had the misfortune to have flown with Qantas, but there is no need, or any benefit whatsoever, to take it out on your hosts. I'm sure that most of the gripes written on TA are due to either an over-expectation on the part of the informant, or that they were feeling a bit 'minty' after an earlier troublesome incident or long sweaty walk over fields of discarded take-away wrappers, bent selfie sticks and broken heels. Waiters especially respond to a warm smile, and a chat to the cabbie from the airport can open up a deep well of information should you choose to engage, ... rather than continuing your argument with each other about the best place to keep your passports or how much time was spent flirting with the aircrew. This is your break - It really pays to not only remember where you are but just how lucky you are. If something does go wrong, breath, think and smile. If a room isn't ready, go wait, but wait somewhere nice. Choosing to cut your nose off to spite your face isn't going to help get you that upgrade you're praying for. I have stuck my head around kitchen doors many a time to thank the backroom staff for the quality of a meal. Everyone wins if the compliments and smiles are bandied about like $1 bills in a sleazy strip joint... probably.... I imagine. Busy people will get to you when they can, and quicker if you're understanding, angry shopkeepers will calm if you are quiet and appreciative, and knife wielding chefs will soon shake your hand if you compliment them on the lightness of their mascarpone cream. Save all the anger for the commute to work, the letter of complaint to Qantas and for the morning papers. Not here though, not now .... annnnd rest.
7. Don't invade in large tour groups. Break up, spread out.
Buzz killers! I know, I know, I hate tour groups, and I have mentioned this before but this is about the locals, and not about my harmonious lunch being ruined or my peaceful view being blocked out by years of little exercise and large portions. Should you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being part of a large tour group; if your life has taken an unexpected turn for the worse and you are unable to travel on your own or with chosen loved ones, make your own decisions, take care of yourself and read a small historical pamphlet... If you need a person with a monkey on stick to order you about and to usher you into small passages already crammed with bemused tourists, and to scream that this is the Basilica St.Angrimonde like you didn't already know, then please, find a way to break free, to escape the mass huddle and to hear yourself breath. Local shopkeepers, restaurateurs and hoteliers like nothing more than quietly going about their business; ordering fridge magnets, putting hairs in greek salads and watering down the vodka - To be interrupted by 40 trinket hungry foreigners all demanding immediate attention only serves to make them irritable. Like locusts in a field of something really quite tasty and probably containing chocolate, here one minute, gone the next. Replete and satiated but only until the next unfortunate shop/restaurant/bar/field is inundated with cargo from the good ship Princess Mayhem of the Seas ll. Not only does an influx of 40 sightseers ruin any atmosphere anywhere, you can hardly expect the food to be top notch either, especially when everyone wants feeding at the same time. Then, of course, to write a bad review on Trip Advisor about how bad the food and slow the service was, contrary to the reviews just read earlier that day. I can assure you that it is doing irreparable damage, or at least reparable damage, to many holiday destinations that are unlucky enough to have deep water harbours close enough to town, that these P&O leviathans can unleash their brimming landing-craft out on to an unsuspecting world. You must be hard pressed not to hum The Ride of Valkyries as landfall approaches, surely. I know that the money is handy but it will flow just as richly if it is spent more steadily, even if the cash is more often than not going on the tat that is killing that destination in the first place. It's hard to find a shop on Santorini for example that isn't selling cheap knock off jewellery from Albania, blue and white magnets and Chinese made, sweatshop T-Shirts. This isn't the community that needs our protection, by the way.... They are long gone, apart from maybe a local supermarket, bakery or bookshop. Once the locusts have finished their scourge and these places are damaged beyond repair, they will undoubtably move on the next poor unfortunate spot, but off the beaten track is actually a good idea, given the options. The discerning tourist is now seeking pastures new, back to the 'real' and away from the crowds and tourist tat. Often, these places are just finding their feet and whether it's an Agri-turismo or a small Bed and Breakfast, you are much more likely to be received with open arms than in the coach tour ravaged cities of Florence, Pisa, Carcassonne and Shepton Mallet. Small too, regarding tour groups, is much easier to manage, easier on the eye and on the ear, and small is beautiful.... unless you're going somewhere really big, then knock yourself out.
8. Understand the history, the tradition and the culture.
It's why we're here, right? Over 1000's of years, our holiday destinations have been created by mother nature, by war, architects, great civilisations, artists and politicians. These battle scars and icons have monumentally shaped the places we visit, quite literally. To understand what a nation has been though, what it has suffered and how it has survived and prospered can only help enrich your stay and help build a better relationship with our hosts. Apart from ignorance being annoying to those who see their nation's history as highly significant, a learned word about a community's culture at the right time can encourage friendships and build beautiful bridges between traveller and host. It would be hard to find a place on this earth that hasn't been affected by war, pestilence, attrition or drought at some point in it's history. Getting to know how these things have affected a community, its architecture and its tradition creates a bond and an excellent means of cultivating a more harmonious relationship between locals and tourists alike. Again, flight time, and airport lounge time might be better spent Googling Charlemagne than gargling Champagne and asking for a Turkish coffee in Greece might not make for the best cup you've ever tasted.
9. Obeying the Law of the Land.
It seems like an obvious one really but brawling, drunken behaviour and general aggression don't make comfortable bedfellows with local citizens, especially where alcohol is concerned, but being an inebriated nuisance or creating a disturbance are just the tip of the Salzburg and the problems run much deeper than just having had a few too many. Petty theft, a drunken prank gone wrong, can lead to a 5 year prison term in some countries, certain expulsion and ongoing visa problems for the rest of your life. Sometimes that stolen ashtray can lead to more than just a heavier 'carry-on' than when you arrived. Dress requirements need to be taken into consideration as do other desecration laws as well. I can't tell you how many monuments, churches and religious artefacts I've witnessed being climbed on, damaged or demeaned for the perfect or funny Instagram pic. If caught, the resultant sentences and fines can be very hefty indeed, apart from the fact that I find it utterly repulsive that so many ignorant and selfish visitors can have so little amount of respect for their hosts and their beliefs. Then there are the more well known examples of not only drug taking but drug smuggling. The constant parade of desperate and always innocent drug mules, much highlighted by the press, is a constant source of bewilderment to me. Imagine how local authorities and communities affected by this practise feel about it? It is never to be condoned. I don't need to go into details about the even more sickening and depraved crimes on this forum but if you choose to go abroad to satisfy what is unacceptable in your own country, just be prepared for what might happen should you get caught, and justifiably. Away from these more serious issues, it really is advisable to check out via the internet, some of the more common laws and practises that the country being visited adopts. It really doesn't take long and the benefits are obvious.
10. For Love of the Game.
The global fascination with sport is a fantastic way of bonding between nations and can act as a starting point for great friendships and a better mutual understanding of cultures and traditions. Instead of railing against a local team or country, embrace it. Instead of supporting and arguing in favour of certain teams, players or events, allow them into your hearts because you have bonded with the locale or host. It really doesn't do any harm, in fact, it does totally the opposite. I've had many a night where a local team are at the heart of action and I just happen to have been caught up in the excitement. Just because I support the ever upsetting Arsenal Football Club, doesn't mean that I can't support Panathinaikos when in a bar on Folegandros. The host soon warms to his clients if they temporarily support their team, no matter how fleeting the allegiance. It doesn't have to be football or other commercial sports; local sporting events and festivals also provide a means to join in and fell a part of the community. Why, when in Seville, for example, would someone from Manchester argue with a Seville supporter for supporting the wrong team? It makes no sense. If you're in Seville, then enjoy that fact. Discuss football in general and not who's got the better mob of over-payed, narcissistic, disloyal and mentally weak playing staff on its books. Bullfighting is a very difficult one to get involved in however, both morally and as a spectator, as is that one that uses a goat's head as a ball, but generally sport can bring people together and knowing what's on and where, and who's who, again allows doors to be unlocked, bottles to be opened and hands to be shaken. After all, I wouldn't necessarily want to walk into a pub in Glasgow not at least knowing the difference between Celtic and Rangers, likewise in Milan, Madrid or even Mavis Enderby for that matter.
I know that a lot of that all seems very obvious, but 'Tourist Welcome' makes such better reading. We need to respect our patrons and hosts. Without them, where on earth would we go?