Thursday, March 17, 2005

Tourists and Travelers

It's hard not to have a concept of what a tourist is when you grow-up in South Florida. Tourists are those annoying strangers who do not have the foggiest notion of how to drive, navigate, or speak so they can be understood. They generally have no idea how to behave in (what passes for) polite society in Miami. Didn’t they have mothers? This misbehaving in public was something that my mother would never tolerate. When we were growing up we would behave because we knew there would be hell to pay if we didn’t behave in public. Even if Mom wasn’t there when we acted-up, she’d find out and we’d have to answer to mother eventually.

It is not hard to imagine what the tourists must think of those of us lucky enough to live in a tourist Mecca. Those who are not envious of us for getting to live in paradise must think we're hopelessly provincial for believing that this hot, humid, swampy home of the flying cockroach called the "Palmetto Bug" is paradise! This also gives one some insight into what the locals must be thinking about you when you're the tourist.

It's this last lesson that has guided my behavior during my travels on business. For the majority of the last fifteen years, I've been a business traveler. I comfort myself by remembering that there is a difference between a tourist and a business traveler. If you doubt me, take a look around the next time you're at the airport. You’ll be able to tell the business travelers from the tourist at a glance. The business travelers are the ones that are at home in their element. They are doing one of two things; working or relaxing. The tourists are not as comfortable in this environment. They are either excited to get to their destination or regretting that they have to leave. They tend to sit there wishing that the plane were at the gate, or boarding, or taking off… The business traveler accepts the fact that the travel schedule is more-or-less a work of fiction and is intended only as a basic guess as to when (and if) you might be traveling.

Granted, the business traveler is not faultless. Some are inconsiderate bastards who think they have a right to carry the whole of their belongings onto airplanes. They shove six or seven of their carry-on bags into the overhead bins so that nobody else has room, they put their computer cases in the seats that seem to be empty (because they were when they got on the plane) and then act put-out that they have to move their crap when the occupant of that seat makes it onto the plane… but these are not the business travelers that I want to consider. I am certain that these idiots have their own private circle of Hell prepared for them… one which is hopefully somewhere out on the tarmac at Chicago O’Hare perhaps.

The other place that you will immediately be able to tell the business traveler (the nice ones at least) from the tourist is in a restaurant. The business traveler is there to eat. The tourist is there to “experience the local flavor.” Now, that is not to say that the business traveler doesn’t appreciate the regional differences between place A and place B, it means only that this is not the primary reason he left place A for place B. It is either this reason or just the fact that I have witnessed the bad behavior of so many tourists that leads me to try and be cool at all times when not at home.

The reason for this entry in my blog was that the subject of feeling out of one’s element was the topic of discussion at the pub last night. One of the patrons picked-up on my being an American and noted that until I had spoken to him (and he heard the accent) he’d had no idea that I was a foreigner. He said the he could usually spot a foreigner at a hundred paces because they usually seemed so out of their element.

I guess that this makes me feel good to seem so comfortable in my surroundings. On my last visit I witnessed (what I considered to be) the reason for the “Ugly American” stereotype when a family from New England came into the pub and spend most of the time complaining about this and that. They even complained (albeit mildly) at the fact that the first pub they entered upon arriving in the UK was entirely full of Americans. (It’s true. The two women working at the time were both expatriates, and I was there on business from the states. Until the locals started showing up a bit later on, there was nobody in the pub but the publican who was not from the United States. ) It was embarrassing but I am informed that the Americans are nice compared to the French or the Germans.

I heard a good observation during the conversation at the pub last night; the difference between a tourist and a business traveler is that the tourist expects to have a great time when they are traveling. They think it is their right to have a good time and they're often disappointed. Thebusiness traveler, on the other hand, travels and if they have a good time, they consider it a bonus. For this reason, tourists are a pain in the ass and business travelers are a pleasure to deal with. I think this may be an oversimplification, but I hope that I am a business traveler (by this definition) even when I am on vacation. I think this is the way to travel… it is the experience you are after! Good or bad you can take something away from every experience so when you travel.

For those of you who act like the tourists as defined by the gang at the pub remember, you may have to answer to your mother some day so behave yourself!

I hope you have a wonderful day wherever you are!

Don Bergquist – 17-March-2005 – Thames Ditton, United Kingdom

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