Friday, June 11, 2010

JNSQ FF - Ex's vs Tourists... Vacationists Invade Paris.

If you call yourself a true Parisian, you're going to have to deal with them sooner or later. Yes, you know who I'm talking about. The fanny-pack-clad, twenty-pound-camera-wearing, running-shoes-white-socks-and-shorts-sporting hordes that infiltrate Paris beginning... oh yeah, NOW.

Parisians -- consider yourself warned: they're back and they want YOU to tell them where they're going. They tend to have maps and guides enough to fill a Virgin Megastore, but some how I still get caught in the "where do we go" crossfire. (Friends reading this are probably laughing their asses off.) I'm the very last person on the planet you should ask for  directions; unless that is, you want to take a             (photo credit:
detour to Asia. "Just keep going until you see Chinese people?" was my geographical genius at work when someone asked how to get to the 13th.

I've done my duty a few times when family or friends came to visit, gotta pay your dues. But you can only see the Eiffel Tower so many times before you turn to your travelers and dispassionately announce, "Yeah, yeah, it's big, it's there, enjoy." before you mosey on over to Shakespeare & Co and let them fight the army of globetrotters at the top of the mythical phallic pillar of French pride.

Now, to be fair, I was once one of them. I was seventeen and I wanted to do absofuckinglutely everything there was to do. Twice. I did allll the big stuff: Sacré Coeur, Notre Dame, Louvre, d'Orsay, Grand Palais, l'Opéra and the list goes on. By day three I had trigger finger, was partially blind and had a permanent cramp in my cheeks from smiling for the birdy. I even have a photo with a panhandler and his drugged pets. I thought they were so cute, "sleeping" under his blanket in a baby carriage, and I gave him a few coins for kibble. So naive, was I.

This past experience has really helped me to sympathize and I always stop if someone's giving me the "I'm lost and I'm about to WIG OUT!!" look. Besides, not all tourist are bad news, some can actually be really lovely and I am glad to get their appreciative smiles if, by some miracle, I've helped.

But for my friends who've been here longer, the good-Samaritan-high has lost its appeal. They're tired of being bothered and just want to go about their business without someone saying, "Aahhh Eh-scu-zay-mwah, par-lay Ahn-glay?" and I can kind of understand their point of view.

Here are a few hints to identify the annoying visitors and avoid becoming a tour guide to the slow and infamous:

1) Maps, cameras and casual dress... Oh my!
I mentioned this one above. People poring over guides, or giant maps of Paris will obviously not be locals. Taking photos of the curb? Probably not from around here. Dress is also a key indicator. Look for socks + sandals. Look for running shoes. Look for backpacks. These are the traits of the wayfarer crowds.

2) Take it one, painfully-slow step at a time...

They're going to walk too slow, staring at your local Monoprix like it's a work of architectural genius. They may even stop in the middle of your path to snap pictures of some random block they'll probably delete later from the "buildings" phase of their journey. This specimen will have their heads craned to the sky, so try not to run into them when they're haphazardly walking directly at you on a collision course.

Isn't the entire WORLD on holiday?
They're on vacation, you see, so everyone else in their path must be as well. They don't realize when they stop you in the metro on your way to work, or in the street when you're off to meet friends that YOU HAVE SOMEWHERE TO BE. This vacationer will be watching everyone who walks by, looking for a local to chat with. Avoid eye contact at all costs; Parisians know you never look someone in the eyes.

4) I have a cousin who...

If you do accidentally get caught in the tractor-beam-eyes and are nice enough to stop, beware, you might be in the conversational claws of a sight-seeing chatterbox. If they don't want to hear your entire life story and how you deal with the French, they probably want to tell you all about their long-lost cousin or auntie who moved to some other country and was totally miserable. If you hear the key phrase "My so-and-so moved to..." you need to bolt. Your house is on fire, your friend was hit by a run-away subway car... say whatever you can, but get a move-on before the story eats up an hour of your precious time.

5) I love it here, I hate it here...
Sometimes chatting with tourists can be a very enjoyable experience. They'll tell you how much they love the city, how much they wish they lived here, blah blah blah. You'll smile and nod and be on your merry way after a few minutes. Then... there's the other kind. You wonder why they ever left their suburban paradise. They complain so much you expect their exhausted tongues to be sagging out of their frowning mouths. I hope you don't meet this vaca-variety. They're often found with the "I have a cousin who" and are usually looking irritated like Paris is poking them between the butt-cheeks.

Everyone has their own take, so I asked my expat buddies to chime in for this week's Friday Feature question: What do YOU think about tourists? Enjoy their answers & check out their blogs

"I love them..." - Badaude
"I love them, especially when they ask me directions. I'm ever-grateful to any tourist of any nationality who thinks I look/sound like a Parsian."

"I wish they would walk a bit quicker."- I Heart Paris

I wish they would walk a bit quicker, and not in front of me. "

"Car full of screaming Danish Teenagers, 'nuff said!..." - Ashleigh T.
I just took the metro home from work in a car full of screaming Danish teenagers, 'nuff said! But, I love all tourists, particularly those who are here to visit me :)

"They should invent a 'tourist lane'." - Rebecca Leffler

They should invent a "tourist lane" on the streets. parisians (and fast walking tourists) on the left and on the right tourists and tortoises.

"Not so long ago that was me..." - Doni Belau
Well, I do enjoy feeling superior to tourists. I congratulate myself for how much I know about Paris, having had an apt. there for 6 years and because I write and breathe Paris via my website 24/7 - but....then I catch myself. Hey not that long ago that was me, ok maybe 20 years ago but still. Yeah they may be embarrassing in their shorts, baseball caps and fanny packs and poorly executed French but I probably look just as stupid when I travel to Japan or Costa Rica with my 8th grade Spanish and generally clueless behavior. Yes I try to be a traveler and adventurer and not a tourist, but I kinda think that my feeling of superiority over the tourists is a bit like the Mexican family who immigrated to Arizona 10 years ago and now supports the new Arizona immigration law and looks down on all newcomers. Am I wrong? So when my heart is open, I try to look at the new onslaught of tourists - particularly from the US and quietly thank them for stepping out of their comfort zone. There is much to be learned from traveling. Didn't mean to take this lighthearted discussion into serious territory. "Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise" G Whitman, founder Shakespeare & Co.

"What Doni Said..." - Karin B.
Pretty much my response to this question is, "What Doni said."

In my more forgiving moments, I am right there with her in spirit.

Mostly, the tourists make me laugh! They are so funny to watch. Yes, Métros get more annoyingly crowded and with people who don't know the unwritten rules of riding. Yes, they can be loud and obnoxious. Sure, they walk slowly in front of me (for some reason, I notice this the most with Italian tourists). But they can be a refreshing alternative to Parisians, whom I often feel have sticks up their bums and are no fun -- what with their trying to be like everyone else around them in that weird French thing with conformity. When I saw a careful of teen Germans the other day, piercings everywhere and loudly chattering with one another, I kind of breathed a sigh of relief and reminded myself there is diversity in the world, and I am grateful for it.

"Your English is SO good!..." - Forest Collins
it always makes me giggle when they ask me for directions in either hesitant English or broken French & when I answer them in English, they get really impressed and tell me "Your English is SO good!" i would hope so. I'm totally going to start answering them in English but with a heavy fake french accent!

Ah, tourists...if we're lucky we're all one at one time or another!

"My assimilated side totally loathes tourists..." - Katia

My assimilated side totally loathes tourists and wishes they would just get out of my bloody way don't they know that I have things to DO???... until I shake myself out of it and have to smile at their enthusiasm, their excitement, and remember that that's what I'm like when *I* go on holiday ;) 


  1. bravo to anyone willing to travel to another country. it's intimidating and takes practice. shame shame to expats that forget that.

  2. Here here anon'. It's not easy being an expat, and I haven't been one so long that I forgot what it's like to be a tourist. Must admit though, drives me crazy visiting countries where I don't speak the language. I always have the sneaking suspicion they're talking about my socks+sandals combo...

  3. The last time I was in Paris (as a semi-tourist I guess since I studied there for a summer and know my way around pretty well) I got asked for directions TWICE! I was so excited people thought I looked parisienne (or maybe just like a well-informed tourist? lol).

  4. great post. i was lucky cuz when i visited France, i stayed with french friends, so i blended in. no huge maps, head scratches or asking for directions when i toured the city and countryside. i hope to return someday. i even fell in love with a frenchman while visiting. he was take care.

  5. Well, how you sometimes feel about tourists is how a lot of Parisians sometimes feel about the expats living in their midst. As for the Eiffel tower: I friggen love it. I see it once every time I'm in Paris, although in all fairness only once.

  6. @Andromeda The excitement loses it's flare around the eightieth time I've been told ;)
    @Kiki Thanks for reading! That is the way to go... camouflage it... me=impressed. Bravo on indoctrinating the natives, welcome to the french (bf) club!
    @Robert Good point, but I don't think it's quite the same. I like to think of myself as a horse living w/ the zebras... what does that make tourists... maybe.. donkeys? Oh dear. Forget I said that. I live near the tower and I still gawk at it when it sparkles.. every night. But going up to the top is a B.

  7. The tourists aren't the ones who will be walking into you like you're not there, those will be the Parisians.

  8. @starman true. Parisians are part linebacker aren't they? But there is a bout of tourists suffering from oblivi-itus. Why do they always stand in the WORST place possible to take photos? Namely... in my way. I don't mind sooo much, just hope they get a good picture is all ;)

  9. LOL @ Starman's comment, hee hee! True that...

  10. I like tourists well enough ... they help pay my bills out here in the hinterlands of the Dordogne ... although I wish more of them were American vs. well ... let's just say the OTHER ahn-glay speaking team. heh heh.

  11. @NJNRRR -- might you be knocking my brits!! OOooh no. Oh NO you didn't! Ok. Maybe just once, I'll let it slide I love me some brits! What, are they bad guests? Always trying to take the piss out of you? ;)


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