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Tirade of the Week


5.23.98

Tourists


"You're just a tourist with a typewriter, Barton -- I live here."
- John Goodman, BARTON FINK

We can always identify the tourists. They wander into the library and start staring at everything, taking pictures and running camcorders despite the sign on the door that prohibits it, and generally being pains in the ass. They also tend to be rich, which does not endear them to me. Now, our library is a historic building, and quite beautiful, but it is not a museum. We library staffers are not museum guides. We have stuff to do, and I for one resent it when tourists show up unannounced, expecting a tour or explanations of every little thing we've got hanging on the walls, and diverting us from our patrons.

I mean, how would you like it if a family of five wandered into your office expecting you to drop everything to answer their stupid questions?

Tourists in general are an annoying species. Especially American tourists -- and even when Americans visit other parts of our own country. Here at the library we get many many many many Japanese tourists, but they are always always always quiet and respectful and tasteful; they also always always always always always have cameras, but they also ask permission to use them, unlike their Caucasian counterparts. Face it, Americans are dicks. Going to foreign countries and expecting everyone to speak English; condescending to the locals; leaving their trash everywhere -- Americans suck no matter where they go. (In case it isn't clear, I speak as an American, so it's okay for me to say that.)

I'm convinced the only reason people even tolerate tourists is that they boost the local economy -- as Johnny Rotten said in "God Save the Queen," those tourists are money. Tourism centers must look at the dorks with cameras and backpacks and understand Dean Martin's classic line to Jerry Lewis: "You can talk about love all you want, but to me you're just a fuckin' dollar sign." So we're nice to tourists because they buy library crap and other town-related crap from us -- another sore spot with me. We're a library, not a fucking gift shop!

I can feel some of you out there getting all defensive -- the classic "But I'm not like that!" defense -- and it's true that everyone is a tourist at some point or another, and not everyone acts all touristy and stupid. But it's the stupid ones you remember most vividly. I myself, after my nightmarish cross-country drive a few years ago, was touristed out. I've been out to see America and it's essentially all the same -- the same touristy crap everywhere you go, the same junk in the same gift shops. Go into any mall: that's America now. Are you depressed yet? As for visiting other countries, I don't presume to stumble around in a place where I don't know the language or the customs. I'd feel even more out of place there than I do here. The point is that I'm on the outside looking in no matter where I am, so why bother buying plane tickets?

Of course, other countries are slowly becoming Americanized, as if we were the template for true culture -- as if we were the template for anything besides mindless consumerism, conspicuous consumption, and plastic entertainment. I laugh at the ongoing mission to dominate outer space, and I'm glad we won't live to see other planets become colonized. What are we gonna do, put up Taco Bells and Starbucks and Pier 1 Imports on Mars? We're not happy with fucking up our own planet -- we wanna go fuck up other planets, too? God, I hope we blow ourselves up before we get that far. Humans are the worst tourists. We showed up on Earth unannounced, we took over, we fucked it up, and now we want to see what other tourist traps are out there. Don't forget, there are eight other planets to bulldoze and burn and pave over!

I'm no tree-hugger. On the contrary, I hope we've fucked up the planet so badly we die out in fifty years. It'd serve us right. Then in a million years, another species will evolve and maybe they'll be a little less stupid. See, we're not here for the duration, folks. We think we're it, we think we're the shit, we think we're the end-all be-all of life, and we're not. We're just tourists.