The endless gawking, the sweaty palms due to relentless camera clutching, the countless moments of desperation for not knowing the language, the completely warranted distrust of all taxi drivers, the vacation outfits that somehow look so impressive at the shopping mall, but in reality look just as ridiculous in any foreign country as they obviously do at home.. especially when trekking through a cathedral snapping photos, during a frickin wedding no less… and on and on and shamelessly on… Who finds even the smallest delight in the idea of being a tourist?
A reaffirming “not I” is the usual response from foreigners who have been around long enough to dirty themselves up a bit, or at least possess the slightest mental scope to observe beyond the perimeter of the friends or family they’re travelling with. For the rest, the question invites a typical hapless blank stare.
Many of these latter, who in their own country are quite sharper than average and could dump a whole heap of questions on this writer that would leave him in just as equal a stupor, resent the somewhat crass inquiry. As one woman very bluntly assured me, “We tourists pump enough change into this pathetic economy I believe to warrant us to take photos, and demand that waiters, tour guides, and hotel workers speak English… not to mention do as we wish without burden of giving a damn about what anyone else thinks.”
…. Crimeny.. who would’ve known there to be such flame throwing vitriol under that silly sunblockin’ floppy headpiece.. complete with the dashing bow-tied baby blue ribbon? Ideally, there may be a long list of overplayed comebacks I could have grabbed for. On the other, more pragmatic hand, her point was as undeniable as it was unfortunate, regardless of the irritating air of superiority with which she made it. Deciding that perhaps a bit of empathy for her own lack thereof was in order, I offered to buy her a delicious corn on the cob from the stand next to us… which prompted yet another dumbfounded blank stare. Sometimes I’m just unstoppable like that.. a whirlwind of unassuming logic.. a juggernaut of brilliantly pointless inconsistencies.
Snapping back to reality, she promtly rejected my randomly calculated act of kindness, and then we awkwardly parted ways. Who wants to place bets on her feelings about the illegal immigrants in the U.S., who, not even so ironically, often defend their integrity with arguments quite similar to her very own? Así es, wey… We naturally want the world to become simpler to understand the more we learn about it…. and, it just doesn’t.. while those that haven’t learned a damn thing always reassure themselves safely within the impenetrable stronghold of their unchallenged convictions…. Whatever. Other times we simply want to forget about all that crap, and just relax and wallow in whatever some travel agency back home promised us.
And in all honesty, what’s wrong with that? Besides the fact that the ocean is the ocean and the sand is the sand wherever the hell one flies to… and Señor Frog’s is Señor Frog’s… and that it just seems bizarre that people would come back home from some little party strip in Vallarta and talk about how they’ve been to Mexico, and bore all their friends with the one about how two of Antonio Banderas’s cousins played acoustic guitar for them all night while they ate nachos with real live jalapeños and drank Coronas …. what’s the big deal? There’s no law stating that cheap thrills have to be equally inexpensive.
Sooner or later one wakes up and realizes that none of it is any big deal whatsoever. All of us somehow find ourselves meddling in something that others find reason to look down upon. And what are we supposed to do? Avoid traveling? Bow our heads in shame?? The pleasant spirited woman mentioned above understood that doing so would in no way result in even one ounce of redemption more.
I go to McDonald’s once, maybe twice a month (I’d go a lot more if I had any money). I love McDonald’s. And though I feel a bit embarassed for those hopeless purists who cast an evil eye on my affection for gringo fast food chains, I’m far more concerned with my quarter-pounder and not getting ketchupy pickle on my chin than in setting the quibblers straight. But then there’s also the fact that when I walk into such a place here in Guadalajara, no one switches to English to take my order. It gives me the opportunity to show that I’m just one of the rest, and belong, in a certain sense. That’s good. I like that. It’s not the kind of opportunity I’d likely get so easily in Puerto Vallarta, Cabos, or Cancun.
Talk about cheap thrills….