Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tourists, Part I

I don't understand local disdain for tourists. At least not in the U.S., where people who live in touristed areas have similar income levels as those who come to visit. (Local disdain for tourists who are exponentially wealthier than the people living there -- that's much easier to understand.)

I live off a MUNI line that runs right past Alamo Square Park, site of the iconic Painted Ladies. There are always a few intrepid tourists on my bus, clutching MUNI maps and nervously jumping up at every intersection to make sure they're not missing their stop.

The Painted Ladies. You've seen them before. Now see them
in a photo I took that looks like every other photo you've seen of them.

Big red tour buses also pass by every day with shivering tourists in the upper deck, taking pictures of anything they can, which sometimes includes lil' ol' me pedaling along in the bike lane. I think it's cute and sweet that people come from all over the world to admire the place I call home, snap terrible pictures with their point-and-shoots, and return home renewed and impressed, with a little more sparkle in their eyes, a lot less heaviness in their heart.

Beyond that, I'm proud and grateful that I've been lucky enough to make a life here when other people have to take vacation time to visit. And in case you don't fully understand what that means to me, allow me to reach into the archives for a moment.

So I don't understand when people like the folks riding my bus one night complain about "all the tourists."

"They just come in, don't know anything about the place. Years ago when I was growing up here, Alamo Square Park was a nasty place. Things happened there at night that you don't ever want to know about. And now, because of all the damn tourists, they spent all this money to put a nice, clean bathroom in that park."

Our bus driver chimed in, "I hate these tourists. I only say that because I can tell no one on this bus is a tourist. Why do they come here to look at these houses, like they're something special or something? We got these houses everywhere. What's the big deal?"

Admittedly these are not two of San Francisco's more eloquent or thoughtful complainers, but I've heard these sentiments from others.

Folks, lighten the hell up.

Tourists are not only coming from afar see what all the fuss is about, which is a huge compliment in itself, but they're also on vacation. They're in a good mood. They're friendly and curious and open-minded and chatty. They're not native English speakers, yet they speak English better than the dude who sells me kale at the farmer's market. When I travel abroad, I'm hard pressed to find American tourists at all, much less any who are similarly good-natured and likeable.

So stop bitchin', neighbors. Just because we live in the greatest city on earth doesn't mean we look down on those who don't.

I welcome tourists with open arms. Please, be my guest. Ride the streetcar, marvel at seagulls, eat clam chowder from a slightly stale sourdough bowl, puff up hills in sneakers you bought just for this trip, never wander beyond the trinket shops in Chinatown, shop on Haight-Ashbury, pay way too much for mediocre chocolate at Ghiradelli Square and go home feeling like you've had the authentic San Francisco experience. You haven't, but you might notice you've managed to fall in love with the place anyway. And there's nothing inauthentic about that.

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