Good Tourist/Bad Tourist: A Local’s Perspective

Along with the fluffy pink cherry blossoms ( and abundant sunshine, something else begins popping up in Washington around April. Tourists. From April to August DC is awash with out-of-towners. Great locust sized hordes of them clog the metro and swamp the mall.

Matching lanyards are a dead giveaway

I will say up front: everybody is a tourist at least some of the time . It’s not that I feel any innate superiority to the visitors to my city. I always try to be charitable and treat them as I would like to be treated.

The fact is though, that there are some really inconsiderate tourists out there, and dealing with them is a major lesson in patience and humility. I want to be a good host and ambassador for DC. Sometimes however, when you are just trying to get to a meeting and a mass of be-fanny-packed people are blocking all turnstiles, it can be really hard to love one’s fellow man.

Tourists don’t have to be annoying though- in fact I think they should try harder not to be. I’ve come up with a few simple rules for visitors to follow if they DON’T want to get on the local’s bad side. These are based primarily on my bad-behavior observations in DC, but I think they can be applied most anywhere.

How to be a Well Liked Tourist:

1. Don’t Block Traffic

This is definitely DC native’s number one beef with tourists and a huge complaint all summer long. If you don’t know where you’re going, please don’t stop dead in your tracks at the end of the escalator causing a dramatic human pile-up. Keep walking, move out of the traffic flow and then get your bearings. Even better, figure out where you’re going before you get on or off the train. We all have to take public transportation together, just remember that many people are trying to get to work. This also applies to those people stopping to look at their maps smack in the middle of the sidewalk.

For the love of god: Walk left, stand right.

2. Don’t Badmouth the City

We CAN hear you. I happen to take a lot of pride in my city and when you loudly proclaim “This city is so dirty!” or “how can anybody live here!” I am offended. Don’t bitch about the weather (It’s DC in summer, of course it’s hot as balls). Don’t comment on the natives of a city (their rudeness, their hotness, whatever) if you are within earshot of them. The way I see it, you wouldn’t go to somebody’s house and loudly proclaim how much you hate their carpets, so why would you say it on the metro? Which leads me to #3:

3. Keep Your Voice Down

Maybe it is excitement or maybe it is stress but many tourists seem to talk at 3X normal volume. As an unintentionally loud person myself, I sympathize, I really do. There are certain places you really need to keep your voice in check though, places like: the metro during morning rush hour, restaurants and in museums. Pretty much anywhere indoors. Laughing and calling loudly for your friends inside of the Holocaust Museum are really super not okay.

4. Respect the Culture

My city is not your amusement park. This means no trespassing on private property, no picking flowers and no climbing on statues. If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it here.  Judging by all the people milling around you are clearly not the only ones trying to enjoy the city. If your kids want to run around and play tag, let them do it on the mall, not in the Vietnam Memorial (yes, this happened). Take your cues from the locals if you are unsure if something is okay.

Or ask the beavers...

5. Don’t be Afraid to Ask For Help

Seriously. I know I just made all Washingtonians seem like cranky old men who just want you off their lawns, but most of us are more than happy to give directions or take a photo for you Most people in DC are from somewhere else originally and remember what it was like not to know their way around.  As long as you ask nicely most people will be very accommodating.

I’m sure you can tell that most of these are variations of the same theme: be respectful of the city you are visiting and its inhabitants. Even though you may be on vacation, it’s important to remember that you are in someone else’s home. It’s really as simple as that.

In spite of these annoyances I’m happy to have the tourists in DC. It’s a fantastic city, and I want everyone to experience it. But I also want to be able to go about my daily business in an unstabby mood. My hope is that these constant reminders of how NOT to act will stay with me when I head off to play tourist in other people’s homes.

Enjoy the city!

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51 thoughts on “Good Tourist/Bad Tourist: A Local’s Perspective”

  1. obviously like your web site but you need to take a look at the spelling on quite a few
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  2. This was a great post and made me laugh, actually I think most of these things can be applied to more than just tourists! The last one hits home with me as sometimes I find myself refusing to ask for help determined to figure it out on my own. It’s funny though, I’ve found I’m actually more likely to ask for help in a foreign land (where there may even be a significant language barrier) than I am back home. Not sure why? Maybe I feel that in the US on “home soil” I should be able to figure things out for myself. Something to think about for sure.

  3. Excellent post, Stephie! As someone living in NYC, I am in complete agreement. People stopping in the middle of the sidewalk is my (and every other New Yorker’s) main complaint. That, or tourist groups/families that walk on the sidewalk 5 people wide. It would just be nice if people would remember that some of us actually live here, and need to get to work/school, etc.
    I do have sympathy though, and have never NOT answered a lost tourist’s questions. Pretty much all New Yorkers (or any city’s members) will, if people will just stand out of the way!

  4. ohmigod, don’t come to LA if you want “stand on the right walk on the left” on ‘scalators. i took the subway a few weeks ago here (yes, we have one!) and i wanted to kill EVERYONE who didn’t abide by that law (which was almost everyone, and they are locals!). i had never seen it that bad IN MY LIFE!

    i think i have spent too much time in cities that actual have heard of that “rule”.

    (sidenote: funny enough, even in countries where you drive on the otherside of the road, the rule is the same!!)

  5. Great post! I’m going to be one of those lost tourists in DC this weekend :). I remember the poor visitors hopelessly lost in Atlanta that I’d try to help as an intern at the High. The 33 Peachtrees and Perimeter are too much for directionally challenged people.
    I try to read the signs before I ask for help, especially in other countries. I hate being the schmuck who needs to ask in English-like when my flight disappeared in Frankfurt. Yay for pictograms!
    .-= ehalvey´s last blog ..Zumi Sushi in the Lovely Weather =-.

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