I’m supposed to be sleeping right now. I have to head out to catch a flight from Paris to Krakow in less than 4 hours. Somehow though, I am covered in welts from spider bites (I’m allergic) that I seem to have picked up in one of the old churches or museums we’ve visited. They are SO itchy (and I didn’t think to bring After-Bite) so here I am not sleeping.
As I tried to fall asleep, one thing kept going through my mind as I thought about our travels over the past week and a half. I couldn’t get over the number of impolite tourists I encountered along the way. The locals have been lovely everywhere we’ve gone. And I know some people have that stereotype that if there’s a rude tourist around they must be American, but so far, I haven’t found that to be true. In fact, unfortunately, I’ve encountered more ill-mannered tourists than polite ones. Sad but true.
Here’s the thing – when you travel you aren’t just reflecting badly on yourself
Others look at you as a representative of your country and that’s where those stereotypes begin to form. Even beyond that – am I just a relic when it comes to the idea of being nice for the sake of being nice? Why not treat each other with kindness and consideration and make the world a better place?
So, here are a few of my main tips for etiquette for travelers:
- Do your homework before you travel. Learn a little bit about the country you’re visiting and the culture and traditions of that country. I tried to educate myself about certain words and gestures that mean something else in that country, about any special practices that are different from my own, and so on. I have found though that in any place I’ve gone to, if you are sincerely trying and doing it with politeness and sincerity, others are generally very forgiving about any little faux pas. Any of the good travel guide books have rules of etiquette in them for each place.
- When you get to a tourist attraction, pause for a moment and take note of any rules there. I know, it’s easy to be so excited and anxious to get in that you forget to do that but it’s really important. Once you know the rules, please follow them. Most are there for your protection, the protection of others, or the protection of the art, artifacts, and site you are visiting. I was appalled to see people rubbing their hands over various historical items at the Tower of London, the Louvre, and the Palace at Versailles. These items are delicate and the oils and dirt on your hands can speed up their decomposition. I even saw people placing their children on Marie Antoinette’s furniture just to get a photo – right on top of the sign that said “Do not sit on this”. Then there were people using flash photography to photograph famous paintings. Flash photography can degrade and damage those paintings.
- Beyond rules related to preservation of artifacts, please also familiarize yourself with rules regarding behaviour in a place of religious significance (and use a little common sense). It’s not cool to use flash photography, blinding the priest as he is in the procession at the beginning of Mass at Notre Dame. It’s not cool to dunk your whole hand into the font of holy water and then shake it all over the place. It’s not ok to yell “Herb! HERB!!!! You gotta see this!” across Sacre Couer church while people are engaged in silent prayer.
- Be kind. Be kind to the people who work at these tourist attractions (and everywhere else for that matter) and be kind to the locals and other tourists you encounter along the way. Think about others besides yourself. Standing in the way when people are trying to take a picture at a significant location while you take no less than 50 selfies (no seriously…..I lost count at 50), pausing after every 3 to check them, fix your hair once more, and then taking a few more is not appropriate behaviour. Hitting people in the head with your selfie stick or your face with their umbrella because you can’t be bothered to be observant of those around you is not ok. Blocking the staircase to pose and take photos with your entire family when someone who is walking with a cane and clearly needs to use the handrail to walk carefully up and down is not only not cool, it’s downright dangerous. Walking as a group of 20 right across an entire walkway so no one else can get by is just inconsiderate. Stopping to have a conversation in the middle of a staircase or walkway so no one else can get by is also self-centered and inconsiderate. Walking in front of someone trying to take a picture accidentally, then noticing, and not bothering to apologize is rude. Walking in front someone trying to take a photo on purpose is ruder. Shoving someone repeatedly and jabbing them in the ribs with your elbow 6 times in a row because it’s their turn to get close to the Mona Lisa and you want to go ahead of them is just plain mean (I still have the bruises). Wait your damn turn!
- Look for extra ways to show kindness. Go out of your way to be that person that they will remember forever as a positive part of their trip. Be the person who offers your seat on public transportation to someone who clearly needs it more. Be the person who walks ahead of someone, not to “beat them to the exhibit” but to hold the door for them. Be the person who points out the elevator to the person with mobility issues who is about to struggle their way up a set of stairs. Be the person who walks up and down both sides of a tram several times trying to find the owner of a credit card that was dropped on the ground. Be the person who offers others a little insider information about a great restaurant or how to get to a certain attraction. Be the person who extends a greeting to others (by the way, it’s considered rude not to greet the sales person in a shop in France as you enter and leave. I found the Bonjour and Au Revoir exchange with them became second nature and it felt so lovely and sweet). Be the person who smiles at someone else. Be the person who says please and thank you. Be the person who pauses for a moment to ask someone how they are. Be the person who cares about someone other than themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. This trip has been amazing so far. I’ve had so many moments I will never forget. Those rude tourists will fade from my memory eventually and what will remain are the incredible experiences and the kind and generous people. But I heard from other travelers who weren’t so sure they would ever travel again based on the horrible behaviour of some they had encountered. Don’t be one of those people who ruins the joys of travel for someone else.
Sadly though, I feel like if you’re reading this post though, you’re likely not part of the problem.
PS – please please please learn a few words of the language of the country you are visiting. Be able to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you at the very least. I think it’s one of the most respectful things you can do.