It’s Tourist Season: Share the Love

All photos by the author

A couple years ago the Social Chair and I were sitting at a bar when the couple next to us asked us a question. They said they’d overheard our conversation with the bartender and were looking for a restaurant recommendation, since they were visiting from out of town and wanted to try something other than their usual haunts. We got to talking about where they were from (“Outside Toronto”), and we mentioned that we were leaving in a week to go visit family and friends both in and outside Toronto. It was at this point in a conversation with a Canadian that I would usually get to play my trump card, since my sister lives in a town even most Ontario natives haven’t heard of. But when we told them the name of the town (West Montrose), they got a little wide-eyed. And then they asked, “which house?”

It turned out that these strangers, from “Outside Toronto,” had almost bought that very house, and after they didn’t buy it their friends did. Their friends, in fact, were the couple who sold the house to my sister and brother-in-law (and since my sister’s family is moving to The Hague, it’s for sale again). In this city you never know who you might meet.

Judging by what I’ve seen on Twitter, and a stale rant that has been making the rounds again (which I won’t dignify by linking here), tourist season has fallen hard on some of you (the fact that it arrives at the same time as allergy season also doesn’t help, I’m sure). But I ask your patience as I make this heartfelt plea: please be nice to tourists.

U.S. Capitol and Capitol Tree 2009

It’s simple, really. There’s an argument to be made on economic grounds, since the taxes on tourist dollars help pay for essential services in DC, but that’s not my argument. There’s also a case to be made on political grounds, since the plight of a disenfranchised DC voter is often unknown to a tourist from the heartland, but I’m not worried about that either. Much.

I think we should all be nice to tourists simply because that’s what the members of a civil society do. I’ve been a tourist elsewhere, and I’ve had to stop people and ask for directions. I’ve also had people volunteer to help me figure out a map, or a tram network, or a train ticket system, or a menu, and it always brings a little light to my day to experience the reality that people everywhere are essentially good, and wow, I was totally on the wrong bus (San Francisco, twice). Or tram (Amsterdam).

James McDonnell Space Hangar

There’s more than that. We are all, like it or not, ambassadors for our city. Every interaction any of us has with a visitor reflects on all of us. If you’re friendly and helpful, we look good. If you’re gruff or rude, you reinforce the stereotype of southern efficiency and northern charm. My own mother has said derisively that “everyone in DC works for the government” (for the record, neither the Social Chair nor I do), evidence we’ve got the deck stacked against us already. Why make it worse?

It’s too easy sometimes to forget that this city, this majestic capital, stands as a symbol of civic ideals. I chose to move here over a decade ago, and I consider the District my home. Every interaction any of us has with a tourist is a chance for the city — and possibly by extension the nation — to make a good impression. I experience discomfort every time I read a rant on one web site or another about tourists doing it wrong (this site has been guilty of that too). So somebody stands on the left side of the escalator in the Metro. What’s your hurry? The next train is in three minutes. Six, tops. If cooling your heels on a Metro platform for a few minutes is the worst thing that happens to you all day, you’re still having a good day.

Fireworks 2010

So be nice. Give directions. Answer questions. Make room at the bar. Recommend your favorite restaurant. Smile. If you don’t do it for me, do it for the mom who raised you right. If you don’t do it for her, do it for DC. We’re not petulant jerks. We live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, where almost everything is free because those tourists pay sales tax while they’re here and most of them pay federal income tax when they’re back at home. I know I love it here, and I hope you do too. Share the love. You never know who that person you help will turn out to be.

Fedward Potz moved into the District in 1999 with a four year plan and never left. He enjoys good food, craft cocktails, photography, music, and long walks on the beach.

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9 thoughts on “It’s Tourist Season: Share the Love

  1. Sorry, can’t agree.

    I am intelligent and courteous enough to avoid getting in other people’s way, whether I am a tourist in another city or a commuter in this one.

    If you don’t have the intelligence and decency to avoid being in my way, I’m not going to make friendly chit chat. I’m going to tell you to get out of my way.

  2. Brandon, I think you’re missing the point. Sure, a lot of tourists could stand to look around and try to see if they are in someone’s way or following the social norms of the place they are in. But a lot of DC residents could benefit from the same thing. And often, it’s not completely obvious what those social norms are. I point you to the escalator “rule”: there aren’t signs to that effect, and until some rushed DC commuter huffs from behind, most tourists probably don’t realize they are “in the way,” and it’s not for a lack of intelligence or decency.

    If someone is in your way, don’t “tell them,” just ask them to move. Or better yet, save all of us some trouble and casually mention the “walk on the left, stand on the right” rule. You don’t even have to break your stride to do that.

  3. i’m intelligent and courteous enough to avoid getting in other people’s way, but i’m also intelligent and compassionate enough to remember how overwhelming it can be to be in a new city, riding an unfamiliar subway (perhaps for the first time ever), where everyone seems to know what they’re doing and i don’t. and that’s without having 3 children and 2 grandparents in tow. yes, i want them to stand on the right, but i always say “please” and “thank you” when asking for it.

    there’s no societal rule saying you must go out of your way to help tourists or be overly nice, but there *are* societal rules saying you shouldn’t be a dick. people who break them are commonly called rude, and it’s not a compliment.

    now, i i’ll be pissed at anyone who makes me miss my train (and at the times of day i travel, i’m more likely to wait 12-20 minutes for the next), but i’m not going to be rude to them if it happens without obvious intent. shit happens.

  4. Brandon:

    Congratulations for being the stereotypical DC elite douchebag that makes everyone loathe this city. So they’re lost and in your way, they do it to ALL OF US. Just be courteous and ask them nicely to move. If they catch an attitude after that, then fine, be a dick. Otherwise, you’re only making yourself, and by proxy, all of us, look like jerkoffs.

  5. There are times, like most dc residents when tourists bother me. Not always on the metro (if they are standing on the left I just politely say “excuse me” and they move over), but on the sidewalks. It’s when they stand in the middle of the sidewalk completely oblivious to the world around them that bothers me. Again, I just try to walk around them, or politely say “excuse me” but it’s annoying nonetheless. If someone stops to ask me for directions, I’m more than happy to help them if I know the answer. I’m also happy to take their picture at some of the monuments if I happen to see them struggling with their cameras or they want a family picture. To me, there are certain parts of the city that require patience because that’s where all the tourists usually are (the Mall, WH, & vicinity). In non tourist parts I don’t have as much patience, even for the annoying non-tourists. In those parts people need to get out of the way-I’m in a hurry to get somewhere.

  6. While I agree with the sentiment that it’s best to be courteous and that tourists can be simply oblivious or overwhelmed, I don’t appreciate their (occasional) sense of entitlement. If I politely ask someone to let me pass on the escalator, I don’t appreciate the rolled eyes and snide comments of a person who doesn’t have to be at work by a certain time, yet feels put out by having to move over 6 inches. I think that tourists and residents alike can benefit from a bit more understanding and patience.

  7. As a general rule, I find it sort of irritating and inconsiderate to obliviously stand in the middle of a sidewalk, block a Metro train door, or whatever. That’s because those behaviors are indeed inconsiderate, but they are absolutely NOT limited to tourists (plenty of locals think they own the sidewalk). Thus I see no reason to adopt a default position of hostility toward tourists. (Though I’d remind fedward that the WLDC post he linked was intended more in the spirit of “here’s what you need to know so we can all enjoy your visit,” which I think is fine. People are often happy to follow the rules provided that they know what those rules are.)

  8. If they loathe this city why are they here?

    I’m not as big a dick as my post indicates. I say “excuse me,” not “get out of my way.” I’m not looking to get punched in the face.

    But I will admit that I have no patience for people (tourists or natives) who fail to consider, or just don’t care, that they might be standing or walking in the way of other people. Being lost in an unfamiliar place doesn’t excuse antisocial behavior.