Quick-- Take Them To the Tower!


Some things America probably just needs to keep to itself. Among these, I'd suggest episodes of "Kath and Kim," our noseless Michael Jackson, and select tourists.

I have a tale to tell you about that last one.

About a decade ago, one of my buds and I took a trip to England. Oh, we had it all planned out for maximum vacay enjoyment!

Five glorious action-packed, Guinness-marinaded, art-infused, wax-museumed, Royal-Guard-pestering, tea-in-the-crypt-sipping, brass-rubbing, Tube-riding, Harrods-shopping, standing-stone-seeing, toad-in-the-hole-eating days in London, Bath and Stonehenge!

If ya don't need a holiday to recover after you come back, it just wasn't a good vacation!

Included in this trip were a couple of tours: a London city tour, a tour of the Tower of London, and a boat ride down the Thames.

And it was over the course of them, we encountered the... er... rich multi-dimensional tableau of American exported humanity.

I've often wondered why it is that the people who seem to know the least about things are the ones who always have so much to say on these tours?

Like the college girl who was chatting away to her boyfriend for most of our city tour, making it impossible to hear what the tourguide was saying. By St. Paul's Cathedral, as the guide showed us where the building was damaged due to Hitler's bombs, she paused long enough to hear the guide mention "World War II."

That's when she hit the guide with her contribution to English history:

"Well, England wasn't really involved in World War II... You know, like, not one of the major players...?"

The tourguide's mouth dropped open like an astounded codfish. But I imagine it wasn't the worst thing she'd heard during her career.

The worst thing might have been from a couple that my friend and I dubbed "The Plaids."

Mrs. Plaid was a 60-something lady in a plaid skirt and blazer. Mr. Plaid, a sixty-something man in plaid sports jacket and hat.

I imagine they thought they would blend right in once they got to Scotland.

The Plaids were a loud couple who, like the college girl, used speech as a soundtrack to life. Within five minutes, everyone in London knew all about them.

They were from the midwest and given the scope of their European tour, it sounded less like they were touring, and more like a whirlwind takeover.

They'd already been able to check off Italy, France and Spain from their list, they said, and once they hit the UK, they were headed onto Norway before heading back home to Flatland, USA.

Herb Plaid fancied himself a skilled photographer. Yes, he'd spent an evening with his high-tech photography equipment trying to get the Eiffel Tower to hold still and say "fromage." Herb was a perfectionist, Doris Plaid said.

"He also took pictures of that famous river there... you know the one... what was it called?... The Seen?"

So, as these sorts of things go, it wasn't much of a surprise that, when it was time for our boat ride down the Thames, we found the Plaids placed at our table.

We strained to hear the guide over the loudspeaker as Mr. and Mrs. Plaid oohed and ahhed over boats and bridges and ducks and oh, stray Newcastle bottles... Mr. Plaid pushing us aside with his telephoto so he could get the perfect shot.

And then we came to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The guide announced them over the loudspeaker and pointed off the proper side of the boat.

The Plaids, however, were still talking, so it took a moment to register. We had just passed the Tower of London when when Mrs. Plaid got really excited:

"Look! Is that it? That must be the Tower of London."

"What? Where?"

"There! There, see?? Up ahead!"

"Oh yes! There it is!" And Mr. Plaid leaned all over us again to get a shot of...

"The Tower. A Thistle Hotel."

It was printed on the side of the building in bright lights.


It's since changed hands. Which is nice, really. Because that means the Plaids had forever captured on film the deep enlightening history of... a hotel chain.


So tell me, folks, about your funny tourist experiences!

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32 comments:

Margo said...

Whenever my husband and I are traveling through Europe, we always joke that some people might as well bring a stash of their clan's flags and go remove the flag that's there and hoist up their own. It's much easier for hostile tourist forces to take a castle these days than it was in the middle ages. I suspect the plaids would have loved this concept.

Jenn Thorson said...

Margo- That's a great description, too-- really what it seemed like.

And really, it's one thing not to know something-- we all have learning to do. But why make a scene about it?

Shieldmaiden96 said...

Good, good Jeebus on a cracker. This is why when I was travelling alone in the UK I tried to talk very little so I wouldn't be associated with the various traveltards I encountered. Even though I had to hoss around batteries and a heavy selection of CDs it was worth it to tune them out.
Most horrible was at a conference in Derry, Northern Ireland on the 20th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday. I spent the day meeting people I had either read about or whose books I read, keeping my mouth respectfully shut most of the time. I was cornered by a loud man from San Francisco who basically embodied every bad stereotype of 'politically involved' Irish American imaginable. After accepting his business card and sidling away I thought I was done with him, until he stood up at the press conference and blathered on and on and ON and then referenced my conversation with him. AAAGH! Everyone in this room thinks you are an a-hole, sir, so PLEASE don't say you know me. Please. Not in front of Gerry Adams.

Okay, that was not a tourist story. But I didn't really go there as a tourist. Sorry. :)

Jenn Thorson said...

Shieldmaiden- Hey, that still counts as a tourist story, I think. :) It's really amazing how oblivious some folks are to the havoc they reek where ever they go.

Da Old Man said...

The Spawn and I were in the Carribbean on some semi-tropical island. On those whirlwind tours, stick "St." in front of some name and I was probably there. After a while, they are all the same island, it seems.
Anyway, we took some trip to a mountaintop, and it was a crazy winding road.
Spawn turned to me, and said, "Wow, imagine how bad these roads get in winter when it snows."

Shawn said...

Oh man, I'll never forget going to England with my family as a kid. My dad got stuck in a roundabout and just kept saying, "Look kids, Big Ben. Parliament," every time we passed them.

Who am I kidding, I've never been anywhere.

Jenn Thorson said...

Da Old Man- Heh- way to think it through, Spawn. :) Getting the plows up the road is an ordeal, too.

Shawn- Russ? Is that you, Rusty? :)

ReformingGeek said...

I've learned to talk low or keep my mouth shut as lots of folks don't like Texans. Apparently, they are loud, bossy, and know everything. Well....um..

With my accent, there is no doubt as to where I'm from.

Jenn Thorson said...

ReformingGeek- Aw, heck, but you're a huge state-- everyone has to know you aren't all loud, bossy and think you know everything! :) I mean there's... er... Owen Wilson! Owen Wilson's a Texan! And he's kinda Zen. :)

beth♥ said...

I grew up in a tourist country (Kenya). You don't want to know the things we "American-Africans" would do to American tourists. Giving directions was always a riot. I should be ashamed at the number of people I led astray, but I am not. Of course, Americans never assumed I was an American. I was constantly asked by tourists from all countries, "Are you Swedish?" [I don't think I look particulary Swedish. Whatever.] Standard answer if asked by an American tourist. "Ja!" I would then pretend to not speak English.

freetheunicorns said...

That is quite frustrating, but I can't get past the fact some idiot suggest England wasn't a major player in the war. I guess they've never heard of bomb raids or Winston Churchill or, God, I could go on for a while. What a moron.

Jenn Thorson said...

Beth- Ah, you mischievous gal you! Good thing you didn't have to delve into Swedish further than "ja!" :) Or encounter a Swedish tourist. "So, what part of Sweden are you from?" "Er... ja!"

FreetheUnicorns- Oh, I know. I kinda wanted to tackle her and stuff a handherchief in her mouth so she couldn't say anything else. And she'd sounded so... SURE... of herself, too. Like she was a big authority.

Heck, she could have listened to a Pink Floyd or Roger Waters album to know England was involved in World War I and II. That was part of that whole pesky WORLD War thing.

JD at I Do Things said...

HA! I'm pretty sure I ran into the Plaids on my way up to the Eiffel Tower. Mrs. Plaid kept calling it the "Eiffer Towel."

Jenn Thorson said...

JD- Oh BOY, maybe you DID run into the Plaids! That's too funny.

Chaotically Calm said...

Ashamed to admit the furthest I've ever been away...St. Thomas/John and really I was smashed the entire trip besides the actual wedding to know if anyone else was annoying....oh wait I might have been the annoying tourist. I will go back to my corner now.

Jenn Thorson said...

Faith- Ah, so right now, someone is writing a blog post about the gal who was totally trashed in St. Thomas, and threw up on their duty-free bottle of blue curacao? :)

BNS said...

As a person who has spent all but a few minutes of my adult life living in popular tourist destinations, I really can relate. We encounter people like those you describe with maddening frequency. One of my relatives invented a name for the species: tourist + moron = 'touron' - rather a gentle term for such nitwits, don't you think?

Funny you should post this just now. I've been composing a piece about this topic (minus your humorous slant) in my head for some time. When I finally post it on my blog, I'll be sure to let you know. ;-}

Bobbie

Jenn Thorson said...

Bobbie- "touron" does have a terrific ring to it. I'll be delighted to read your post when you've written it up.

Skye said...

Well Jenn, I have to admit, that while in New York city as well as a few other places in the states, I enhanced the wrong way that Americans think of us Canadians. Everytime I'd have a conversation with someone, they'd ask questions about Canada, and, well, I would answer them incorrectly. One such question was "Do you use a dog sled?" and I'd answer "Only every time I need to go to the store or somewhere. Most of my friends live in igloo's very close to my own, so I just walk there."

There were times when they'd ask how I liked the warm weather. Oh man, it was COLD, dreary, rainy weather, it wasn't even remotely warm! BUT they thought it was a warm day for spring, so I played with it. I'd play stupid and ask what this stuff was falling from the sky? I hadn't seen anything fall other than snow, this was strange and magical! You have to understand that it was about you have to understand that I had just left Manitoba with roughly 90 degree Ferenheit temps and it was currently 35-40 Ferenheit in New York, so you really have to forgive my playing to their ignorance.

feefifoto said...

I hate to admit it, and I'll deny it if you ever bring it up, but traveling with my mother is often along the same lines. I just don't think it's necessary for non-fluent Americans to strain for local pronunciation along the lines of "Barthelona" or "Van Gocchhhh." I try to keep my mouth shut in the hopes of being mistaken for a not American.

Jenn Thorson said...

Skye- "Do you use a dog sled?" Oh, fer pete's sake, they deserved what they got if they were going to ask you that.

Feefifoto- Ah, so your mom goes a bit too far the other way, trying too hard to do the RIGHT thing and then failing badly. That is painful! Anything that doesn't draw more attention to yourself when traveling is good.

timethief said...

I live in a targeted tourist trap and every year they come in waves. Most are very nice people who are enjoying their vacations but some are ... erm ... a PITA.

We have an outdoor honor system pottery sales booth - wrap your own pottery and leave the money in the lockbox. Granted most folks have never seen an honor system self service sales booth so we sometimes get tourists up at the house.

The reason they seek us out isn't to press their money into our clay covered hands. They come to tell us that we are inviting theft. They come to tell us we should hire someone to man the outdoor booth but I'm sure they would balk if we did and increased the price of our products to reflect the employees' wage.

They come to tell us they have a relative who once took a pottery course and made a nice ashtray. That's nice - we are professionals who have been making our living producing a full line of functional stoneware (complete dinnerware sets) for 30 years and they take pride in comparing our work to that of an amateur ashtray maker.

They come to talk our ears off and complain that this remote place is not like the urban jungle they live in because there is no microwave tower. Yup this community voted "no thank you" to electronic invasion, big box stores and fast food outlets. And while they yammer on and on they take up valuable time that we could have made $100 worth of product in, and then they walk away with a $20 purchase.

They had park in front of our sign that states. "This is a farm. All pets must be confined to your vehicle" and release their dogs from their cars.

The worst of all tourists we ever experience are those who arrive in vehicles decorated with confederate flags. They always have dogs. They are always loud mouthed and critical. They always and ask if the hunting is good here despite the information printed on their ferry tickets and all tourist brochures to the contrary. In response I say: "It sure is so how fast can you run?" Unbelievably they don't get the joke - arggghhh!

I think I'd best terminate this comment here before I get really worked up. lol :D

Jay said...

I'm with Feefifoto - I have a mother like that, who'd give Mr and Mrs Plaid a run for their money. She has the biggest heart in the world, but she talks. Non-stop. And often gets things wrong, bless her!

Jenn Thorson said...

Timethief- I can see where folks outside your area might be confused about the honor system pottery purchasing-- because that is really unusual. But the regaling you with stories of how a relative made an ashtray-- I can definitely relate to that...

I think in almost any creative endeavor, there are those people who want to show they "get it" or are a part of it somehow, even if it's an apples-to-oranges scenario. Like you, as a writer, say you're writing a book. And the next thing ya know, the person you're talking to-- who doesn't write professionally or as a hobby-- tells you how they're going to write their autobiography someday. :)

People are funny.

Lisa (Jonny's Mommy) said...

I have no funny tourist stories other than when my sixth grade class went to Washington D.C. we were all wearing the ugliest neon green hats ever and people kept asking us where we were from, sure we were from a foreign country. We were from the middle of nowhere, but it was still in the US. We even thought we saw Barbara Bush outside the White House (several of us were convinced that the blob of white was her hair. It was probably a dog or something). Anyhoo...I have a post about that trip at www.boondockramblings.com/smalltowngirl/

Jenn Thorson said...

Lisa- Hah, that Barbara Bush sighting is SUCH a little kid thing to do. I remember when we went to New York for a school trip and spent a lot of time around Central Park looking for the Ghostbusters building. We were just SURE we would see it.

Babs-beetle said...

Living and working in London, many years ago, I met many of the Plaid clan. They would loudly say things like "Oh we just looooove your sweet little country" and "This is soooo quaint" and "Oh, how cute" And guess what? They all wore plaid! Some wore yellow plaid. For years I thought all Americans were like that hahaha!

Jenn Thorson said...

Babs- Now THAT is funny. I hadn't realized the Plaids were QUITE so much of a type as that. But apparently they were a part of a trend!

I confess, I did comment on the cuteness of a thatched roof cottage or two on the way to Bath. But it was temporary Thatch Adoration Insanity, I assure you. :)

chyna said...

I live within an hour of any one of the entrances to Yellowstone and swear tourons multiply just seeing the signs directing them to any of those entrances. As a favor to the workers of Yellowstone I must stress, the buffalo and bears are not tame. Do NOT leave your car to go pet one (though that is a good way of thinning the herd as it were) and don't feed the bears! We have to live near that park and these animals that now think humans = dinner.

One funny story I can relate happened to my hubby. He had a friend from Germany who wanted to go up the Beartooth Highway and had also wanted to come up to a mountainman rendezvous recreation with us too so after the visit to the rendezvous they went up to Vista Point. All was normal until they headed back to the car and came up over one fo the hills to a cluster of Japanese tourists. Imagine a 6'5" guy dressed in buckskins and calico, bushy beard and hair that can only be described as a bison top knot coming in from the "wilds" of the mountains. We figure he is very popular back in Japan with all the photos that were snapped.;)

Oh and no the Indians and Cavalry quit declaring war on each other years ago, I never rode my horse to school (though we talked of doing it as a Senior prank a few times) and yes it does get cold here but it also gets hot. We do indeed have summers.

Jenn Thorson said...

Chyna- Ah, yes-- let's go pet a bear... very smart. Let's go dance with the buffalo (oh I'm sorry, that was wolves, wasn't it? Well, buffalo were in there somewhere.)

Love the Japanese tourists meet the western-mountains-look story. :)

Babs-beetle said...

Now a little cottage with a thatched roof is cute in anybody's book.

Jenn Thorson said...

Babs- Ah, good to know I didn't poorly represent my country, then. :) It was just beautiful countryside, so marvelous to get to see things like hedgerows and thatched roofs, that we otherwise would not have gotten to see.