A tourist is defined as someone who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure. Yet, those who claim to be ‘world travelers’ avoid this label like Salman Khan avoids driving.
The reason, of course, is that this image comes to mind when we hear ‘tourist’:
And no one wants to stick out like this.
But in order to avoid that, people also stick out like this:
When people avoid the term ‘tourist’, they somehow think they can just blend in, be a local for a while, and effortlessly walk the streets as if they owned the place.
This never happens.
You are a tourist. You are not a local and you never will be.
The real issue is how to not be an obnoxious tourist – both the long-sock-fanny-pack-old-man end of the spectrum and the bikini-on-the-family-beach-girl end. This we can help with.
How to not be an obnoxious tourist
1. Be flexible.
Culture attacks aside, you want to be relaxed and go with the flow as much as possible. Don’t expect everything to operate just like it does in your home country. In fact, expect everything to be different. This way, you’ll be more eager to experience the change. If your hotel or taxi isn’t quite as clean as you want it, just deal with it, or calmly find an alternative. Nothing makes a more obnoxious tourist than someone who is constantly complaining about everything (especially under your breath). Drop all your entitlements at the airport.
2. Dress smartly and appropriately.
Your clothing is the first thing that will make you stick out. You want to strike a good balance between what you normally wear and what is appropriate for the culture and climate.
Some obnoxious tourist hear it is hot in south India, so they show up in jungle gear to the office. Other obnoxious people wear only lungis around everywhere they go.
Most of the time, your normal clothes are fine to wear with a few notes:
- It can be very hot, but there is also lots of AC, so no need to wear linen pants everyday.
- For men, shorts are often worn only by small boys and may look awkward on older men. They can be worn in very casual environments, but not elsewhere.
- Women can wear what their Indian peers wear. Just nothing too tight or exposing (Indian standards of modesty are still more conservative than other countries).
3. Don’t act like you know everything.
You don’t want to be the kind of obnoxious tourist that yells at someone in painfully slow English, “Excuse me, can you please show me to the toilet?” (It gets worse if you imagine your mother saying it.) However, you also don’t want to be the kind that never asks for any help because you are trying to figure it out on your own.
Assume that everything is new and that you need help with everything. Talk to as many people as your language skills allow. This will make your life easier and will make you some fast friends.
4. Don’t compare everything.
India is a new place unlike any other place in the world. If you keep trying to compare it to your home culture (or other places you visited), you will exhaust yourself and the few friends who are still hanging around you.
Let India be its own thing, especially in your first few months of interacting. It’s just different and always will be.
India is great for tourists. You can travel and experience a side of the world you would have never known. Just don’t be obnoxious about it.