You’re Still A Tourist
You’re Not a Local Unless You Are
How long does it take to really get to know a place? How long before you can confidentially say you’ve “been there”? Does a layover in an airport count as having visited a place? Does it take an overnight stay? A week? A month?
You’ll find different answers to these questions. And you might find that the more travelled a person considers him or herself, the more likely they are to scoff when you say you’ve “done” Nicaragua in two weeks.
There’s no cut off day for when you will have mastered the essence of a new place. Most likely, however long you’re there for isn’t long enough to really understand it. Sure, you might have a better feel for Prague if you’ve been there four weeks instead of four hours. But does one month in the Czech Republic earn you the right to claim to know it?
Fact is, you’re still a tourist. Even if you veer off the beaten path and make a point of meeting locals, you’re still just passing through.
Think about your home town. How long would it take someone foreign to get to know it the way you do? They’d need a good ten years there to know your neighbors like you do; to understand that you should avoid Mrs. Swit’s house, and that Mr. Valentino is the best math teacher at the high school. They’d need a mortgage and city taxes to understand how the place really operates. That said, you wouldn’t mind if someone came to visit. You might take them under your wing and show them more of the town in three days than others see in eight weeks. But now imagine they started thinking of themselves as the expert of your town. Your town. That’s laughable, right? Just because they learned to walk around without a map doesn’t mean they know that the grocery store on Ross Street has better bagels than the store on Sheldon. They’re still a tourist.
Now think about that trip of a lifetime you took to Italy. By the end of your stay you knew where to find the market and fed pigeons with the old lady down the way. You felt like your inner Italian was singing and dancing around. But just ask the real locals – you were still a tourist.
Wait, before you go and cry into your passport, remember that there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. There aren’t enough years in your life to live everywhere, so you’ll have to settle for just visiting some of them. Just because you’re a tourist doesn’t mean that you can’t learn, experience and appreciate a new place in a unique way. It doesn’t mean that the quality of your time in a new place was worth more or less than anyone else’s. Who cares if you spent three months in Paris and your pal spent six days? You’re both still tourists, with your own interesting take on the City of Light. Why judge one person’s experience against the others?
There’s no need to belittle one traveller’s experience or remind him or her that their weekend in New York doesn’t mean they actually “know” New York. They know something you don’t know and you know something they don’t. So stop counting stamps in your passport or measuring weeks abroad.
You’re still a tourist.