There is an essential aspect to living in destination city like Florence that most people never talk about: that tourists inevitably become part of your daily existence. There is no getting around the fact that you will interact with tourists on a daily basis whether you want to or not. As a college student studying abroad in Florence 8 years ago I was oblivious/ignorant to it because I was essentially a tourist on an extended vacation.
But, as a resident of Florence for 2+ years that has seen a few tourist seasons come and go? I am very aware of the tourists.
I am not one of those people that finds joy in excessively mocking or complaining about people on their vacations. Quite honestly, I think it would be rude to do so. But, there is no denying that most tourists exist in their own little world in which they are 100% at the center. It can be fascinating to watch it unfold in front of your eyes.
Rob and I call phenomenon "once-in-a-lifetime-trip syndrome."
I kid you not, something psychological happens to people when they head out on big trips -- the kind they will talk about for years -- that makes them certifiably insane.
Most notable among the changes? Any access to the order, decency and humility portions of the brain fly out the window.
The extreme end of the syndrome spectrum was highlighted in spectacular fashion a few days ago at the grocery store down the street from us. We were in to pick up ingredients for lunch when we spotted the guy in front of us plop bananas and apples on the conveyor. Without a sticker.
We both sighed. In most grocery stores here you need to weigh your own fruit and veggies in the produce section and bring them to the register to be scanned. We sighed because we thought it meant we'd be in line an extra 3 minutes while he figured out. But, what happened was unexpected.
The cashier told him he needed to weigh the fruit himself and he got indignent. For those of you not familiar with Florence city center groceries let me emphasize that they are teeny tiny. The weigher is probably 15 paces away. He tossed the fruit aside and yelled, in English:
"I'm not weighing anything. I'm on vacation."
Naturally, he was American so Rob and I were hanging our heads in shame and apologizing (in Italian) for our countryman. We tried to explain to him that it was really quite easy, but he just repeated it: I'm on vacation.
This man literally wanted the the cashier, the store, Florence and Italy to cater to his every wish. Because -- he was on vacation.
Now, Rob and I are avid people watchers so it was fun in that respect, but the scene was just as horrifying as it was fascinating. What is it about vacation that makes a grown man (with a charming Southern accent) act likes he's in Disneyland? The brief bits of small talk he made with us while he paid told us he wasn't a really bad guy, yet here he was acting like everyone owed him something.
And, I will tell you that this man is/was far from unique. Every May - September we see this behavior on a daily basis -- from the old and young, West Coasters, Easter Coasters, men, women, seemingly rich, seemingly budget. It's pervasive.
So, my question is this. About your vacation...
You do know we're not on it with you, right?
If anything, I should thank tourists for making me a much more aware traveler. During our trips to Paris and Amsterdam I tried to stay keenly aware of how our behavior was being perceived and adjusting as needed to what I saw locals doing. I don't claim to be perfect, but I do claim recognition that when I'm on vacation that doesn't mean everyone else around me is, as well.
Anyone else witness this syndrome in action lately?