Remember the episodes of Friends in London, when Chandler was embarrassed by Joey’s touristy look? Not only did Chandler want Joey to stop with the filming and stop climbing into his map, he also wanted nothing to do with Joey’s Union Jack top hat (finely sold by Sir Richard Branson).
My favourite bit is outside Westminster Abbey, when Joey, who is so into sightseeing, proclaims it, “hands down, best Abbey I’ve ever seen”. Chandler tells him they’re thinking of changing the name of the Abbey to “put the camera away”, and Joey promptly informs him that he’s being “Westminster Crabby“. Best.
Have you ever been Westminster Crabby about a travel companion? Maybe because they look like these guys?
I remember my first time in Paris. I was about sixteen and my mum, aunt, and I had taken the Eurostar from Ashford for the day. I was determined not to look like a tourist. I refused to stand in front of the Metro map, tracing the 6 along to Charles de Gaulle Etoile, looking obviously out of place. I would hurry my mum and aunt along whenever they’d try to do it, assuring them that I’d memorised our route while we were at lunch.
Like they wanted to trust a teenager who’d never been to Paris.
I remember being mortified when they wanted to get the map out on the middle of the street, thinking, “everyone is going to know we’re tourists. That is so not classy”. I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms. They ignored me.
I was sixteen in Paris – all I wanted to do was be classy and chic.
I look back on it now and laugh a little while I shake my head. Firstly, I can tell you that I was certainly not dressed anything like Parisien chic; in fact, when I went to Paris last June, I was barely Parisien chic (except, perhaps, for my gorgeous flats). At sixteen, I was inherently touristy simply because I didn’t look French. Nevermind the maps, I didn’t even have the look (thankfully, I can’t find any picture to prove it, but trust me on this one).
And then I think about the maps. While I do pride myself on being an excellent map reader, and generally pretty spot on with directions, I never head out into a new destination without a good map. I put marks and notes all over it, and refer to it frequently (albeit discreetly), but I’m far less concerned with looking like a tourist by pulling out a map. I’ve even realised that many locals use maps in some cities because their cities are so complicated!
Finally, in some of the places I’ve visited, I look so different from the local people that there is no possible way I could ever not look touristy! So why bother hiding it?
It’s funny, because I watch that episode of Friends now, and I know exactly how Chandler feels. I was like that when I was younger. Desperate to fit in, wanting to be this global citizen, abhorring looking like a tourist. But as I got older, and travelled more extensively, I realised that being a global citizen doesn’t mean blending in everywhere you go; that’s virtually impossible. And looking touristy isn’t the worst thing you can do. You need maps. Guidebooks are great. These things enhance your travels and shouldn’t be discarded for fear of looking touristy; they should be used in conjunction with your travel goals. Looking for adventure? Perhaps ditch the guidebook. It’s up to you.
Obviously in certain cases it’s better to not stand out as a tourist, especially when your safety could be compromised. I’m certainly still wary in those situations, but for the most part, I’m much more relaxed about whipping out my (folded into the smallest possible square) map for a quick consultation.
However, one thing you won’t see me doing is buying a massive souvenir clothing item like Joey’s Union Jack hat.
Would that make you Westminster Crabby?