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Being a Tourist

by Dee Andrews

Watermen of Morocco

The snake charmers and brightly colored water men captured my attention. I was mesmerized every which way I turned; everything was so different than anything I had experienced. The music, smells and sights of the main square, Djemaa el Fna, in Marrakesh, Morocco were overwhelming all of my senses. I was itching to take picture after picture, but I also didn’t want to attract any more attention than my blond haired, back-pack clad family was already getting. It also somehow didn’t feel right to me… perhaps impersonal, invasive, disrespectful?

We had just left the shadows of the souks, the narrow lanes chock full of stalls serving the daily needs of locals and tourists alike. Boiling pots of brothy snails, olives, strange smelling spices, vibrant clothes, hammers, tea cups, furniture, babouche slippers… it was like a flea market with a treasure at every stall. As we sat at a cafe sipping our mint tea, I wondered what a Moroccan tourist to the USA would take pictures of?

What about our American culture would interest and awe a traveler from afar?

Here’s the list I imagined:

  • Our super-sized grocery stores where we have a whole aisle devoted to packaged cereal and carts as big as those Smart Cars we were seeing all over Europe.
  • Immaculate and empty soccer fields that go on and on, where games are canceled if it rains so the fields aren’t torn up, and parents are camped out on the sidelines with video cameras and coolers. The soccer fields I saw in Marrakesh and other parts of Europe were often impromptu and made from a mixture of grass, dirt, rocks and trash. They were also always full of boys playing.
  • Shopping malls. A woman in Spain was telling me about her visit to the Mall of America in Minnesota. “There is a roller coaster in it,” she exclaimed and went on to express her amazement of American malls. I tried to explain that not every mall in America is THE Mall of America. I’m not sure she believed me.
  • Fast food restaurants and coffee to go. The way we eat would probably be fascinating to tourists visiting America. Drive-through, huge portions, cheap, and on-the-go. Convenient processed foods too. I know I missed canned, ready-to-heat beans, as in black, white, navy, pinto, and kidney. And the choice of foods we have from around the world would be over-whelming. In America, we can easily choose between American, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, French, even Moroccan.
  • How we dress? Boys with baggy jeans down around their hips, young girls with bare midriffs, cowboy boots or hats, fake tans and fake boobs, track suits, summer dresses with winter boots? I suppose to a foreign visitor, some of our American styles would be just as fascinating as I thought the Moroccan waterman’s.
  • Our architecture. Our country is truly young and our buildings and houses are too. I love the old and ancient architecture of other parts of the world… window boxes full of spilling flowers, white-washed walls to keep out the heat, a blue shutter, a red door. Perhaps in America, our mid-century ranch house would be in a picture or two… large windows to let the light pour in, a sprawling floor plan, and lawns of Kentucky Blue grass.
  • And sadly, poor neighborhoods, graffitied buildings, housing projects, homelessness. I was surprised to learn people outside of America think everyone in America is wealthy. I was concerned we were seen as one big beautiful suburb with a McMansion, two SUVs, and a big-screen TV in every room.
  • Perhaps the attraction and magic of travel, no matter where in the world you are from or visiting, is the chance to experience other cultures vastly different than your own: eating strange foods, pondering customs, laughing at outfits, growing beyond stereotypes.

    What do you think would be surprising to a tourist in America?

    And, if you’re curious, you can find the pictures I did take in Morocco here.

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    { 11 comments… read them below or add one }

    Natalia May 11, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Not sure how much of that is really individual to the USA – most of what you describe can be found in Australia, and much of the UK.
    .-= Natalia´s last blog ..World Travel with Lonely Planet – playing my part =-.

    Dee May 11, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Perhaps you are right, Natalia; I was just thinking about my home country of America. I’ve never been to Australia, but I did enjoy Sunday pot roast at the community table at a local pub while in the UK, which seemed very British to me.

    Sarah V. May 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    What an interesting idea for a post! Hmmm…I think people from other countries might be surprised by how much we smile.

    Since the US is my home country, it’s difficult to imagine what others think of it. Yet this is probably a good exercise in looking at things from a different perspective.

    Dee May 12, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Sarah, I loved your comment, “Since the US is my home country, it’s difficult to imagine what others think of it.” That’s exactly what I was trying to figure out and hoped others would consider. Of course, it’s all subjective and dependent upon where we live in the US too, but for me the point was to think about it and start conversations. Thanks for sharing!

    kristy May 13, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I have wondered this many times as I look at the tourists on holiday in my home town of Miami Beach. One thing that I notice when my family and I come back from overseas is the noise level seems to go way up when we arrive back here. Conversations, media, talking seems just plain loud for a couple of days.
    .-= kristy´s last blog ..Hands Off! =-.

    Steve May 31, 2010 at 8:54 am

    I’ve thought about this before too. Sometimes when I am out, I like to try and spot tourists from other countries. Since I live in Minneapolis I often go to the Mall of America. It is a really easy place to see them. They definitely react to what is going on around them differently from locals. It makes me wonder what they are thinking.
    .-= Steve´s last blog ..15 Books to Inspire You to a More Interesting Life =-.

    Dee June 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    @Steve, Glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks like this!

    Enjoyed your 15 Inspiring Books list too! The 4-Hour Work Week was a huge inspiration for our family in moving abroad. And, I’m reading Farewell to Arms right now! ~ Dee

    Dee June 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    @ Kristy,
    I remember when we returned from Spain and went to a movie, I was shocked at how loud they were! And how much the popcorn was! =) I enjoyed your Hands Off post about giving our children more space and time to problem solve for themselves. It’s such a hard thing to remember sometimes but so important! Thanks for the reminder!

    Colleen at Travel Mamas July 18, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    I think the size of things…the size of Big Gulps and Grand Slam breakfasts and our SUVs and Costco…would be overwhelming to an outsider. Interesting idea to ponder!
    .-= Colleen at Travel Mamas´s last blog ..A Day on the Farm in Sicily =-.

    Michela September 11, 2010 at 4:53 am

    I agree with the huge size of things…we Europeans are not used to them and this was the first thing that impressed me so much in America…

    Dee September 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Buongiorno Michela,

    Thanks for sharing! I’m eager to explore Australia through your website and hope to visit someday in person. ~ Dee

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