Being a Tourist
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.