Usually the word comes from our mouths in a nasty tone, more spat than spoken. We look down on the people who aren’t assimilated into our own cultures, who represent elsewheres instead of heres.
Yet being a tourist isn’t a bad thing. It means you are willing to admit your lack of knowledge about the culture before immersing yourself in learning. It means you are curious about the past and present of places you aren’t yet familiar with. It means you will work to use a unique dialect that consists mainly of pointing, nodding, and a few mangled, mispronounced phrases from a guidebook.
Tourists, unlike the locals, bring fresh eyes to the world’s most astonishingly gorgeous sights. Those who live there take their hometown’s unique beauty for granted, but tourists never do: everything is exciting and worth seeing for someone who has never experienced that place before.
There’s a reason that certain places in our world are considered tourist attractions: they have historical, artistic, or cultural merit. They draw in our natural curiosity and our interest in new cultures and lifestyles. Why wouldn’t world travelers want to see those societal artifacts?
Using “tourist” as a derogatory term only discourages people from seeing a country’s important places. When we expressly shame people for tourism, we devalue their craving to understand.
We would never judge someone for reading the classics, yet we spit “tourist” (or worse) at groups stopping to photograph a street scene. Classic literature has been read by millions of people worldwide over decades and centuries, just like our “tourist attractions” invite huge crowds every day to experience their engaging beauty. Yet locals will impose shame on people for wanting to see what makes their towns magnetizing and worthwhile.
Let’s revel in tourists, be willing to gesture wildly back, and forgive them for their mistakes instead of shaming them for wanting to see what distinguishes each culture from every other.