Rules of Tourism 

STAR Tannery, Virginia - Since we are in the thick of vacation season and as a sort of public service, I think it's time we review some of the more important rules of etiquette as it applies to both being a tourist and receiving tourists in your general area.

I say this because it is an issue that affects just about everyone. We're all tourists at one time or another, even it it's a day trip to the next county.

Most of us live at least on the way to some vacation destination. Besides, it's good to remember there are always people like Dirtman and me, for whom anywhere is a vacation destination. Roadside historic markers were made for us.

And no one wants the get the reputation for being like the French, who seem to need help both as tourists and as hosts. I am told, though, this reputation applies only to Parisians; that the French outside of the capitol city are actually very warm and welcoming even to Americans, for whom the same cannot be said - ask any New Yorker forced to stop overnight in a small southern U.S. town.

Tourists, you need to realize that, while your entire year may have been building up to your vacation, to your hosts, you are one of many. You're not vacationing where your mother has been busy for the past two weeks preparing your favorite foods and making sure all your special needs will be met when you arrive. Though they try, there is no way the locals can think of all your specific needs and no reason why they should. If you want food exactly like what you have at home, then stay home.

And remember - the entire venue does not exist for only you and your screaming, over-tired, over-indulged toddler you think is so cute and "precocious." At home I might be tolerant and may even help you out. But right now I'm on vacation too and, frankly, I've put in my time entertaining a three-year-old and a five-year-old at the beach on the third day of pouring rain. That's called "tough luck and better luck next year."

There is no denying tourists can be overbearingly rude, but it is still no excuse for overall rude treatment by the locals whose economy is being boosted by the tourist trade.

I grew up 10 minutes from the New Jersey shore, a tourist magnet for the most densely-populated part of the U.S. As a teenager I recall the locals becoming so rude that the newspaper ran an annual article reminding everyone that tourists directly contributed to our local economy. It still didn't stop some of my peers from deliberately giving wrong directions or being rude when encountering these people we called "Bennies" (a term whose origin is debated to this day).

I will confess to being, in my late teens, particularly intolerant of tourists' timid driving techniques, though this was more because they had a tendency to pick between the hours of 8 and 9 a.m. to have their 15 mph scenic drive along the beach road, right at the time I needed to be getting to work at the bank branch along that route.

The Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where I live now, is a very particular tourist attraction that draws a very particular tourist. Mostly, we are visited by people interested in history, since the highest concentration of Civil War battles were fought in this state and the entire northern valley, Northern Virginia and the Northern Neck was surveyed personally by none other than (drum roll) George Washington himself. Our visitors are often more respectful of what is here than many of the locals.

The nicest part of history being our biggest attraction is that it's a little hard for a big corporation to come in and "market it" without destroying the very resource they're trying to sell. Just ask Disney, who tried their darnedest to build an historic theme park on what was determined to be a former battlefield.

It's a nice irony that this girl from New Jersey is living in an area where I'd be vacationing (and did, back when I was living in the Garden State).

There is one final rule of being I tourist I'd like to mention: When on vacation, it is not permissible to wear a shirt with the logo of the place where you are vacationing. For instance, it is good form to wear a "Las Vegas" shirt when at Ocean Beach, Md. However, it is tacky to wear an Ocracoke Island t-shirt when staying on Ocracoke Island, N.C.

Only a Bennie would do that.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.

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