The Curse Of The Bucket List

Christopher Fowler
20140817_76698_image456-sunbathing-tourists-piazza-san-marco-gazzettino Above, some visitors to Venice got the city and the lido confused, and presumably thought the city was a beach. Meanwhile, residents of the Orkney Islands, which has a population of around 20,000, will be joined by more than 120,000 visitors this summer. The influx is putting attractions such as Skara Brae, Europe's best-preserved Neolithic settlement, under strain. Apparently last year there was an outcry when dozens of tourists interrupted a funeral at St Magnus Cathedral, taking selfies and trying to lift the lid of a coffin. It led to multilingual signs being erected urging people to show respect. This latest outrage comes after Italian stag-partyers caused disgust one Sunday morning by strolling naked through the streets of Barcelonetta, a Catholic working class neighbourhood. The incident led to the cancellation of new hotels. Last weekend I was having dinner in a small Parisienne restaurant
when the entrance doors opened and about 50 Chinese tourists crammed into the foyer to take photos of us eating. Some Korean tourists brought half a dozen large teddy bears to stand in the photos. Everyone has to learn how to be more sophisticated, of course, but do we have to put up with this? Mass tourism isn't going to go away, so could there evolve a behaviour code for those who have not travelled abroad? Most international tourists behave very well - I find Americans extremely respectful and not at all as they are painted in the press, but Chinese tourists travelling for the first time clearly have a different cultural perspective on privacy, and this need to be explained to them. The biggest problem this summer will come from the sheer volume that arrives from cruise ships. Most see nothing of actual cities, being shepherded along a specific route to a restaurant that has been specially set aside for them in the manner of a theme park ride. The idea that every door along the way should be pulled open and its contents photographed still seems extraordinary to me. Who on earth views all these photos? Are they simply dumped on Instagram? (A media network I have no interest in joining, so I don't know). When I see 500 people taking the same shot of a cathedral I always wonder what they would say about that cathedral's history if you asked them. I suspect - nothing. I was once in a theatre watching Peter Shaffer's play 'Lettuce and Lovage', sitting behind a row of 20 Californian girls. Ten minutes into the play one of them stood up and loudly asked the others, 'Do we need to see any more of this?' and they all walked out, the 'London theatre' bucket list having been ticked. So this is an addendum to my Paris piece the other day. Visitors are encouraged to buy the idea of visiting somewhere more than actually understanding what they are visiting. How do we remedy it?  
Posted in


Vivienne (not verified) Thu, 18/05/2017 - 19:39

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Not sure there's an answer. The travel people are in the business only to increase numbers and, despite the problems, many destinations would not manage without the tourist money. Horrified to here about the Orkneys. If only people had to individually get themselves there that wouldn't happen.

My strategy for the future will be to go to European places in January or February for sites as it may be less crowded and, if I just want to sit in the sunshine outside a Parisian or Venetian cafe in the summer to soak up the atmosphere, do only that and try to blend in with the locals.

Helen Martin (not verified) Fri, 19/05/2017 - 18:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Blending in with the locals is what Chris is always advocating - do what the local people do and talk to them. It's what Rick Steves urges people to do in his travel writing, too. I don't understand the group of tourists at the restaurant because that was a tour group, surely, with a guide and so on who should have put the brakes on long before that. I think people confuse foreign places with theme parks and reenactments where you're encouraged to interrupt the actors.

Bill (not verified) Sun, 21/05/2017 - 13:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Once, in the Rembrandt rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a very amusing fellow put on a display of his own, however unwittingly. He posed beside a picture, crossing his hands at his waist, throwing back his shoulders and lifting his chin, glaring in a minatory way at, I presume, his wife, who clicked on her camera. Immediately, he swung around to the next painting, resumed his pose, and click. He repeated this performance beside each painting in the room, click click click, until they got to the door to the next gallery, where they exited, presumably to continue their exercise. He never looked once at any canvas, though now he had quite a collection of pix to show his family, friends and colleagues back home that here, indeed, was a seriously cultivated man. Associations and all that. Really a hoot. His poor wife.

Jackie Hayles (not verified) Sun, 21/05/2017 - 17:46

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It seems bizarre that wherever people go and whatever they do, they see themselves as the centre - the selfie being all that really matters, how good they look in various environments, against different backgrounds, doing things in other countries, like some strange egotistical game of "Here's Wally". I think social media are largely responsible for the cripplirng self-consciousness that feeds on being "liked", as on oxygen to breathe.

Chris Hughes (not verified) Mon, 22/05/2017 - 14:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

We had a wonderful holiday in Orkney, getting there and back by train (and doing Orkney to Kent in one day) - the journey was part of the fun. Thankfully, at Skara Brae they've built a facsimile of a dwelling which you can go into, this preserving the original. Numbers are a problem. There is so much travel writing and so much on TV that it's not surprising that it seems like half the world has chosen the same destination! And there is a wonderful short story, I think by John Wyndham, about the terror of having time travelling tourists !

Helen Martin (not verified) Mon, 22/05/2017 - 19:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Yes, I think it is John Wyndham, but I don't remember the title. Imagine having to deal with people from other times who would have loved to visit... and now can! Mind you, if there were an influx of medieval people on the various pilgrim paths it might improve the overall atmosphere.
People ask how they can reduce the pressure on various sites and the answer, of course, is don't go. People who wanted to go on pilgrimage but couldn't used sometimes to build a path in a pasture or other area and then walk it over and over until they had walked the distance. Couple that with Google Earth and some serious minded friends and you could create whatever meditational mood you wanted.

chris hughes (not verified) Tue, 23/05/2017 - 15:03

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Helen, sounds like an opportunity for an entrepreneur! Not sure though if Chaucer's pilgrims suddenly appeared that they would do much to up the tone!