Of the many places that I have visited abroad, it has become clear that one thing remains the same no matter where I go: the bubble.
People often comment on how tourists almost always do the cliché things, that they only see the very surface of what the city has to offer. And to be honest, I can’t necessarily refute that. For every place I’ve visited, the itinerary has been generally the same: hit up as many historical monuments as possible, try the local food, and when we run out of things to do, crash at the Airbnb until night plans are sorted out.
However, I’m not saying that this classic set of plans is necessarily bad– in fact, I think it’s the perfect way to get to know the basics of a city within a few days. It pretty much serves as the equivalent of quick Sparknotes, (enter city here) Made for Dummies, or (enter city here) 101. But the problem is, by sticking to this set of plans, it creates a tourist bubble. A bubble that doesn’t really let you see the “true” nature of the city. The worst part? This bubble that we, or I, in specific, always find myself in while traveling, isn’t always necessarily made of my own volition. It’s as if I find myself trapped in it every time I travel.
As a Chinese-American in the middle of Central Europe, you tend to realize that the population is very… homogeneous. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just hard to approach at times. Quite often while traveling, I find myself thinking, “Vivian, you’re not in New York anymore.”, like some shitty spin-off from Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
In this case, rather than being shocked about seeing a bunch of Oompa-Loompas like Dorothy, I’m surprised about the attitude I get as an Asian. It’s as if I’m the Oompa-Loompa.
I’ve come to realize that often there’s a pretty clear divide between locals and foreigners, especially if they’re Asian (whether Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.). After all, it’s pretty easy to just split people up by the color of their skin into “tourist” and “non-tourist” categories. But because people do this, and also because I automatically assume that this happens, it feels as if a barrier is automatically put up. Due to this supposed “barrier”, I find myself hesitant to try to approach any locals amicably. Likewise, it seems as if locals simply don’t want to interact with tourists, to begin with. Though I can’t tell if I’m just bitter, or if these things actually happen, when people present you with (sometimes) subpar service, annoyed looks, and even sarcastic laughter, it’s hard to feel truly welcome, let along be motivated to socialize with strangers. In the end, it just creates a pretty sad cycle: you assume locals don’t want to interact with you, and in turn, you have no motivation to interact with them.
But taking a step back, however, it’s pretty clear that I’m assuming a lot of things, and that people probably do the same in return. I think it is most important to realize from this situation that, though anti-tourist opinions do exist, not everybody is necessarily so judgmental.
Now that I look at it, the situation is pretty interesting to think about, especially now that I’ve actually put these feelings into words for the first time. Writing this post, re-reading my words, and evaluating the validity of my thoughts has made me re-evaluate my negative outlook on traveling in terms of interacting with locals. I’ve come to realize that maybe it’s just me, wanting to stay in my comfort zone, not wanting to face rejection or possible scorn. Perhaps it’s me who just wants to stay in the bubble. And even if the reason the bubble exists is partially that of some unfriendly locals, that doesn’t mean that I’m not to blame either. Rather, even if people see me as a tourist, I really shouldn’t let that impede all the opportunities to get to know the cities I visit better. Maybe next time I travel I’ll try to be a bit more open to conversation, try to be more friendly, and meet some new people.