Tourists are happy because they smile.

I just came back from an altogether wonderful trip with my wonderful brother, visiting our wonderful cousin in wonderful Prague in all its wonderful splendor and medieval glory. It was great. Truly great, and as you’ll sooner or later realize, this blog-post has got nothing with tourism to do. On holiday, though, I often have an aching “but…”-feeling. After a couple of days in the midst of amazing architecture in Prague’s Old-town, we somehow managed to get bored, so we decided to take a day-trip to Dresden.  Prague stretches 1100 years back along the arrow of time and has according to Wikipedia been a historical, political and cultural center in Europe throughout much of it. How we managed to get bored is an Easter mystery greater than any, but off we went. And there, in a relaxing cafeteria in the heart of Dresden, that same “but…” feeling struck me like the hunger strikes the tourist. No room for excuses of any kind this time. You don’t get bored of a city after having spent 2 hours in it! So what. Well — the question bothering me was “Why?” We fly in to Prague with big empty cameras on big empty stomachs and big (seemingly just as empty) heads on top of all the glory.  We walk down streets surrounded by Rome’s ancient glory, Prague’s medieval splendor  or London’s amazing, fallen political power. We shoot the same cheese-smiling photos that tourists have taken since the camera became mobile enough for instant photogramming and the later Instagram. We vomit money like food-poisoned tourists. We stop at the right local or even just “local” food shops (not at all questioning if dumplings really are Check or if pizza actually is British) and stuff ourselves with all kinds of food that the natives never eat — except when they go abroad for holidays. Yawning tourists flow through the streets of Budapest listening to a guide from England who once read a book about the city and since then has worked part time  to support her studies. Surprisingly enough all the world’s seven wonders somehow seem to be connected to the past of the city you chose to visit. In Moscow they play the same game. In Paris. And Hong Kong. Me and my brother take the bus to Dresden and repeat the same procedure. We walk down the main street from the train station, exactly where the tourists are meant to walk to be told the happy lies they want to hear.  Around us Asians with way too much money, Americans with way to big stomachs and Norwegians with way to small brains are all marching around playing the same stupid game. We all follow the rules like fools fooling around in foolery, thinking we are happy.  I sit on a cafe called Max and think these thoughts through. I might be exaggerating no less than the tourist guides I have met on my trips, but you get the point.

Illustrational -- A player in the tourist game.
The tourist game.

Perhaps I overstate because I got scared. When I first noticed my lack of ability to appreciate the game, I was scared and despaired ever so slightly. This whole game really gives me nothing. Rather it empties me much like a tourist empties his wallet. It is not that I take no interest in history lessons, culture or tasty food. Actually I really do.  But that aching question of “Remind me; what is the point of this whole game, again?” becomes so overwhelming that I just want to cry. Think of all the money people spend playing this game. Seated in the second floor I look down at all the map-reading tourists, Döner-eating tourists, guided tourists, photo-shooting tourists and culture-consuming tourists of all seven kinds.They are all players in the same game: The tourist game. It is a game strict with rules and with no meaning whatsoever. Everybody plays it. If you follow the rules you become a successful tourist, says the manual. Come home from Egypt without souvenirs and you loose 10 points on the spot. Fly back from Greece without a tan and receive a move-back-to-start penalty. You’ll have to take the holiday over again do make up for it (or buy a year membership in a solarium). Tourists are slaves of their freedom. I hope I am not the only tourist who keeps feeling this way. The name of the cafe reminds me of a friend of mine that I am well above hundred percent confident would be even more bored than me by this stupid game. The Max I know would rather make native friends, blend into the daily life or help an old lady in the midst of Paris’ tourist attractions, while the rest of us watch the astronomic watch in Prague waiting for the twelve apostles to appear above it and reveal some deep, hidden truth to us that we may marvel at and later disbelieve. Tell me — why do we play the tourist game, again? What does it give us? For just by the shear number of tourists on the market one is led to conclude that it must give something to most people. I am glad to know that there at least exist a few people who see the meaningless of this game.

But in the end you probably know me right. I am not actually at all worried about how people spend their holidays or in front of which buildings they stretch out their selfie sticks. What made me so depressed in that cafeteria had nothing with tourism to do, really. It concerned deeper issues. Issues of true freedom slaves. What depressed me, was to think of all the dear and good friends I have, and all the talented people I have met and continue to meet, that are all so content with being tourists of life. They take the right education. They make tons of friends, go to parties, download the right apps, see the right TV-series, do sports, go on holidays and smile on all the pictures they shoot to prove their progressive success. Their well-meaning parents have taught them not to waste their time, and as a result they fill their every moment to the brim with all sorts of excitements, amusement and entertainment that today’s world offer them. Some of them do more during a week than I do in a whole year. And they seem happy. They probably are happy. But not because they stopped at Max to check. Rather because they didn’t. Most of them will never do, either. After all — who wants to get depressed? Stay in the game: Apply for the right universities, work for the right funding and aim at the best jobs. Invest properly in the future. Snap, freeze, tweet and “cheese” all good moments from the past and delete all the bad. Find an intimate friend to get your daily dose of selfish love, or just outsource it to Tinder. Anyways; you are a looser if you don’t have a temporary life-long partner. Fill your life with tons of friends to occupy you in your spare-time and to make sure you don’t have any leftover moment to sit down and reflect on the meaning of the whole game. No-no; that’s already taken care of. Stay you in the game. Stay humble too and profess your lack of belief as an agnostic. Just don’t sit down to figure it all out. You loose time. Play. In short:
Experience. Chill. Relax. Have fun. And follow all the rules. Congrats — you have just earned your share of success!

But remind me, tourist; what of worth does this game give you?  You walk the right streets, you buy the right hot dogs and shoot the right Big Ben pictures, smiling the right “cheese”. But the only reason you are happy is because you smile.

I could never be happy that way. Enjoy your Bratwürst.

 

3 thoughts on “Tourists are happy because they smile.

  1. Your reflections are always very deep Ben. It reminds me of my teammate Simiyu. Many of us are not keen to reflect about what we are part of in the daily life. Maybe it scares us. But thank God for blessed thinkers like you. It is good to be reminded of what really matters or simply, Is it worth it? (some other time you can come to Kenya for holiday, I’m sure you will reflect about life in a new and profound way 🙂 )

  2. Thank you, Joyline — I miss the two of you. It is a good question you have there: is it worth it? I hope to come to Kenya at some point to visit. It would be lovely to see you again, and meanwhile I hope you are faring well 🙂

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