New levels of self-loathing come easily when surrounded by other chortling holiday makers
Tourists, both foreign and domestic, are a funny bunch. Wherever and whenever they swarm about London, they stick out like sore thumbs, take pictures of utterly mundane tripe like pigeon droppings or discarded copies of the Metro, eat at Angus Steak Houses and stand on the left-hand side of the Tube escalator. Perhaps most infuriatingly they walk incredibly slowly. Honestly, is there no where they would rather be than the middle of the road or wherever they’ve suddenly decided to stop?
Unfortunately, every few months I become a tourist myself by going on holiday. Although I try and learn the local customs and language of my destination as best I can, inevitably I still make a couple of tourist goofs, including eating out at restaurants where all the other diners are other tourists who’ve read the same guide book as I have. The only locals to be seen are those making a living by speaking my language better than I can speak theirs. Even if the food turns out to be good, I feel rather guilty about liking it. Aspirational middle-class guilt is a bitch.
One of the few advantages of eating out as a tourist in a tourist-infested restaurant is the chance to observe other tourists in their natural habitat. There´s the usual gaggle of families, including the brood of squealing infants. Then there´s the older gentlemen with a younger female who could be his daughter, but is most likely his paid-by-the-hour concubine.
My personal favourites are the couples who are clearly trying to salvage their faltering relationship with an exotic getaway, but are clearly failing. They haven´t said a word to each other the entire meal – she´s reading the guidebook, he´s playing strip poker on his smartphone. A close runner up would be the middle-aged couples who resemble the likes of Peter Hain and Sophia Loren – attractive in a preserved-in-aspic sort of way. Surprisingly, very few of them have bothered to learn the local lingo and those that have are British – perhaps our reputation as shouty, slow-talking monolinguists is undeserved?
Depressingly, all of the above miscreants are middle-aged – dining out doesn’t seem to be a popular past time for people on holiday below a certain age for some reason, at least in the restaurants I seem to be going to. The only exceptions are the one or two non-Caucasian tourists who inevitably have bigger cameras than I do – and my model is around the size of an obese dwarf. I steadfastly avoid making eye-contact with them – just because my ancestral countrymen may have been from the same part of the world as theirs doesn’t necessarily mean I want to engage in witless chit-chat about the weather, the quality of the food or the fluctuating currency exchange markets.
Clearly I need to start eating where the locals eat. Or all those other tourists need to stay at home.