IT HAS JUST been announced that, for the first time, more foreign tourists visited the United States than American tourists went abroad. These foreign tourists know a bargain when they see one -- and the United States is now one of the cheapest countries in the Western world.
This may be hard for Americans to swallow, but it's a fact of life, and since our economy depends on such hard currencies as the Japanese yen, the German deutschmark, the French franc and the British pound, we all have to make a better effort to see that these tourists get their money's worth.
Here are some helpful hints to accommodate visitors from other countries.
Most of them have cameras, and they are dying to take pictures of the "natives" that they can show when they get back to Hamburg or wherever they came from. Don't get angry when they ask you to pose for a photo with you family on the front steps of your house, or when you're taking out your trash in the morning. Don't ask them for money before you agree to allow them to shoot your picture. If they offer you a few Danish kroner or a Swiss franc you may accept it, but be sure to say thank you.
Foreign tourists are great shoppers. If you are a store owner or salesperson, always wait on them first, because the more money they spend, the better our foreign balance of payments will be.
The exchange rate on the dollar changes every day, so there may be some delay in the transaction as you try to figure out what their traveler's checks are worth. Be patient and keep your temper, even when they call you a thief and complain that they could get a higher rate at their hotel.
People from abroad have their own conceptions as to what the United States is like, mostly based on our movies and television shows. They expect to get mugged in New York, mowed down in Chicago, gouged in Miami and scalped by Indians in Phoenix, Ariz. They will be very disappointed if their fantasies are not fulfilled, and will go back home and say the United States is not what it is cracked up to be.
If we want Austrian schillings and South African rand, we must all play the roles expected of us. For example, if you see a foreign tourist in Central Park, and he hasn't been mugged yet, you owe it to your country to push him down and say "your money or your life." Something like this could make his whole trip.
Foreign tourists are very insecure when traveling in America. It does no good to remind a Japanese visitor that if it weren't for Americans, they still might be making rice paper fans instead of Toyota cars.
Above all, don't mention Pearl Harbor unless they bring it up. But it's perfectly all right to ask them, "Is Tokyo Rose still very popular in Japan?"
European tourists are particularly sensitive about the Marshall Plan, so I wouldn't say anything about it. If you happened to be in the Air Force during World War II, don't tell a German tourist how you enjoyed clobbering Stuttgart. They don't want to hear about it, and it really has nothing to do with the bargains they can get here in blue jeans.
The important thing to remember is that American's main interest in tourists is how much money they leave behind. As the poor relations of the Western World, we have to swallow our pride and get on our feet so that in the distant future we all might be able to travel again. I know it's hard to imagine, but someday Americans may have the wherewithal to go abroad, and it will be our turn, once again, to say to a French taxi driver, "Here's a dollar. Buy your family a good meal."