As Miss Manners recalls, there were two purposes to the 19th-century Grand Tour. Privileged youths were sent abroad by their indulgent parents to acquire culture and to enjoy what was not yet called a “gap year” before settling down to serious business and family-sanctioned marriage.
Hence the bad reputation of tourists for grabbing cultural artifacts and indulging in nonsanctioned encounters. But the idea was that no one they cared about would know, as all that happened in the faraway places where they had misbehaved. The disgust of foreigners was not thought to affect the reputations of those who would not have gotten away with these antics at home.
We know from the Internet how empowered people feel to be obnoxious when they think they are anonymous. But for tourists, those etiquette-free times abroad are becoming risky. Destination countries are fighting back with laws, and their citizens are fighting back with video cameras. If you are arrested and fined a good chunk of your travel budget, or your boorish behavior is posted online, it is not safe to assume that no one back home will know.
Truthfully, Miss Manners hates tourist-bashing. (Full disclosure: She travels; therefore she is a tourist.) And she deplores the silly snobbery by which some tourists carry on about how they hate tourists and only go to places “where none of the tourists go.” Never mind that this would no longer be true once they set foot there.
Over the years, she has defended tourists from petty insults. So what if they used to wear drip-dry clothing? They had no access to irons. Anyway, the locals are now wearing the same current American look of jeans and sweatshirts.
Good for the tourists who try out the languages they studied in high school, and if their accents aren’t exact, well, neither are those of the foreigners who scornfully answer them in English.
Yes, tourists often travel in groups, but that is a way of dealing with logistics that may be difficult for novices or others. And if they go to many places for quick visits, perhaps they are sampling to find a place they will later explore more deeply.
But Miss Manners condemns outright rudeness wherever it occurs, and there are striking examples of it among the 21st-century Grand Tourists:
Wearing beachwear in cities. Attempting daredevil stunts in historic sites. Making excessive noise. Blocking people and otherwise making nuisances of themselves to take selfies. Littering. Urinating in public. Copulating in public.
Stop it — if not because all this is despicable, at least do so to protect yourselves from local reprisals. And also because Miss Manners knows that people who believe that it is all right to behave badly anywhere will soon come to believe that it is all right to behave badly everywhere.
So when foreigners ask, “Why can’t they act the way they would behave in their own hometowns?” she worries.
Dear Miss Manners: Can I give my grandson's girlfriend something for her hope chest?
Not unless you know for certain what your grandson’s hopes are.