In addition to being mean-spirited, complaining about tourists is very basic and uncool. It also lacks range. I have never said or heard anything astute about hating tourists – when someone does come up with something good, it usually tends to be a broader complaint about humanity with a tourist acting as a stand-in. We are talking about just the normal types of tourists here, not poverty tourists or war tourists etc., who cause active harm and are deranged.
Just a normal type of Christine Lagarde-looking older German lady tourist with a big fucking green beaded necklace and some spectacles with red frames standing right in the doorway of a bad restaurant on Long Street while her infuriating husband who is my enemy in every respect queries the bill and when he has obtained some measure of satisfaction he puts the receipt for two Appletizers carefully away in a special part of his bag so that he can present it at the airport later and get his VAT refund of two rand. There is nothing interesting to be said on this matter, and yet here I very clearly am, saying thing after thing and audibly scoffing at like a sweet French family who just want to look quietly at the penguins and buy a big wooden giraffe whose legs will break on the plane. Barely resisting the urge to write “cage diving is terrible for the sharks and is also not dangerous so don’t act like you are brave” on some poor American’s Instagram. They are smiling, and their girlfriend is so proud of them. They just want to have a good time while they keep the economy of the Western Cape afloat and I should just let them, or at least think about what my actual problem is.
Cultural myopia and a tendency to stand on a traffic island wearing sensible shoes and a bewildered expression are not tourist-specific defects, so what is the matter with me actually? If I was doing a crossword now and the clue was “gets under one’s skin” and the answer was obviously “exasperate” I would just write “touristsss”. Is it because they are often so obviously vulnerable and helpless in a way that makes a person (me) feel first guilty and then pissed off about these pointless and self-inflicted feelings of guilt when there is so much else going on, and then finally incensed? A question that is difficult to answer, but impossible to ignore.
It was good last summer, when you were totally justified in worrying aloud that the tourists were drinking all our water and having baths and washing their hands and that they needed to press on immediately before they killed us all. Last summer when I looked at a tourist all I saw was a giant drinking straw with a green necklace and spectacles with red frames and an infuriating husband and I was absolutely not alone in this. The drought is a bit better, sort of, for now, and so complaining ostentatiously about tourists having the temerity to shower isn’t really going to cut it. You just have to seethe in your car and wait for them to be brought low by one of Cape Town summer’s quiet hazards. The wind, the heat, the wind and the heat together. The beach traffic. That last one in particular, even though it is certainly way more irritating for people who live in Cape Town than for people who probably come from cities where it’s totally normal and expected to spend a very very long, hot time in a car in order to get somewhere beautiful.
Cape Town beach traffic probably doesn’t even register for most tourists as a problem and yet every single time I see the cars edging slowly up Kloof Nek and smell all those burnt out clutches I think some version of well, it do be like that sometimes, and how are you enjoying your holiday NOW. How are you enjoying your holiday in the city that at least one thinly-researched, poorly-cited, widely-circulated study claims to be the most congested in Africa? They overwhelming likelihood is that they do not mind or even really notice it, same with the wind, and God knows they are absolutely LOVING this oven-like heat, but it’s one of the only things I have to hold onto when these people come rolling into town with their many Euros that they just want to prop up the economy with.
The saddest part is, these feelings are more or less groundless. I don’t have any really hectic tourist stories which would justify my contempt and ill will. Nothing like the assault that recently shook New Zealand, when what the press has repeatedly described as “an unruly tourist family” from Ireland set upon the country in a sustained effort to wring every last free dollar out of it, vomiting all over the show and lying about hairs in the food. Nothing like that. “Someone not knowing very much about apartheid” isn’t really a good story. “A couple looking exactly like the Weimaraner couple in Best In Show getting visibly upset when the girl behind the bar wouldn’t accept Euros” is not what anyone would call outrageous. Poor tourists. (But maybe they could just read one tiny book about South Africa. Or an article. Or look up “what is bad for sharks.” Or stop standing on a traffic island all the time with an expression of bewildered enthusiasm, like an old old old man obligingly smiling into the faces of the guests at his surprise party. I don’t know.)