Thursday, April 26, 2012

How to Spot a Tourist

Perhaps the greatest downfall of living in New York is having the sidewalks in certain parts of the city crammed with people standing still directly in the middle of them staring up at the skyline: tourists. They have many sorts of faces, these people, but more often than not they have consistent characteristics that allow those of us not on vacation to identify them, sidestep them with an exasperated sigh, and continue on our way. In the case that you have not yet been able to identify these persons or if you are planning a visit to New York and do not want to be considered such, kindly read on.

They wear one or all of the following:
Backpacks (men/women); North Face jackets or similarly fleeced constructions; absurd things like anoraks that they carry in said backpacks in a convenient plastic pouch; gym sneakers with lighter-wash jeans (a heinous crime of fashion I have rarely seen New Yorkers commit); sweatshirts, especially those reading ‘New York City’, the name of a university, or similar institution that sells sweatshirts as memorable paraphernalia (Hard Rock CafĂ©, etc.). Some women, in an attempt to look less touristy, will wear a cross-body bag. Do not be fooled—if you look closely, you will see their city map(s) sticking out of it. These people are most likely Middle Americans. True New Yorkers like TBW will openly sneer at them and we will all find this behavior acceptable.

Some will be attired differently; that is, they will actually be dressed like acceptable human beings, their attire smart, stylish, and not slovenly. These people are mostly Europeans. They might carry maps in their back pockets, and will only be identifiable when they chat rather loudly to their friends on the other end of the subway car. Although I did once see an entire family of European tourists clad in orange anoraks. I imagine it was a means to find each other should they get lost, which is an admirable tactic for safe city visiting, but it unfortunately did not protect against looking like an idiot.

This is a good time to revisit the map question. If someone has a map, they are a tourist, no exception. Avoid them if you have the opportunity, but if they stop you and ask a question, be kind. Just because we actually hate them is no reason to perpetuate the stereotype of the rude New Yorker.

Tourists will also stop at the top of the subway stairs upon exiting and try to figure out where they are, much to the chagrin of everyone behind them at the bottom of the stairwell. It is acceptable to be rude to these tourists: perhaps even slightly shove them out of the way as you leave, or utter a completely infuriated ‘EXCUSE me’ as you brush past—you won’t have to pretend to be infuriated, either, which will make this easier. Imbeciles like these are clearly not fit for New York, as they have no sense of common courtesy and are dumb enough to block an exit. We don’t want them coming back. Ditto for the aforementioned tourists who stop in the middle of the sidewalk to figure out where they are.

There are certain areas of the city to avoid at all costs because of tourists:

Times Square
I once heard a comedian tell a joke about Times Square, which went something like this: You know you’re a real New Yorker when you hear about bomb threats on Times Square and you think to yourself, ‘Good.’ Times Square is a horrific explosion of corporate disgustingness, teeming with people who don’t know better and actually think a giant Olive Garden is heaven on earth. If you are worth knowing as a human being, you will want to avoid such people.
I will concede that Times Square is home to Broadway, which has numerous, beautifully crafted shows worth going to see in wonderful old theatres. It is a shame they are so close to the bright lights of the shallow nothingness that is Times Square. On a semi-related note, if you do go to the theatre, tourist or not, please dress well. Professionals have poured their blood and guts into these performances and it’s only decent to respect that by dressing well. If you were in my theatre in jeans and a t-shirt, I would throw you out immediately.
I recommend post-theatre dining at one of the many delicious restaurants on Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen or, if you are feeling elegant, Sardi’s, where I recommend the spinach cannelloni.

Herald Square
Again, more corporate slatherings, this time of the retail and fast food variety. Macy’s is actually worth a visit, but never on a weekend—the store will be exploding with people and, if you do not like idiot tourists, you will hardly be able to control your rage. Any of the stores in this area exist in other parts of New York, and you are better off figuring out where they are.

Fifth Avenue
Sadly, the joy of window shopping at Tiffany’s, Harry Winston, and Henri Bendel is overshadowed by the trudge of people who don’t know where they’re going or what they’re looking at. If you are there on a weekday, you will occasionally see rather handsome men in suits walking past, which is always a delight. On a weekend, again, it is best to avoid the area. It is impossible to walk up and down the street if necessary as it is, but on the weekend it’s worse—numerous flagship stores (which, again, all have other locations throughout the city) make for immense numbers of people sloshing in and out.

Then, you will also find tourists downtown occasionally, but to be honest I don’t mind them as much. They are few and far between, and anyone who goes out of their way to look for something unusual is okay by me. It makes me remember my days as a tourist when I used to actively seek out interesting places downtown, writing down their addresses in a book and hiding my map so as not to let anyone know my secret. These people don’t take what the rest of the world hands them and says what New York is or isn’t.

My dear friend SC once asked me to show him the ‘real’ New York when he was visiting, and I had no answer for him. Not because I was clueless, but because the ‘real’ New York is different for everyone. My New York is different from my neighbors’, is different from my friends in the theatre industry, is different from my friends in the art world. What our ideas of New York all have in them, however, is the fire and passion that keeps the city in perpetual motion. The places packed with tourists like Times Square have no life because they’re a stagnant idea. Elsewhere in the city, we’re always changing, moving, growing. I wish more tourists had the guts to explore them. Well, not too many more…