Tanya Sweeney on tourists: 'Why I'm so sick of the Americans, the Europeans and the shouty types on the Viking Splash tour'
How do I say this delicately?
I’m not sure there’s a right way so I’m just going to come out with it: I’ve officially had it with the tourists. The Americans with their galoshes and Carroll’s bags, the Europeans with their impossibly expensive tans, and the English language students with their brightly coloured backpacks… they’re all driving me slightly mad.
Don’t even get me started on the shouty types on the Viking Splash tour. I’ve had vivid dreams about boarding that yellow bus and doing actual bodily harm with those helmets every time they shriek at a red traffic light. This year will go on record as a record year for our home-grown tourism industry; we welcomed a 12pc boost on tourist numbers in the first part of the year.
Lord knows, we need visitors more than ever — for the morale as much as the shekels. But this has come at a cost. My office is next to Dublin Castle, which is pretty much tourism ground zero. Tourists stand around in vast packs, marvelling at buildings (even if it is just the Permanent TSB), getting in the way, walking out into oncoming traffic, steering Dublin bikes into one’s path, and generally interrupting the quotidian rhythm of the city. I’ve become so curmudgeonly that I’ve started glowering at crowds and shooing them out of my path. I know… if those healthy figures drop, it will likely be all my fault.
I felt only very slightly bad about all this, until I aired my guilty secret to the folks in my office. It could just be that I work with a particularly mean bunch, but they were in fierce agreement — in fact, they seemed relieved they weren’t the only politically incorrect ones stalking the city. “Imagine what it will be like next year for the 1916 celebrations,” offered one colleague, and we all shuddered.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. When I was younger, I was thrilled that anyone would ever want to come to Ireland. The Spanish and French students that showed up in my Blanchardstown housing estate in the late 80s seemed so impossibly exotic, sitting on walls in their Naf Naf and their Pepe, smoking cigarettes in full view of everyone’s parents. We couldn’t get enough of them.
Later on, I worked in the city’s pubs, and hearing the lilt of an American accent ignited a slight thrill. This was still a time when we were a little in awe of the Yanks. Being from ‘Murica’ was like being famous. Or, at the very least, it was being richer and more worldly than us, even if they were asking about Tam O’Shanters, Shamrock Shakes and shillelaghs (do these exist outside the Irish-American mind? I don’t think so).
Let’s be honest, the cheerleaders from Chicago were the only thing worth watching in a St Patrick’s Day parade once upon a time. Having foreigners deign to come to our little corner of the world felt like a strange sort of validation. I think we were flattered beyond belief.
We had nothing much to offer in the way of sunshine; even less to offer in terms of breathtaking vistas or awe-inspiring architecture. What we did have was charm and a twinkle in the eye. This was our Eiffel Tower, our Empire State Building, our golden beach. These were the experiences people came for — the beery romanticism, the flawed, messy poetry of the people, the vibe that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
And by god, do we love to show off. A couple of years ago, I picked up some Canadian friends at the airport and we hailed a taxi. The driver made a few wisecracks, raising a few appreciative titters. And he was off, determined as anything to show these visitors just how wickedly funny we can be. He’s not alone. We all turn into Tommy Tiernan at the first sniff of a foreign, appreciative audience.
So what exactly changed? We did, I think. In the past few decades, we became more worldly, and more world-weary with it. The Yanks of today have nothing on the Yanks of yore. You’re from California? Whevs. We can all get our hands on Naf Naf and Pepe (well indeed if they still exist). Somewhere along the way, we decided to get unimpressed.
Coupled with this, Ireland’s reputation as Craic Central started to grow legs. You see it all the time — visitors descending on the city and really getting into, ahem, the spirit of things. They are whooping it up in Temple Bar and stumbling out into the streets after a lock-in. It’s what many of them came for. The truth is, they themselves create the vibe and the memories that they’ll carry home lovingly, not us.
We do it too though — we go to Paris and return home with tales of how beautiful it is, or regale folks with how incredible the food is in Rome, or come back from Spain and talk non-stop about the weather. We are conditioned into expecting certain experiences from our travels. You’re barely getting your money’s worth
The thing is, being a tourist anywhere is inherently naff. Not knowing where anything is and not speaking the language puts us on the backfoot.
I returned from a weekend in Paris, and I’m sure several of the natives regarded me with an irritated sigh as I stalked uncertainly around the 12th arrondissement and quaffed Beaujolais.
I do understand that when you’re on holiday, the delicate tango of daily life is the last thing on your mind. Of course you’re going to amble about the area at a snail’s pace; you’ve just paid good money to escape your own daily grind and soak up the sights and vibes of another
city. Besides, when did it become so important for me to zip along the footpath anyway? I’m only going to work, or home to watch Netflix.
It’s now September, so the streets are emptying a little. My cold war with the tourists is at an impasse. Remind me to go somewhere far, far away in Easter, where no doubt I’ll make a real nuisance of myself.