Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Please adjust your dress before leaving....

Surfers in Costa Rica's Manuel Antonio Nationa...Image by mikebaird via Flickr
This notice adorned, to the best of my recollection, the inside door of the loos on the steam trains taking one to Scotland.....and I think its day has come again.
It could be posted with advantage on the inside door of the hotel rooms occupied by American tourists in Costa Rica's capital, San Jose.

Before anyone thinks I have it in for the American abroad, let me just reassure you...I have seen the British abroad as well.
Equally discouraging...but different.

For example, while on holiday in Tunisia at Hammamet I came across two British archetypes in quick succession.
The first family was led by a gentleman with shaven head and heavily tattooed arms. What else might possibly have been tattooed was mercifully hidden under a singlet. The lady accompanying him was unshaven, and sported lighter tattoos. Alongside was a boy of some seven years with red on white crosses of St. George on each cheek while father was in charge of the pushchair, nattily lined with a St. George's cross towel and containing a small child in a jester's cap in red and white and a tee shirt adorned with...well, you can guess.
Dragons would have been well advised to steer clear of this little party.

A safe distance behind them came the second group.
Father, all floppy sunhat, black sock and sandal was leading his brood....two teenage girls so covered in sunblock as to resemble ladies of the court of Queen Elizabeth I with their white leaded cheeks, a younger boy - in sunhat - carrying bat, ball and stumps with which to bring the family to the brink of heart failure while re enacting Flintoff's finest hour under the Tunisian sun - while mother, sunhat, droopy skirt and vast beachbag full of food looted from the breakfast buffet brought up the rear.

The American version is different.

I first became aware of it when meeting a friend in the elegant surroundings of the coffee shop at the Teatro Nacional...all painted ceilings, fluted columns and marble tiles...a quiet haven in the city centre.
We were well into our coffee, cake and gossip when a new group of patrons appeared to take centre stage.

Think a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Crocodile Dundee......

Broad brimmed safari hats, those shooting party waistcoats with bands for cartridges...thankfully empty...shorts, knee length socks and walking boots.

In the coffee shop of the Teatro Nacional. All painted ceilings, fluted columns and marble tiles.

I awaited the arrival of their order to see if they would produce machetes with which to cut their cake...but I was disappointed. They made do with cake forks.

Walking across to the library, I became aware of more of them....all dressed as if about to face the wilderness but strolling the streets of the capital of Costa Rica, among the monuments, the parks and the shops.
Why hadn't I noticed them before?

Well, mostly because I only toddle up to the centre of town if I'm meeting friends or going to change my books and because when I do I'm  usually concentrating on not putting my foot into one of the many unprotected holes in the pavement rather than on my fellow man.
Where I do my food shopping, the streets around the Mercado Borbon, the tourist is firmly discouraged from putting a socked and booted foot for fear of crime.
"Afueras del Mercado Borbón"Image by Néstor Baltodano via Flickr

Reading the guide books you would imagine that once you enter that area you would be torn limb from limb by muggers intent on parting you from your watch, earrings, necklaces, cameras and wallets.
Absolute nonsense.
You might have to keep a wary eye out for gentlemen barely in control of barrows laden with pineapples, plantains or coconuts, but that's a different sort of hazard.

Where you are more likely to find crime is where the intrepid Great White Hunters the town centre, with the casinos, the tourist hotels and the golden arches of McDonalds.
More chance of grabbing a mobile 'phone, a camera or a wallet up there than down round the Mercado Borbon where all that people carry are their shopping bags.

Still, to return to the tourists.....they must know that they are staying in a town, so why dress as if about to go whacking the bush?

I think the answer is that they have, or have been sold, a certain idea of Costa Rica as a third world destination with oases of modern hotels from which they can venture forth to visit rain forests, frighten the wits out of wildlife by screaming their way along ziplines and have their hats stolen by monkeys in the Manuel Antonio National Park.
The idea that Costa Rica contains towns has never entered their consciousness, so they haven't packed for urban strolling.

That San Jose has some stunning architecture passes them by'd be hard put to find mention of it in any guide they spend their obligatory day in San Jose sticking out like sore thumbs and buying expensive coffee in the tourist hotels. Where they speak English...or, rather, American.

Other tourists I've always been aware of...the backpacking kids changing buses in Coca Cola, heading from one coast to the other...goggling their way through the Mercado Central, all burned red by the sun, the girls wearing skirts which might be better described as pelmets and the boys wide legged long shorts that give them the air of seventeenth century Dutch burghers, the air resounding to cries of
'Oh My God!'
as cameras record their presence among the pet shops, the stalls selling religious figurines - bondieuserie - and creche characters....the herbalists, the souvenir lairs, the butchers, the petshops and the veg stalls, before they stop for an ice cream and a fresh fruit drink at one of the many foodstalls.

And then there are tourists for whom the sign on the door is the most apt.
I never see this lot as they tend to be nocturnal.....only heading out into Gringo Gulch as darkness covers the earth.
The sex tourists.
Those who come to Costa Rica because prostitution is legal...because they can buy human flesh for an hour or two and compensate for their inadequacies.

In their case, it's not just their dress that requires's their morals as well.

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  1. Feeling you on the American tourists. You can usually hear them (loud) before even see them. Don't get me started on American students that come to Florence every year and behave at all hours of the night like the entire city is their frat house. They have no respect for the fact that people actually, oh, I don't know, LIVE there; the girls usually (not all, mind you) dress in the same tramp uniform of large t-shirts (not dresses) tights (not pants) and Ugg boots. They aren't old enough to drink in America, so in Italy they lose their freakin' minds, show up hungover for class (if they show up at all) and rarely learn a word of Italian (which ticks off my Italian friends to no end). I have my favorite spots which I tend to not let Americans in on because I don't want to hear loud, drunk, obnoxiousness or have them overrun by students or tourists. Yet, I'm only there part time, technically I am a tourist, but I act like I don't know a word of English and steer clear of associating myself with people who somewhere have just not learned how to act in a foreign country (or our own, in many cases.) What a shame this is what people think of us. Ouch. On a positive note - I hope your week is going well!

  2. Never mind, this will all be a thing of the past as the price of petrol pushes the cost of travel up to luxury levels again.

    Then the great unwashed will get no further than Reading (or Philadelphia).

    Something to look forward to, I'd say... :D

  3. Valerie, even in rural France we were reduced to speaking to each other in Flemish to avoid being pounced on by the British in supermarkets...
    Week, however, going wonderfully!

    Sarah, I'd like mass tourism to take a different form...when I see the damage done to the environment by the coastal resorts here I would love to enable people to see the real country....and I bet they'd enjoy it.

  4. I sometimes think that the Brit and the Yank abroad would be much safer fashion-wise dressed in full length burkas...

  5. Steve, I'd like to see the blighters hurtling through the tree tops on a zip line in one of those!

  6. More than once I avoided Americans and Brits abroad after being embarrassed by overbearing stupidity...

  7. They are trippers.
    You are a tourist.
    I am a traveller.
    (Can't quite remember.)
    The best thing about this sort of tourist is their inability to go more than 5 yards from their hotel. Long may it last.

  8. e, you do cringe at times, it's true...

    Rosie...I am mildly eccentric, you have 'little ways', he is a borderline psychopath....
    We used to take last minute package holidays...because we wouldn't know how Mr. Fly would be feeling if we booked something long in advance...and used the hotel as a base to explore using local transport but you are quite right, most of our companions would not set foot outside the hotel compound unless shepherded by a guide.

  9. Loud Americans in Florence, trying to out loud each other across the streets.

    Loud American parents in Barcelona restaurants, trying to impress all and sundry with their loud and obsessive parenting lectures to their unfortunate little cutie pie ‘Bobby Joe’s’ and ‘Mary Lu’s’.

    Sh*te Scouser families in colour uncoordinated shell suits and exposed midriff belly rolls, lurching along pavements, five abreast, in Bruges, trying to look cool eating giant candy flosses together.

    And then there was the grossly overweight, gruesome mannered English fifty something foursome, who’d been cackling away next to my table on a pretty café bar terrace, getting drunk as skunks and driving the local patrons away in Dijon one afternoon. I’d been hiding behind my paper as long as I could but I couldn’t hold out any longer and made to drink up my espresso and leave.

    Then, as I was getting up I heard one of the blokes say to his mate “Joo know wot frog speak is for – give us four of your biggest steaks mate?, cos I fancy trying me luck in that froggy butchers shop over the road there”.

    Too good an opportunity to miss, I grabbed a paper serviette and wrote down the words..” bonjour grenouille vomir, a obtenu tous les steaks chien?’’ (hello frog puke, got any dog steak?) – and handed it to him as a friendly gesture from a fellow Brit, saying to him ‘’Just hand this note to the butcher over there and he’ll sort you out with everything you need ‘’

    Then I cooly withdrew as he wheezed out ‘’Thanks mate, you’re a propper geeza’’. As I got to the corner they were all tottering off over to the Butchers following Master Pleb clutching his note.

    Five minutes later, two police bike gendarmeries came charging past me heading up the street towards some incident in progress outside the Butchers.

    I couldn’t help but chuckle.

  10. Phil...truly evil!
    The thing is I think you did sort him out with what he needed...a bout of fisticuffs!

  11. Phil gets today's "first snorting coffee out my nose bout of laughter for the day" award. Well done.

  12. Valerie...and you should see his blog!

  13. My dear lady, I shall send a car for you on the morn, together we can sit and cogitate the rather unique tourist dress code from the picture window of my abode.

    Together we shall laugh heartily and begin to write our rather full book on the clothing faux pas.

  14. Archetypal tourists perfectly described. Do you get japanese I wonder - perfectly barbered and polite but looking at the world through a lens?

    Mind you, when I lived in Whitley Bay (yes, sadly I did) we used to have Glasgow fortnight. The police had a special arrangement for returning stolen cars from Glasgow, and two weeks later the glasgow police did the same in reverse.

  15. Jimmy, get your people to talk to my people....I hope it's a comfortable window seat as there'll be a great deal to discuss.

    Mark, no Japanese, those cyclops of the tourist the police co operation!

  16. Ah, the great American tourist..and the great British tourist.. and then of course the great Japanese tourist and the Russian ones, and the Arabs and on and on. I just think I don't really like tourist!

  17. I'd love to write a comment but I'm hotfooting it to Phils blog!!

    Only joking - although my heart sinks reading your discription of the English tourists - how depressing - what must they think of us?

  18. Wylye Girl, Thomas Cook has a lot to answer for...

    Roz, off you go, then, I'll see you there!
    What do people think? Laugh a bit, I suppose.