When I lived in the Florida Keys, an area heavily dependent on tourism, I remember seeing a bumper sticker a time or two: “If it’s tourist season,” it asked, “why can’t we shoot them?”
The men officiating a sham wedding at Vilu Reef resort in the Maldives may have been asking themselves the same question. In the ceremony, conducted in the Dhivehi language for a Swiss couple, an officiator curses at the visitors and calls them infidels.
The Maldivian prime minister, Mohammed Nasheed, condemned the video and ordered the men responsible for the ceremony arrested.
Still, it makes you wonder if people hate us when we’re on vacation.
Maybe they do.
I’ve lived in cities that rely on tourism for most of my life, including the Keys, New York, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’s not a stretch to say that visitors aren’t always on their best behavior.
In Orlando, where I currently live, tourists often give us a reason to buy that bumper sticker.
Earlier this year, for example, a Connecticut man visiting Central Florida was arrested after allegedly asking an Orange County deputy posing as a 14-year-old girl to come to his hotel for sex. You tend to think of Thailand when you think of sex tourism, not family-friendly Orlando.
Last year, a German tourist was jailed after he told a cast member at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom that he had two bombs in his backpack, according to authorities. Threatening to bomb Disney World. Real smart.
Crimes committed by visitors to Central Florida are so common that several Orlando-area law firms have developed a specialty in helping tourists who run afoul of the law.
That doesn’t mean people in Orlando, or any other destination with a tourism-dependent economy, hate outsiders. I think it’s fair to say that we wish certain visitors would stay home, but when you’re the No. 1 tourist destination on the planet, you can’t be too choosy.
Beyond the criminals who go on vacation, is there anything else that tourists do to make us dislike them? Sure.
When I lived in Europe, we regularly made fun of our own countrymen. You could spot American tourists from a mile away: They were loud, dressed in bright colors and asked silly questions. No wonder people of my generation rolled their eyes when they talked about the Yankees they’d met.
Even when the tourists don’t break any laws, it’s not always easy to be nice to them. But like them? That might be asking too much.
Part of the reason the natives disdain the very people who are the source of their livelihood, I think, is that their customer is there to have a good time. When your home is seen as nothing more than a playground, it’s bound to lead to misunderstandings and maybe resentment. I always envied the visitors I met when I worked for the simple reason that I had to work and they didn’t.
If there’s one place that has risen above all this – or at least tried – it’s Hawaii. I recently spent a few days in the 50th state and was taken aback by the friendliness, which the residents refer to as the “Aloha spirit.”
I waited almost two weeks for cracks to appear in their Aloha, and with the possible exception of a surly waitress at the Wailana Coffee House in Waikiki, there was none. Pretty incredible, considering these folks have more reason than most to dislike the mainlanders who come to Hawaii to party.
The Maldives video doesn’t represent the way Maldivians feel about visitors, of course. They like the tourism dollars we bring to their island. They like us, in principle.
Is their friendliness put on? Sometimes. Do they like the way we behave? Not always. It’s the same way the world over.
By the way, no one ever shot a tourist while I lived in the Keys. That kind of thing only ever happened a little farther north.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or troubleshoot your trip through his website, www.elliott.org. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.