This past weekend, a group of friends and I went to visit Belgium and I felt like a tourist for the first time since arriving in Europe. I loved that feeling.
As soon as we started here in Paris we were being told that we, as study abroad students, are not tourists in Paris, but residents. We are here to live as the Parisians do rather than as every other American tourist. At first, I was totally on board with this idea. The idea of being a local sounds so dreamy. I thought I would try to avoid tourist areas and just explore “local” spots in the city.
Then we went to another country and played tourist. We hit all of the big exciting spots and had fun exploring. Took dorky photos in front of all of the buildings and rivers. Went on guided tours and lived among the other tourists. It was a blast. We were having so much fun that well all thought we liked Belgium more than France, and that hit me in a weird way. Why was exploring this new place so much easier? We saw so much more in our handful of days than I feel like I have in my total four weeks in Paris. Maybe being a tourist isn’t that bad of a thing. We were all happy and having fun in this new place while in Paris we act more routine and less adventurous. As my friends began saying that they loved Belgium more than Paris it made me think this tourist mindset is what was making them fall in love.
Thinking about it this way, tourists often make lists of spots to hit. That’s exactly what we did. We hit “the top ten things to do in Belgium.” Residents of the city probably don’t do that. I know I haven’t hit all of the “top ten things to do in Paris” because I’ve been so busy thinking like a local. I know when I go home that is the kind of stuff people are going to ask me if I did, and honestly I’d be embarrassed if I spent four months here and can’t say I hit all of the Paris highlights. If I choose to live like a local every single day then that is what is going to happen.
This lead me to thinking even more about tourist hot spots googled “the top ten things to do in LA” and I was embarrassed to see that I haven’t done a lot of things on that list and I’ve lived there for 20 years now. There’s so much other there that people who only come for a week get to see and I have had 20 years worth of opportunity and still haven't gone out. Because I’m a local. Locals don’t do that kind of stuff. But why not? Obviously, it’s cool and exciting and people travel from all over to visit my city, so why don’t I take the time to visit it myself?
The real question is why do we think of the tourist as a bad thing? I want to be a tourist more often now both here in Paris and even when I get back to California. I don’t see anything wrong with enjoying and exploring a city you love. Yes, it’s important to be a local and live day to day life because this is a very special type of experience to live here, but being a tourist a few times a week won’t hurt.
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Julia Carrington Ehler
<p>Bonjour! My name is Julia Carrington and I am so beyond excited to be sharing this little part of my life story with you. This is going to be my first time out of the country and on my own and I can't wait to see what happens. I hope you join me on this adventure and enjoy reading my little online travel journal.</p>
University of Redlands