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Donkin's World: Tourists R Us

"Have you noticed how tourists are other people?'' muses Richard Donkin.

Have you noticed how tourists are other people? In cities they walk about in crowds following ladies of a certain age who use folded umbrellas to gather their flock. In winter, tourists wear plastic macs, in summer large shorts and white calf-length socks. But they're not us. I wonder who they are? I see them in the streets and I read about them all the time; whole industries are devoted to their needs.

We disapprove of them and think of them as children who need to be led, fed, watered and cared for. They are culturally shallow, forgetting everything they're told, not that they digest much to remember in the first place.

They travel in large cruise ships that squat in small harbours, discharging their over-fed passengers who trawl the harbour-side gift shops for cheap trinkets and souvenirs. Tourists buy little models of the Eiffel Tower, snow globes of Venice, rainbow-coloured sombreros and tee-shirts that say "My parents went to London and all I got was this lousy T shirt." Tourists pretend they're propping up the leaning tower of Pisa, crowd around the Mona Lisa and photograph the tower of Big Ben from every angle. They throw coins in fountains, ride on giant wheels and go up tall buildings so they can see the tops of other tall buildings at eye-level.

If tourists are vacuous and glassy-eyed when they get where they are going, they are remarkably resilient and patient in airports, sitting around for hours during long delays as they wait for unreliable flights. No amount of pre-flight indoctrination and training can prepare them for the security checks.

Routinely, they forget to remove belts, lap tops and coats in preparation for the security conveyor, or they remove too much, holding up the queue as they shed themselves of shoes. Invariably they end up throwing make-up, gels and soft drinks in to the hungry bins. Tourists always trigger the security scanner. They are the delay that's waiting to happen. Once on board a flight their boredom is legendary. They want to eat, drink, watch movies, go to the lavatory, jiggle about and recline their seats. But we don't do any of that. We suffer them and watch them in a mixture of disgust and pity.

We don't go to tourist haunts but we know where they are. They're the London Dungeon, Hard Rock Cafe and Trevi Fountain. We want to look at great art but can't because of the tourists who want their fridge magnet David wearing Levi denim shorts - so cool! We can't get near the Uffizi or stand back from Stonehenge, appreciating its tranquility. We'd quite like to see the changing of the guard in Athens, Arlington or at Buckingham Palace, but we stay away, because of the tourists.

Perhaps tourists are those bad drivers we see cutting people up on motorways, or those people who are happy to stand in queues or who trail around shopping malls. All we really know about them with absolute certainty is that they are some other breed of human - definitely not us, not remotely.

So what are we if we aren't tourists? We're travellers, of course. We only buy tasteful things, such as Turkish rugs and African masks that must be antiques (even if they're made in their hundreds just down the road). We absorb ourselves in Bruce Chatwin's Patagonia and Eric Newby's Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, even though we happen to be in Tuscany.

We walk the highways and byways, press flowers in Moleskine notebooks http://store.moleskine.com/en/?gclid=COCV_86r47YCFVMRtAodnj4ArQ&lndg=xwith , save theatre tickets and photograph letterboxes and bicycles wicker baskets. We marvel at the way paint is flaking off old doors and we wander through markets haggling for bags of unusual-shaped nuts and vegetables that we don't know how to cook. Sometimes we'll take on one of the locals in a game of chess or boules and lose embarrassingly quickly. We look for romance but rarely find it. http://www.richarddonkin.com/Archive/curacao.shtml

We wander far to find the secluded bit of the secluded beach and fall asleep on the sand, scorching our unprotected legs, wakening to find ourselves surrounded by bronzed and ripped German nudists amused at our humbug skin. We take the cheap bus in to town and get off at the wrong stop. No matter, we're travellers and getting lost is part of the experience. That crumbling house may be an eyesore for some, but not for us. For us, it has character. We like the run down bits of town where torn posters adorn the walls and wacky graffiti is soooooo photogenic.

We travellers slip in to local cafes and eat whatever the locals eat, trying our best to be part of the scene, exchanging the odd pleasantry with locals in their own language. The locals welcome us because they charge us twice as much for everything. We're only tourists after all. Why don't we stay at home?

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