Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Update - Tourists are jerks

OK, so I suppose many of us know this already. Tourists are jerks. We want to see the world, but we still want the comforts of home. We supposedly want to experience new cultures, but we're annoyed when those cultures don't speak our language. We supposedly want to try new foods, but we're enraged when we can't find peanut butter.

We recently took a long weekend to Italy, which, overall, was wonderful. However, it took almost as long to plan as the trip itself. The great thing about the internet is that it opens up so many new opportunities – new places to stay, new things to see. Of course, this is also the worst thing about the internet. There are seemingly countless B&Bs and hotels, and just as many reviews to sift through. Twenty years ago, I backpacked through Europe armed only with my train schedule and my Lonely Planet book. How did we do this? This was pre-cell phone, pre Paypal, pre every-single-option listed online. Now, the number of choices seems dizzying, and for me, paralyzing. I am terrible at this. It took me almost 2 years to buy a new cello pick-up because I couldn't weigh the conflicting reviews – how can something be both “best equipment ever” and a “worthless piece of junk”?

I had the same experience in deciding where to stay in Italy. How could there be so many places with both 5 star and 1 star reviews? This is when I dove into the black hole of analyzing hotel reviews. And though time-consuming, it did prove to be enlightening. And it reinforced my point that tourists are jerks. Many reviews read like this:

The agriturismo was beautiful – out of the way in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany. It was so remote that you could see a million stars at night. But the internet connection was soooooooo slow. We couldn't stream anything.” (2 stars)

The breakfast, as promised, had delicious pastries with preserves made from local produce, but they were out of the organic honey that was advertised on the website. So disappointed. If I had known that, I probably would have stayed elsewhere.” (2.5 stars)

Seriously, who are these people?

One particularly bad review almost scared me off one hotel. The woman wrote a scathing review about the rude service they received after they arrived, tired from driving, how they got a parking ticket in the place they were supposed to park, they were shooed out of the breakfast room early, their room was noisy and an old woman yelled at them in Italian, and “we don't even speak Italian!” Luckily, the hotel staff was able to post a response. It started with a very polite “I'm sorry you did not enjoy your stay...” but then proceeded to refute every single complaint. Turns out these customers arrived after midnight, even though reception closes at nine, and they ignored all calls and emails asking them when they would arrive. They were warned that they should move their car before 8:00 am if they wanted to avoid a ticket. Breakfast was from 8 – 11, and they arrived at 11:00 and stayed until 1:00. The hotel staff also noted that they went out of their way to accommodate them – allowing them to upgrade their room without charge, sending a forgotten Ipad to the next hotel, yet the customer was never pleased. It also implied that the customer tried to skip out on the bill. It seems as though they made a (ahem) memorable impression on the hotel staff.

Most of the bad reviews I read mainly focused on things that you can find in America that they did not have in Italy. Many read like this:

The rooms were clean, but they had this weird shower thing that sprayed all over the floor and the bathtub was tiny. All Italian bathtubs are this way – why can't they make them bigger?” (3 stars)

- or -

The pizza and pasta in Italy are great, but their breakfasts are terrible. Bread, cheese and coldcuts for breakfast? Haven't they heard of waffles and pancakes? Or at least an omelette? Man, what I wouldn't give for a Waffle House right now.” (2 stars)

My thoughts are that if you won't be happy unless you can eat at a Waffle House, you should probably only vacation in places that have a Waffle House. Go to Georgia or Texas – you'll love it there.

Essentially, traveling to new and different places requires a certain degree of adjustment. If you want things to be exactly the way they are at home, you should stay home.  These changes might be uncomfortable, but sometimes you have to roll with it. I still remember traveling with our friends Rob and Lisa in Paris when Rob couldn't even fold himself into the “hobbit tub.” But the sights were beautiful, the staff were so pleasant, and France had just won the World Cup quarter final and Parisians were celebrating in the streets. Even with the hobbit tub, it was still at least 4.5 stars. When I traveled to Greece with my friend Jen, we were excited to order an actual vegetarian meal, only to be served a plate of potatoes and peas. But at least the wine was cheap and plentiful. When traveling with my friends Jane and Hannah and my brother Joe, we stayed at perhaps the scariest hostel I've ever seen. But it made the next night seem so much nicer. And I once took a 28-hour bus trip from Bucharest to Istanbul with my friends Michelle and Cheri.  (Not advised - seriously NO stars.) But man, when we returned, did we ever have stories to tell. Yes, sometimes these inconveniences do make it nice to come home, which is also part of the fun of travel.

This time, we stayed for two nights at a lovely little “agriturismo” (farm stay) in the Tuscan countryside. It was not fancy, but the landscape was breathtaking. Minutes upon arrival however, Eric checked the coffee situation and realized that there was only a rusty little old percolator. This could be calamitous. Eric has carefully-calculated caffeine needs each morning to avoid headaches. Were we actually going to have to drink (shudder) instant coffee? We took the plunge, and discovered two things:
    1.) Nescafe is not as bad as it used to be.
    2.) Even tepid water with overcooked grounds would taste ok if you could have breakfast here.

If we were like some of the reviewers seen above, the review might read something like this:
Well, it's beautiful, but when they say 'remote and peaceful' they really mean remote. All you can see for miles around is farmland and the Tuscan countryside. Plus, the coffee maker was rusty and the cheap corkscrew broke!” (2 stars)

Instead, it will most likely read like this:

Lovely, peaceful rural setting, surrounded by mountains and olive groves as far as the eye can see. Our daughter loved the swing and searching for salamanders. Kind, warm, generous hosts – they even drove up and dropped off a new corkscrew after 9 at night. Having breakfast looking out at the Tuscan countryside was amazing – we didn't want to leave. Even Nescafe tasted good here.”  (5 stars, plus all those in the Tuscan sky.)

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