Thursday, September 23, 2010

Bad Tourist!

This is a personal gripe of mine regarding tourists.

I understand that many people love to take photographs to commemorate and remember their travels. Hey, I'm one of those people too! I've waited in line amongst hoards of people to get a photo of myself kissing the Sphinx at Giza (too many people in the way even after all that wait). I've taken dozens of photos of myself in front of Angkor Wat, trying to get the best angle possible without my arm showing up in the shot (never happened, my monkey arms are just too long).

I even got into an argument with my boyfriend at the Taj Mahal because I insisted on retaking (and retaking) photos in order to get the perfect photo of us in front of love's greatest monument (it ended up being a pretty long wait given the sheer number of people swarming the Taj, the flash didn't go off and we never got that shot I was waiting for as Matt had already impatiently stomped off ahead).

I get it. Photos of us in our travels are great tokens to help us remember our own experiences and to share it with loved ones back home. There's nothing wrong with that.

What I don't get is taking photos of ourselves in really inappropriate places or situations. Not inappropriate like pretending the Leaning Tower of Pisa is an obtrusive body part (come on, that's funny) but inappropriate like
having your husband snap a photo of you pretending to be a tortured captive of the Khmer Rouge inside one of the cells at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. Inappropriate like posing with the guns on display in Ho Chi Minh City's War Remnants Museum. Inappropriate like standing inside a crematorium at Auschwitz and taking a group photo smiling and holding up peace signs.

I find this sort of behavior completely disrespectful and insensitive. These places are pieces of human history that serve to remind us of the pain and suffering that we humans are capable of inflicting on one another. It's important to visit these sites and remember our past in order to understand and make progress toward a better future but what purpose does it serve to have a smiling photo of you next to a gun that was used to kill innocent people? Is that really something that you want to share with loved ones back home?

The experience of visiting these types of places is harrowing and moving enough, so much so that you will have trouble forgetting some of what you see. I personally don't need photographs of myself in these places to remind me of what dark history hides in our past, much less one of me smiling and posing.

And out of respect for those who lost their lives needlessly because of it, I don't think you should either.

© Connie Hum 2010


  1. I get and understand your rant, but not everyone may see it that way. People love to document their experiences and show others where they went even if the history of the place is dark.

  2. Hi Jenny, my issue isn't with documenting the experience. It's with approaching the subject matter in such a callous and insensitive way.

  3. I think people that are taking smiling pictures in these places are not getting the intended message of the museum/location and more viewing it as just another tourist spot the guide book said is a must-see.

  4. Wow, people do that?????? That's shocking! What jerks! :(

  5. I completely agree with you. And I actually used to be one of those people -- on a school trip to Normandy, a friend and I acted out a war scene on one of the battlefields. Not one of the D-Day beaches, but a battlefield nonetheless.

    I chalk it up to being 16 and dumb. But I'm still embarrassed about it.

  6. Ahem, if that's how you feel Connie, then maybe you shouldn't have worn super short shorts in Petra. Just saying. :P

  7. I completely agree with you, Connie. If they're smiling and joking around, they've completely missed the point of what happened there. In Montreal recently, I saw some tourists smiling for photos in front of a rescue vehicle (of all things!) that was, at that very moment, rescuing someone who was in medical distress--as if it were a touristy photo opp! How inappropriate. I think these people lose all sense of perspective in their attempts to document every moment of their trip via photos and videos.


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