Open season on all the tourists?

July 26, 2000

Open season on all the tourists?

All this, and we're expected to be nice as well?

That's the message of an ad campaign cooked up by local tourism brass who believe that perhaps we're not being as kind as we could be to strangers.

So, the ads coach, we should be polite and smile if, for example, a tourist asks for directions. We should not, the spot cautions, try to run tourists down.

Oh, come now, who do the travel people think we are, John Rocker?

Don't answer that.

The announcer goes on to say, however, that if a tourist tries to marry your sister, then it's OK to "run him down."


Why? I thought we were trying to improve the breed. The Christians were really just early-age tourists who believed that a little tourist blood could help level the playing field in the world's backwaters. From what I read in the Enquirer, that's what space aliens believe, too.

Heaven knows we could use a little leavening. The Associated Press describes the area as "clannish." Yes, if by clannish you mean Fort Sumter. Hope it wasn't a typo and the "C" was supposed to be a "K."

But I've never thought of Washington County people as being particularly unfriendly. Wary, maybe. But once they get started, I think the average tourist would find that the greater problem is shutting them up: "... And that's what's wrong with your kid's generation, see. Now as for your generation ..."

Besides, the "Please don't kill the tourists" spots sort of makes it sound like we're Dobermans being trained not to eat the grandkids. Is there some problem here I don't know about? Are tourists being rounded up and skinned? And if so can I help?

My favorite tourism slogan was on a T-shirt I saw in a Washington, D.C., souvenir shop that said "Hope you enjoyed your stay in Washington." Then there was a gun barrel pointing out the front of the shirt with the tag "Sorry we missed you."

Hagerstown could try an offshoot of that. After all, "tourist season," does have a sporting, weaponry related ring to it.

But before I'm nice to tourists, I think I ought to insist that people be nice to me when I tour.

I am not one of those men you read about who refuse to ask for directions. In fact, I ask for directions even when I know exactly where I am - just for the company.

I'm always saying "Which way to Bangor? And what's the weather going to be like, have you read any good books lately, how 'bout those Red Sox, and by any chance do you have a sister?"

And they always say "get lost" and I always say "I already am, that's why I stopped in the first place."

Actually I did have a Vietnamese couple ask me if I wanted to marry a relative - their niece whom they were having trouble getting out of Ho Chi Minh City.

They had a little photo album with about a dozen shots of the girl, but I wouldn't bite, even though she was cute. All they were willing to pitch in were the airline tickets to go get her, and I thought that it ought to be worth four or five boxes of ziti above and beyond.

In a way, I'm glad they didn't give in. I don't want to know what I'll do for $5,000.

In fact, that's the danger of traveling in Asia, I found. They only threatened to run you down if you didn't want to marry a sister, or some other family appendage. Of course it would be sort of an idle threat, seeing as how they had nothing to run you down with - rickshaws not being a terribly effective assault vehicle.

But other people, and here I am speaking specifically of French Canadians, could take a lesson in friendliness from the people of Southeast Asia. It was so nice to be an American traveling abroad and feel wanted and liked.

Which I suppose is what the local travel board is shooting for. Even if they are dissing your sister.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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