Hell is Other Tourists: The One Problem with Seeing The World's Wonders

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

There are many times that I'm thankful I read Jean-Paul Sartre's play "No Exit" in college. Haven't read it? Here's the theme: Hell is other people.

I know, I know, 'tis the season for more cheery sentiments about mankind, but...once you embrace this theme it is so utterly flexible and applicable that I promise you, too, will come to love it. Take, for example, Cheryl Strayed's spectacular advice column entitled "Hell is other people's boyfriends." And, on our wonderful trip through Spain, I drew the profound conclusion: Hell is other tourists.

Spain is a fabulous country—we went to Madrid, Barcelona, and Seville. While in those cities, in addition to eating todos las tapas, we wanted to see the sites. But here's the thing about seeing the wonders of the world—spoiler alert!—you won't be the only one there. Actually, there will inevitably be so many people there.

Also? Selfie sticks. So. Many. Selfie sticks.

I highly advocate going to the Sagrada Familia, the massive church in Barcelona which was Antoni Gaudí's masterpiece. It's beautiful. It's moving. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before.

But, while you're walking beneath the church toward Gaudi's grave, brace yourself for someone's cell phone ring tone to loudly echo through the chambers.

"Thank God we have service down here," I whispered to Stephen.

Another place with superb service? The top of the Giralda, the tower connected to the Cathedral in Seville. After climbing the 34 ramps and few steps to the top, you could take in the panoramic views of the city, or you could block those views from other people and angrily yap into your cell phone. The choice is yours.

I should note that these tourists were not exclusively American. Although it's tempting to deem those we live nearest as the most exasperating of all people, my trip to Europe proves annoying tendencies know no geographical boundaries.

And of course, pictures. So. Many. Pictures. Pictures will be taken at all costs. Even, let's say, if you're sitting in a dark Flamenco theater in Seville and they explicitly said 900 times not to take pictures. The tourist in front of you will not listen.

The issue, of course, is that while you're witnessing all these irritating tourists you are hit with the cringe-worthy realization: You, too, are a tourist. You are forever bonded to these people by this unshakeable commonality. And to some say, the locals, you are these people. It's like the conundrum with catching someone kissing with their eyes open—the only way you can catch them is by opening your eyes. Thus, you are the victim and the culprit. You become the very thing that annoys you.

But, I digress. Thankfully, I am not a philosopher.

I write this not to deter you from witnessing popular sites, but to appropriately readjust your expectations. You likely won't have a Sleepless in Seattle moment at any of these places. But they are still, undoubtedly, worth going to. So, please, go to Barcelona. Walk through the Sagrada Familia and bask in the glory of Gaudi's creation. See a Flamenco show in Seville. Go to the top of the Giralda. But, for the love of the holy family, silence your cell phone.

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