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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Bmag July 19th 2011 - Frustrations of a tourist

How do you prevent niggling little frustrations from getting under your skin? What’s your strategy?

A former ABC boss, Chris Wordsworth, once offered these words of wisdom: “Let the cr*p wash over you”. In other words, save your energy for the important things in life. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Unfortunately, on our recent family holiday in Europe and the USA, several incidents caused me to waste energy being frustrated.

What most of these examples have in common is they occurred because we weren’t in familiar surroundings.

As I run through them, think about visitors spending time in our city and the little things we do that they might not instantly understand.

In New York, I learned that you can’t take a bottle of water into the Museum of Modern Art. I offered to drink the water so I could later reuse the empty bottle. No, insisted the security guard. Even empty bottles were banned!

I’ve since learned that a controversial art work was damaged by a protestor throwing chemicals from a water bottle.

Later that day, leaving a coffee shop, I handed my empty paper cup to the cashier and asked if he would put it in the large bin behind him. “No”, was the curt reply. “The trash is over there”. As I walked off, he laughed with the next customer: “Obviously not from the U.S.”

A New Yorker friend of mine later explained that my mistake had been to expect “courtesy and common sense”.

For Independence Day, the 4th of July, I took the family on a Hudson River fireworks cruise. When we boarded the boat the first thing we saw were dozens of plastic fold-up chairs stacked on both sides of the deck.

As we started to unfold and set out the chairs, security staff – dressed in those clichéd black tee-shirts with the word SECURITY in bold white capital letters – informed us they were not to be used and we had to stand up for three hours.

After a near riot, with one woman almost physically dragged off a chair by a security officer, they backed down. It probably helped that several other passengers had started filming. For the life of me, I still can’t work out why the heavy-handedness. There was no shortage of chairs or space.

Still in New York, when I left $100 of my wife’s shopping in the back of a cab, we were told minutes later by our hotel concierge there was no point even ringing the cab company. “This is New York,” he said. “The next passenger will have just picked up the bag”.

Perhaps I’m looking at this through maroon-coloured glasses, but I’m pretty sure that if that had happened in Brisbane, I could have tracked down the cab and its back-seat contents in no time.

It wasn’t just New York that tested our patience. After missing a connecting flight in Frankfurt, our airline gave us a hotel room for the night. Unfortunately, the taxi took us a similar sounding hotel in another city!

When we eventually arrived at our lodgings, armed with $90 from the airline for dinner, the hotel wouldn’t let us spend the credit on its a la carte menu.

To order from the menu, we would have to use our own money. So, the smorgasbord it was. I can tell you there is no way we ate $90 worth of cold meat, soup and salad that night!

Okay okay, I know I’m starting to sound like Eric Idle complaining about the tea in Monty Python’s Travel Agent sketch: “They don’t make it properly do they? Not like at home!”

My point is this: When tourists spend time in Brisbane, what are the little things we do – probably unthinkingly – that cause unnecessary frustration? Let me know if you have examples and suggested improvements.

Let’s face it, no matter how fantastic a time you have on holidays, you always remember – and tell other people about – the things that go wrong. That’s just human nature.

Whether it’s spontaneously offering to take a group photo, asking if someone needs directions, or just saying “G’day” in a shopping centre elevator, we can all play a part in making sure tourists love our city as much as well do.


  1. It's probably impossible to spot the equivalent little quirks in Brisbane without having an out-of-townie with you. What we see as perfectly normal is very strange to others, frames of reference and all that stuff. Just be flexible and tolerant with visitors as they will discover our quirks faster than we could ever dream.

    The other side of the coin is the visitor has come here to experience us and our environment. I think it would be false to change the way we do things just to suit a visitor. This is what we are, how we are, and there may even be a good reason for it.

    You live and learn.


  2. In Hong Kong with my husband years ago, we excitedly caught the local bus into the city form the island, but forgot in our haste to check which bus we caught back! After 3 hours of tourist walking and gawking at everything, it was time to go home, and had started to rain, heavily. There was little shelter surprisingly under the shop awnings, and we thought, oh we'll just taxi home, but not taxis were to be found. We tried to ask where a taxi rank was, and unsuccessfully tried to hail cabs, all full of other people. After 45 minutes of this, getting more tired, and now soaked through, we were both nearly at out wits end, when someone came up to us and spoke English, asking us where we wanted to go to. Thanks goodness! I'll never drive past another tourist in Brisbane again without offering to help them. *lesson learnt.