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july 10 -> dumb things backpackers say part 3

9. “I always eat local food.”

This is another budget-related issue. The traveler always eats local food, in large part, because it is cheap. Another nice thing about always eating local food is that it gives the traveler an opportunity to brag about his or her iron-clad stomach. “I've been eating Egyptian street food for six months and haven't had diarrhea once!” Don't get me wrong. I love street food, and Nori and I always try to sample as much of the local cuisine as we can. A bowl of pho in Vietnam can be sublime, steamed dumplings in China are often amazing. But eating local food all the time is a different story.

Nori and I had arrived in Bishkek , Kyrgyzstan after nearly two months in Central Asia . I am not exaggerating when I say that there are really just three dishes in Central Asia : shashlyk (skewers of grilled meat), plov (slow-cooked rice with veggies and meat), and a cucumber, tomato and onion salad. We were dead tired of it. We had read about a good Italian restaurant, and were heading out the door to go there when a German resident of the hostel said, “Where are you going?” He was mortified when I replied. “But you can just go around the corner and get some plov for almost nothing!” he said. A few days later, we let slip that we had gone to the Hyatt for a nice cappuccino – all conversation in the hostel stopped. There were tourists in the house of travelers , who had let us in?

10. “I love these Thai fisherman pants,” or “This sari is comfortable.”

Many travelers subscribe to what I call the ‘backpacker aesthetic.' This is a funny, but very human foible, which causes ‘independent-minded' people to dress the exact same way. The backpacker aesthetic serves two purposes: 1) to aid travelers in the identification of other travelers , and 2) ostensibly, to allow the traveler to blend in more easily with the local culture. The backpacker aesthetic changes depending on the country that the traveler is in, but often will include nose rings, dreadlocks, tie-dyed shirts, baggy pants (preferably from Thailand), sandals, and tattoos.

Nori and I were sitting at a rooftop café in Jaisalmer , India , when a bare-chested, dreadlocked white man came walking up with his sari-clad, white girlfriend. They looked completely ridiculous – even the Indian staff was trying not to laugh. A few minutes later, I was shocked when a second couple came walking up the stairs; same dreadlocked, shirtless man; slightly different ‘Indian' costume on the woman. They sat down near the first couple. When a single man - with short hair and wearing a T-shirt and shorts – came walking up and sat down near the two couples, I debated walking over to him to say: “I'm sorry sir, but this is a dreadlocks-only section. You'll need to move inside.” This may come as a shock to many travelers , but most locals find their outfits ridiculous and even disrespectful. In China , I watched as hundreds of Chinese turned to watch a motley troop of dreadlocked and tattooed backpackers tromp by. In India , I saw several female British backpackers wearing baggy pants that exposed three to four inches of their thong underwear; if they found it easy to meet local men, it is probably because the men assumed they were loose. Most of the Thai clothing worn by tourists in Thailand isn't worn by Thais anymore – they are in jeans and T-shirts! Perhaps, travelers convince themselves that in the real Thailand , they still dress like this.

TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR DUMB BACKPACKERS:

  1. YOU ARE A TOURIST TOO.
  2. PROLONGED EXPOSURE DOES NOT EQUAL ENLIGHTENMENT.
  3. YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY TOURIST, STOP COMPLAINING.
  4. EVERYTHING YOU SEE IS REAL.
  5. YOU ARE A PART OF GLOBALIZATION.
  6. WHEN YOU VISITED WASN'T SO SPECIAL.
  7. YOU TRAVEL CHEAPLY BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO.
  8. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION IS A NECESSARY EVIL.
  9. IT'S OK TO EAT FOREIGN FOOD.
  10. LOCAL DON'T WEAR DREADLOCKS*

* Jamaica excluded.

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