It’s an intriguing word, ‘tourist’. Ask yourself: if you go on holiday, do you consider the label relevant for you? Have you ever mentioned to your travelling partner as you leave the hotel ready to sample the city’s delights, “Hey, let’s see if we can score us a Tourist Menu”?
No, I thought not. It stuns me that even in Amsterdam, this so-called culinary phrase continues to be chalked up on outdoor restaurant menus. That means there must be people who order it, right? Who are these people that see themselves
as the ideal customer for a Tourist Menu?
Maybe there’s a way to test this out. Just imagine: if you went to Amsterdam’s top tourist attraction, the Van Gogh museum, on a mid-summer Saturday afternoon and ask those straining in the endless queues whether they consider themselves ‘a tourist’, how many do you think answer ‘Yes’?
I can tell you, very precisely, actually, because I did exactly that. For three days solid this summer, I asked that very question. In fact, I asked it of 743 people. And here’s the result.
7.9% said ‘Yes’. 63.3% said ‘No.’ 22.7% replied, approximately, ‘You’ve got to be joking.’ And 6.1% gave comments something along the lines of ‘Get the F*** out of here, I ain’t no tourist!’
I sympathise. A few years ago, I made a Round-The- World trip, and stowed away the whopping bricks of guidance that are Lonely Planet for New Zealand, Australia and South America. Following LP’s recommendations left a sense of pursuing a path trodden deep into the sod of the supposedly lesser-known world. I formed a vision of a never ending stream of backpackers piling into the same back-alley reserves of culture and flooding elusive bars ‘where only the locals go’, all of it rendered utterly mainstream by their appearance in the Blue Brick Bible.
Was I a tourist on that trip? No, no, no… you’ve got that completely wrong. I was a Traveller! And that’s what those outside the Van Gogh museum said too. “I’m a Visitor.” “I’m a Traveller.” “I’m on a journey.”
For expats, it’s even more galling constantly to be taken for a tourist. Expatica tap into this paranoia with their ‘I Am Not A Tourist’ fair on 7th October, at the Beurs van Berlage. It’s an opportunity to revel in your ability to live in city where you need not master the local language and can still survive. (If you feel like coming and saying hello, I’ll be launching a new book at stand 82.)
Perhaps the strangest observation of tourism in Amsterdam is the ability of Brits to drive local business to match their needs. I lived on the Nieuwezijds Kolk for a while, with its spacious terrace area and numerous Steakhouses and
A sign sporting the offer, “Full English Breakfast – and pint of beer” seemed to sum it up. Now that’s a tourist business that understands its customers!
David Beckett is author of ‘Amsterdam… The Essence’, a book which tells the city’s story in the words of 25 people who shape it. It’s recently been converted as an enhanced ebook for iPad – with 250 pictures, 28 sound clips and 17 movies bringing the story into vivid life. You can download 3 free chapters from iTunes by scanning the QR code to the right (just search under Amsterdam on iTunes). More information can be found at www.theessenceonline.com