During our recent visit to Prague we witnessed a spectacular if unusual sight on one of our strolls across this magnificent city. On a bridge not far away from its biggest brother, the Charles Bridge, there was a group of silent manual, one could say blue-collar, workers. They were only exchanging a few words between them, a random sigh of relief could be heard here and there, and only an occasional exclamation of victory disrupted the peaceful afternoon. Some passers-by stopped and watched, like we did for a couple of minutes, the others rushed past not noticing what was going on.
The men were removing the locks that were attached to the rails of the bridge but not only there, mind you, the locks were attached to the nearby street lamps as well. Men were equipped with heavy-duty pincers and small hand-held saws because removing the damn locks ain’t easy. The locks were falling off the railings to the ground like rotten apples off the apple tree in late autumn and it was a sight we couldn’t forget. People of Prague, bravo!
It took us by complete surprise to have (finally, hurray!) seen a real revolt against the pollution inflicted by the mad mass tourism. Those hard-working men were regular citizens assisted by professionals who were fed up with visitors behaving like they own the place. Because we, the visitors, don’t. We are only there temporarily; we’re invading someone else’s home city. They let us come and are happy to welcome us and in return we make their lives crazier.
I mean, it’s not only about actual litter (because, face it, no-purpose locks are heavy litter) but about the imprints left behind by ignorant and self-centred tourists. I’m not talking only about cans and plastic bottles and plastic cups being left lying around (which is disgusting just as much because there are bins for this stuff). Why would someone want a lock attached to a railing is beyond me. (You might find it cute at first but I urge you to think again.) And you see it everywhere, it’s crazy.
I was brought up not only to pay attention to how I behaved but also to be aware of the consequences that my behaviour would bring. I was taught to be extra careful about minimizing the impact of my behaviour particularly abroad. It’s called respect, people, and in a civilised society, like the one we, the Homo sapiens kind, like to think is superior to any other, it’s pretty normal to expect people to behave in a polite and respectful manner. Period.
I hate to think of myself only in terms of being just another tourist because I think I am better than many of them. I come visit the place out of curiosity, to take a break from my day-to-day, to explore and enjoy it and not only to cross it out on a to-see list.
I don’t litter at home, so why on Earth would I think it’s OK to leave rubbish behind in the streets, window ledges, and parks of a foreign place? If you litter at home you have a big problem with yourself and trust me, it’s better you stay put and get civilised first.
I don’t shout on the streets. Ever. Not in the daytime, especially not during night-time. Why are people behaving like savages when in a foreign city? Do you behave like that at home too? If so, again, the last sentence of previous paragraph is for you.
Why is it that every bloody detail needs to be photographed, typically in a crowded place? On said trip to Prague, there were groups of tourists, many of them from other continents, causing jams in churches, the most intimate venues for some people, simply because everyone needed to take countless photos of a statue of a saint they forget about the same minute they pass by it.
In my opinion, it’s high time we all began considering the real impact of our travels. The carbon footprint is one thing and people like to discuss it and present themselves being very conscious about it but are they really? Or, are they only on a lookout for yet another destination ticked? Another city break fully Instagrammed? When they set out on a travel, it shouldn’t be only about their pleasure primarily but they should also consider many other aspects, only a bit of them mentioned further down.
Because of mass tourism the traffic, on roads, streets, pavements and squares, becomes denser. Residents spend even more time commuting and running errands than they would had there not been that many tourists. Remember, they’ve lived there for centuries, even millennia, and will continue to go to work, school, shop, butcher’s, dentist, doctor, city council office, meet friends and family, pay taxes, go to cinema and theatre, while you’ll be gone tomorrow.
The restaurants and bars are busier. I welcome dearly local establishments that have imposed no reservation policy. It’s insane that a visitor, who comes for the defined dates only, should be able to make reservations online well in advance (because travel nowadays is planned well in advance) at the expense of a resident who decides to have a dinner out a few days beforehand and is denied because the place has been fully booked by visitors weeks (in trendier destinations even months) before.
Don’t go raping the place you visit. That way resentment is born, to put it mildly. If locals moved out of the most visited cities and towns what would there be left to experience? So called photo menu restaurant, as if Xeroxed globally, serving semi-processed food of dubious quality that are exactly the same everywhere you go? Plastic fantastic shops full of useless stuff all made in China (or any other far-away country for that matter)? Resorts that are confined and polished and tailored to your every need but, again, same wherever you are? Would you really like to go to such places?*
RESPECT. BEHAVE. PAY ATTENTION.
*If your answer is yes, take my advice and stay at home.
I’ll be putting on more about our lovely trip to Prague shortly. Meanwhile, feel free to scroll through my other posts. I remember mentioning a few things about what I wrote above also here: Before & After, Vienna Calling and Walking Istanbul.