What’s So Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding?

roddyby Gavin Roddy

A funny thing happened to me last week. On my second night in Cagli, Italy, I found myself feeling like a tourist pretty darn quickly. I had always loathed having to deal with tourists in my hometown. Perhaps the most infuriating example was of an American from New York arrogantly deriding my beloved Pittsburgh as being a “shit-town” (his phrase, not mine) on a pay phone in the heart of the city. I remember how each oink he made about suffering the indignity of being sent here for a week by his company seemed to wallop me in the gut.

Even though most tourists I encountered did not have the same malevolence in their hearts that this skunk man had, they always appeared to have a level of condescension in their behaviors. Whether it was my friend the Quebecer getting a picture next to our Roberto Clemente statue so that it looked like the Hall of Famer was picking his nose, or a Pittsburgh “Lucky Duck” sightseeing bus somehow blocking traffic in both directions, every action they made seemed to mock us. And just for the record the “Lucky Duck” tour bus was actually shaped like a large, anthropomorphic duck. Imagine explaining that to your boss when he or she asked you why you were late.

So how on earth did I become one of these awful creatures? I can see the moment so clearly. I was walking with my camera in hand down the streets of Cagli, Italy. I had to snap photos of the townspeople at night for my class and out of the darkness came a sound bound to scar me for the rest of my life. A young Italian teen called out, her face like an angel but her mouth like a scorpion, “Hey American. Peace! Love!” As her friends laughed she dealt the final blow. Both hands made peace signs as she and her posse turned into an adjacent alley, their laughter following them.

I stood there stunned, my pride in shambles. Somewhere far off in the horizon the “Lucky Duck” tour bus much like the dreaded “Flying Dutchmen” was waiting for me to board and join its crew of the damned. I had become a tourist.

My instructor calmly reminded me after I had told my tale of woe that the wise St. Ignatius Loyola said that we should assume that everyone has the best intentions and work from there. But the Jesuit priest had died long before flash photography and could possibly understand the indignity I had suffered. Then denial set in. Perhaps, this young teen was aspiring to join the Italian version of the Peace Corps and was practicing her goodwill missions. Or she wanted to smooth over diplomatic relations between Italy and America by offering a gesture of peace.

But finally I was forced to accept the tragedy that had befallen me and admit to the world that I was…a tourist. In this new age of acceptance I have grown to realize that in the increasingly global world, tourism will only naturally grow. And by now joining their infamous ranks, I see things from both sides now. And being a tourist the one thing I think the world needs more of is patience and empathy. So the next time you see someone trying to find directions in a language other than your own, or taking pictures of every building they see, or even riding a large duck through your city, please be understanding. That tourist may be me. And remember the tables can turn quicker than you think.

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