Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The tourist mirror

Do tourists in our own country make us better people?

I pondered this question while jogging through the centre of Sydney recently, through throngs of international visitors milling around around Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House.

Of course a city that welcomes tourists is more likely to have more of the good stuff that residents and visitors alike can enjoy, such as entertainment, dining, festivals, activities, attractions and public transport.

But I wondered whether being surrounded by people from all over the world, and effectively being "on show", had a positive impact on the locals and their behaviour.

As I was jogging through the Royal Botanic Gardens, I could hear so many different languages and accents, from India and Asia, through to Europe and the US.  This multicultural mix was certainly more than I usually experience on an average day elsewhere in Australia.

I wondered what their impression of Sydney and its residents was, and also how that was shaping their perception of Australia as a whole and all of us who live here.

What had they seen or heard of us before they arrived?   Did they think we would all be like Crocodile Dundee or Schapelle Corby or Pauline Hanson or just people who turn their backs on refugees in boats?

Did reality exceed their expectations or did we disappoint?  

Suddenly I desperately wanted them to like us.   

I wanted them to think that Australians were friendly, honest, welcoming, progressive, diverse, tolerant, smart, happy and healthy people.   For some reason, I want Australia to be putting its best foot forward as though visitors were a prospective employer or in-law.

It made me want to give directions (even though I don’t live there - but I would do my best), smile as I jogged past, give way to their tourist group, and generally help where I could.

Those who know me know this is not necessarily my normal condition.

Though back in my hometown of Brisbane, I will readily stop and help a tourist with directions (whether they ask for it or not).   I’m not sure if this is just laying the foundations for some global karma and hoping someone returns the favour when I’m in a foreign city, or something more.

It’s not necessarily that I want their approval either.   

Being surrounded by tourists lets us see ourselves through different eyes.  We can almost detach ourselves and get a different perspective on how we live, how we act, and how we portray ourselves to others.

On Facebook we choose the image we want to be our profile photo, consciously shaping what others will think of us.

It's no different for when tourists are in town.

I hope the picture they see of us is one of a friendly, welcoming, honest, open-minded Australian.

Perhaps I want others to see this image because it's something I would like to see more of myself.

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