In some ways, I hate the word. You may speak English and understand its meaning, but you can also translate it as: “You’re obviously a tourist; come buy something; that’s what you’re good for.”
The word is a sign that I’m taking a break from traveling, that I’m somewhere in travel limbo, where I’m no longer the one feigning to speak a foreign language, but I’m the one being catered to as if somehow the locals are the foreigners trying to speak English. Where I’m surrounded by so many foreigners, tourists and locals that I wonder who outnumbers whom–who’s language is the most widely spoken–who are the foreigners and who are the locals?
Then in Casablanca, a city where other than Hassan II Mosque, most tourists pass for Marrakesh, I’m having conversations with Ismail’s friends and family–none of who speak fluent English, but all of who try to give and take, speaking the little English they know to try to cater to me when my Arabic fails. And that give and take, both the foreigner and the local trying to cater to each other, is no different in off-the-beaten-path Port Maria or in touristy Marrakesh.
I know we want to feel like we’re as far away from home as possible when we travel; like the less English is spoken the more adventurous the travel. But the nicest thing about tourist spots or off-the-beaten spots is that despite the language barriers, there’s a common thread of humanity, where people from any race or nationality can come, adventure, and still feel “welcome.”