Miss Manners: How to travel without being a ‘nuisance’ to the locals

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Dear Miss Manners: I have long dreamed of taking what used to be called the Grand Tour and at last I am about to do this. But things seem to have changed to the extent that every place I will be going now hates tourists. Sure, their official sites are warmly welcoming, stressing how friendly the people there are. But it doesn’t take much surfing to find the people carrying on about what they really think of strangers.

In a way, I get it. I don’t like tourists in my city, either, though I know local businesses need the money. I just don’t look forward to vacationing among people who hate me on sight. I know people who claim they are not really tourists but “travelers” or some sort of silliness, and they’re not fooling anyone. And don’t tell me to try to pass myself off as a native, because the minute I open my mouth, they’ll know I’m not. Maybe even before. Besides, I’m proud of being an American.

Whenever I travel in the states, I often strike up conversations with strangers on planes or buses, or while waiting in line at stores, museums or wherever. Some of these conversations are interesting, and I have even made a couple of friends that way. Is it possible for me to have such conversations with foreigners? Or would they automatically assume I’m a nuisance?

Well, they have had their share of those, as have you in your hometown. So did host countries during the Grand Tours of the 19th century. For every tourist who went to absorb culture, there must have been two who went to misbehave where no one they knew would find out about it. Or who managed to do both.

Among his more interesting exploits, that devoted hellenophile Lord Byron carved his name on the Greek temple at Sounion. The difference is that then, acts of vandalism and other outrages were seen only by immediate witnesses. Now they are photographed and posted around the world. Indeed, the posting is often done by the vandals themselves.

Miss Manners does not need to tell you not to deface monuments, wear bathing suits downtown, or shout when people do not understand English. Nor to make unfavorable comparisons between that country and yours. And you have apparently known to choose non-threatening venues and inoffensive conversational openers.

So she will add only a geographical note: Seek out uncrowded places. People who have been jostled by tourists are annoyed, even if they are tourists themselves. In other words, avoid planting yourself in front of famous monuments to take selfies.

Dear Miss Manners: I visited the Hillwood Estate in Washington. The gardens and home were beautifully decorated. The breakfast room and dining room tables were set to display its collection of fine china, crystal and flatware. One thing puzzled me: The flatware was turned down toward the table. I could not find an answer as to why the flatware was facing the table and not the chandelier.

Some European flatware is designed with the decorative carving on the back, so that the carved side is seen on the place setting, and when using the fork tines down, as Europeans often do. Why, Miss Manners cannot tell you.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washingtonpost.com/advice. You can send questions to Miss Manners at missmanners.com. You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

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