Exploring the Boot with Grace:
Embrace your inner tourist

As Grace continues to settle into her new surroundings in Florence, she struggles to choose between blending in with the locals or outing her self as a foreigner.


Grace McGinness

Ponte Vecchio, or the Old Bridge, arches across the Arno river in Florence.

This page was made possible in part by a grant from Pitt Year of Global.

Today marks the end of my first two weeks studying abroad in Florence. I’m settled into my apartment routine, classes are underway and I can finally walk around the city without getting lost. Every day passes under a brilliant blue sky and fat, puffy clouds. The “caffe” in the morning is bitter on the tongue, but the gelato sweetens it at night. To gripe so soon about such an opportunity would be ungrateful, yet there is one thing that weighs on my mind — the word “tourists.”

I’m not about to start ragging on tourists as if I’m a longtime local or a short-term resident wanting to seem “above” the average vacationer. Although I can understand the aggravation bumbling tourists must often cause for native Florentines, I’ve found I’m more likely to take issue with a knowledgeable native’s complaining than the presence of a clueless sightseer.

Since I have arrived here, the problem of tourists has been a main point of conversation with my professors. Tourists stand in the road and mess up traffic, they don’t know how to speak any Italian or adhere to any of the local customs, they don’t take the time to appreciate anything that they see here. To criticize the tourists seems to be as much of a routine in Florence as the morning caffe, and it’s hard to argue with those criticisms when the average out-of-towner resembles a duckling, stumbling after their tour guide and bumping into everything.

In class, my classmates and I are quick to criticize the other tourists as if we fall into a different category — “half in and half out,” as a professor of mine described it. Since we’re in the country for longer than the average tourist, we feel entitled to join in on the locals’ jokes about annoying tourists — but while some Florentines may appreciate our efforts in trying to fit in, they must know we’ll never fully assimilate in a few short months.

But then, when I whip out my phone to line up a perfect picture of a statue or fountain, I feel a fear that I look too much like a tourist, and a pressure to put away my phone. I find myself wondering if I’ll look too touristy taking a picture of my food, or if the way I dress is too American, or if ordering the Margherita pizza will out me as a naive, unworldly foreigner.

Grace McGinness
After finishing her gelato, Grace uses the empty cone to take, what she refers to as, a “touristy” picture.

I can’t cover up this part of me nor should I want to. The Florentines may be able to gaze upon the Ponte Vecchio arching over the sparkling Arno River everyday as they eat fresh pistachio gelato, but my time is limited. I only have so many evenings, so many gelatos and so many walks through the city before I have to pack up and go.

This, of course, is not an excuse for obnoxious behavior of tourists or students. A traveler should also be respectful of the country and culture they are imposing on. But at the same time, we’re only here for so long and we have to make the most out of every moment. We need to take the pictures we want, eat the food we want and dress the way we want. It’s possible to be a bumbling yet respectful tourist, and that’s what I intend to be.

There’s no use in pretending to be something I’m not when everyone else certainly isn’t going to buy it either. I’m not going to let that fear hold me back from having the time of my life especially when I have so little time to do so. Besides — who cares if I have 400 pictures of the Arno in my phone? It’s beautiful.

Like what you read? Check out our digital edition on Fridays at pittnews.com to read more installments of Grace’s blog. You can reach Grace at [email protected].