Invoking the Great Touron King

GreatTouronKingSmall

Cartoon by Geoff Hassing

So this fella Matt Long wrote this piece titled, “Don’t be a Touron.”

Gasp!

Hand me my backpack, scepter, and crown. You might want to back up a little.

(adjusts crown, raises scepter which is really just a stick that happened to be nearby)

“By the power of Grayskull, I am the Great Touron King!”

The flashes of dozens of disposable cameras fill the sky.

That glow that you see radiating from me isn’t my aura of power. That’s just the sun reflecting off of my SPF 80 sunscreen.

My first published sentence was, “In the Land of Tourons I am the Great Touron King.” It appeared in the Key West City Paper in 2002. Each week for the following three years, I recounted my experiences in places that weren’t home; places that I didn’t always know how to act or where to go; places that I found new and creative ways to make myself look like a jackass.

Here’s Matt on Tourons:

The Urban Dictionary defines a Touron as “The derogatory term combines the words “Tourist” with “Moron” to describe any person who, while on vacation, commits an act of pure stupidity.”

Ultimately, a touron is a person who apparently hates to leave home, but for some reason has decided to spend coin and time to do just that. After a recent trip to New York, I was reminded of how awful these individuals can be and as a public service want to provide some tips on how not to be a touron, in the classical sense.

When traveling, it is vital to have at least a modicum of self-awareness. You are a visitor and you should comport yourself as a guest, not an invading army. Pay attention to what local people are doing, and then do that! Also be a smart traveler. No matter how much you try to blend in, you usually won’t.

Here is my definition of Touron:

1) A touron is one part eager tourist and one part well-meaning moron.

2) Faced with a deluge of new sites, smells, sounds, and behaviors, a tourist turns touron because of an enhanced curiosity and innocent unawareness. The farther behind we leave the familiar, the more touronic we become.

3) Matt Long

4) You

In his “Don’t be a Touron” piece Matt says he came across the term “Touron” when he was “a college student in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is inundated with millions of tourists every year. Of these millions, there is a not-so-insignificant percentage which may be described as being tourons.”

I came across the term in Key West while working as a dive instructor and taking thousands of tourists into an environment where they found new and creative ways to try to kill themselves. I would give the dive briefing, “Whatever you do, don’t swim over there where you see the waves breaking onto the reef,” and five minutes later a diver would emerge waving his arms as he was slowly pulverized into bloody coral powder. Then I would swim like hell over to him, keep him from dying, and drag his sorry scraped up butt off the reef.

Although I cussed at these people through my regulator on a regular basis, I never looked down on them. They were my people. I respected the fact that they were brave enough to enter a world in which they didn’t belong. And some of them REALLY didn’t belong there. But I didn’t belong either. You can’t travel through a more foreign environment than swimming along a reef at 60’ beneath the Atlantic with hammerheads, puffer fish, and spotted eagle rays.

This is how I feel about traveling in general. Whether you want to label yourself a tourist or a traveler, I could give a flying flipper about, but if you pack your bags and head out the door to somewhere in which you are a foreigner, you are my people. You are a Touron.

Like a SCUBA diver, you’ll likely stick out like a sore thumb. You won’t lug your tank around, but you’ll be hefting plenty of cultural baggage. You’ll do your best not to kick the coral or cultural norms, but no matter how much you try, you will on occasion.

This is the beauty of the word Touron. It tears downs all these “my traveling is better than your traveling arguments.” It embraces all our inherent faults as travelers and unites us in our love for travel.

I love that Matt travels the world. I’ve never met him, but I’m guessing he has loads of tales of how he’s looked like a jackass around the world.

I do. It’s pretty much required to be the Great Touron King.

And as the GTK I hereby dub Matt Long (adjusts crown – these Burger King crowns just don’t fit like they once did. Places stick on Matt’s left shoulder and then his right) Sir Matt Long, an honorary knight of the knights of the Touron Table.

(If you want to read my first published piece “The Land of Tourons” it’s below the cut)

The Land of Tourons
Kelsey Timmerman

In the land of tourons, I am the Great Touron King.

A touron is one part eager tourist and one part well-meaning moron. You yourself have likely been a touron at one time or another.

If you’ve ever…

…set out on a trip over 2 weeks long with 3 pair of underwear…
…thought visiting a nude beach would be a good idea…
…spent an entire flight with your knee jammed into the chair in front of you to keep a six year old from reclining…
… been to a Drag Show with your mother…
…been in a room full of people where You were the only one not staring at YOU…
…stepped out your front door and made a complete fool of yourself…

…you might be a Touron.

Faced with a deluge of new sites, smells, sounds, and behaviors, a tourist turns touron because of an enhanced curiosity and innocent unawareness. The farther behind we leave the familiar, the more touronic we become.

On one occasion in Thailand, I managed to offend an entire busload of locals. In the previous few months I had walked many miles through the mud of trails and the filth of city streets wearing my sandals. They progressively attained a sour stench strong enough to keep Thai sidewalk merchants at bay. Hoping to avoid assaulting the olfactory senses of my co-riders, I took off my sandals and placed them in my luggage above. When I sat back down I noticed and felt many sets of eyes turned in my direction. I knew I had crossed a line, but did not realize when or how. Finally, my neighbor, through a series of grunts and gestures, told me to bring my shoes back down from the luggage rack. Apparently, things associated with feet are profane and should never be above one’s head. I complied with the social rule and removed my sandals from the rack. At our meal stop, I found myself passing rice and unfamiliar entrees with a table of my forgiving co-riders. We all laughed as various degrees of Thai spice twisted and distorted my face. I parted with my new found friends at the end of the ten-hour trip, through silent, friendly smiles and handshakes.

The village idiot rarely lacks friends.

It takes a lot of courage to step out of your comfort zone and enter a world with which you are totally unfamiliar. This world doesn’t have to be another country or continent. I can leave my house right now and within minutes be out of my comfort zone and in the Land of Tourons. Whether it is a few frames at the local bowling alley or visiting a Buddhist monastery, I’m out of my element.

Some like to wax poetic about being a “traveler” while condemning the lack of cultural sensitivity of a “tourist.” They claim that a traveler is in tune with the local way of life and moves through foreign environments with great savvy. They do not taint or influence the places they visit and easily become part of the ebb and flow of daily life. In turn, a tourist is a mumbling buffoon who forces their culture upon everyone around them, leaving a wake of disbelief and anger in their path.

It’s impossible to leave our cultural baggage at the border of a foreign land or experience. When it comes down to it we are all tourons.

Travel is humbling, a lesson in humility learned slowly through each finger pointed, glance shot, and laugh guffawed in our direction.

What makes me the Great Touron King? I grew up in small town Ohio, far from any ocean or anything resembling a hill, where there was little to no diversity in the people or the landscape. There is a short list of things that don’t amaze me: farmers in over-alls, tractors, pigs, cows, chickens, flat fields, and manure (especially manure). Wherever I go things strike me as new and exciting. In the past few years I have stepped foot into nearly 30 nations and I have yet to feel like a “traveler.” I am hopeless to be savvy, as I haplessly travel.

Through this column I hope to share with you my experiences in the many places where I am a touron, whether it is Key West, Kosovo, or Kathmandu, Castle Dracula in Romania or a step-aerobics class in Ohio. Feel free to laugh, sympathize, or learn from my adventures and misadventures, because I have.

 
2 comments
Doug Mack says:

Well said. In the words of Evelyn Waugh, “The tourist is always the other chap.” Same applies to “tourons.” If you’ve never made a fool of yourself or inadvertently offended someone while on the road, you’ve probably never actually left the house. And to me, meeting my fellow tourists/tourons is actually one of the joys of travel (and hanging out in tourist hotspots)–they (we) are often far more interesting and far less shallow than they/we seem.

Kelsey says:

“If you’ve never made a fool of yourself or inadvertently offended someone while on the road, you’ve probably never actually left the house.”

I love it. Just holler and I’ll throw an honorary knighting your way too.

Let your voice be heard!