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Tourists say the darndest things

February 27, 2010

I grew up in Niagara Falls, Ont.

We lived just a few blocks from Clifton Hill — where all those tacky museums are. A couple of summers, I worked at the Computerized Horoscope Analysis Booth in front of Louis Tussaud’s Wax Museum, near the bottom of the hill. You could throw a rock from there and hit the Rainbow Bridge, which is still among the busiest border crossings between the U.S. and Canada.

The street-front horoscope booth was at the base of the busy tourist strip. An unofficial ambassador and unpaid local guide, I was the first Canadian a lot of tourists encountered, after they parked their cars and set off to explore our great nation, starting with the falls themselves.

Visitors could follow the sound of the roaring natural wonder. They could look for the huge plume of mist rising from the falls and follow that. They could read the big giant signs that said things like: “This Way to the Falls.” Or they could ask me.

I met thousands and thousands of people from all over the world. A few of them even dropped a bit of cash on the cheesey pre-printed “horoscopes” I was hawking. On the whole, Niagara tourists were good, decent folks. They were respectful and genuinely interested in my country and my hometown.

Then there were the others. The rude, the obnoxious, the self-important goofs who did not care that they were, essentially, guests in another country. Here are some of the questions I fielded, each and every day:

  • “Where’s Canada?”

Seriously. Every day, at least once, an American tourist asked me that. My usual answer: “Go up to the lights and turn right.”

  • Are the Natives restless this week?

Americans and Germans were especially concerned that blood-thirsty Aboriginals lurked around each corner, tomahawks at the ready. Could the Queen’s Mounted Army hold them at bay much longer?

  • How can I meet the Queen?

Ah, yes. The Queen. She’s on the money, so you’ve got to cut tourists some slack for the belief that she must live nearby. I learned quickly that saying, “She lives in Great Britain” was not sufficient, because these people had no idea where that might be. Asking how well the tourist could swim did not seem to be the right answer, either.

  • Which way is Vancouver/Montreal?

Same as the directions to Canada: “Up to the lights, turn right.”

  • Why aren’t you speaking French? (Or: You speak English so well!”)

All I could ever think to say to this was, “Thank you.”

  • The stuff at the top of the mountains. Is that ice or salt? My wife and I have a bet.

These people were serious. With all my 15 years’ life experience, I guaranteed them that the “white stuff” in some Canadian postcards is snow, but they did not believe me.

  • (Waving Canadian bills around) Can I spend this Funny Money here?

This dumb-ass question always bugged me. Only Americans ever did this sort of thing; tourists from other nations seem used to the idea that some currencies look different from their own.

  • We’re going to Vancouver for lunch. Where should we eat, and how long is the drive?

Yeah, this smacks of an urban legend, but tourists really do ask questions like this. Especially Americans, who seem to have an aversion to maps.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Loren Maluorno permalink
    April 30, 2012 2:50 pm

    Those were great Elizabeth…and so typical…I get the same one’s, or similiar, up here in the Yukon…I have had my Hwy R.V. lodge at mile 1083 Alaska hwy for almost 20 year’s now….Here’s some new ones for you that I get all the time. Mostly from the near sighted, blinder’s on, American’s.

    “Is this the same sun that we have in Florida, cause our’s doesn’t stay up as long as yours?”
    I answer…..”No, we have our own sun, we need more light than you because it’s so dark here in the winter….They go…Oh, that’s a good idea!…ha ha

    “What time do the Northern Light’s come on?” That’s up to the Yukon Territorial Government, they’re in charge of the enviornment! I respond, with a matter of fact expression…..They accept that answer too!…omg they’re dumb!

    And…one more…

    “How long have you lived in Alaska?”….This is when I turn slowly towards them and say….”Oh, just since they drew the border line between Alaska and the Yukon…I had to make a very quick decision…either to be a Canadian or an American! “….Their response is usually something like….” Oh, good for you, we didn’t have to make a choice, we were borne American’s” ……I go….ÿah, I knew that! “…lol”…They’ve only been traveling almost 2000 miles through Canada when they get to me….yikes!

    Have a great day!……..:)

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