I used to hate being called a tourist, even worst, travel like one. Just like when this slightly older German Turkish guy dropped that one word statement-like-question to me, “Tourist?”
The very sound of that word irked me, but I nodded along and said yes. The guy was just being friendly and I appreciated it.
I saw him and his wife (maybe girlfriend, I dunno) walked into this Halal fast food outlet called Risa on Schönhauser Allee, during my first night in Berlin. The restaurant was packed and it was dinner time. About 10 minutes before that — after making my order — I managed to secure a spot at this huge table that could fit about six people.
Truth be told, I would have avoided sitting at the table if I have other choices. It was the only available table inside the restaurant and there’s absolutely no way I’m eating dinner in the cold outside. I even had this thought in my mind then that everyone is giving me the look, ‘greedy girl’ or worse, ‘greedy tourist’ but I tried not to think too much.
This was my first big meal of the day, after travelling by train from Amsterdam to Berlin for six hours, before getting lost when I was trying to get to my AirBnB via the BVG (aka Berlin’s public transport system). I KO-ed the moment I arrived at the flat. I was just exhausted. I had no proper meal all day, only water, Chocomel chocolate milk that I brought with me from Amsterdam and some Dutch snacks.
When I woke up from sleep at about 4.30pm, all I could think about was food. I was starving and decided to hit the street, wander around for a little bit and find a restaurant I could dine at. And there I was at Risa – cold and hungry – and all I cared about was nothing else but those beautifully roasted chicken.
So when the couple approached me to ask about the empty seats, I was more than happy to share it with them. I said, “Come, come, please have a seat!” I was overly friendly, treating the whole situation like I was welcoming people into my house.
They greeted me in German, of course, but such universally understood gesture of ‘can we sit here/are these seats available’ got me to subconsciously blurted out English words and I guess that’s what gave my identity away.
Or could it have been my look? Hmm… I doubt it. There’s a diverse group of people dining in at Risa that night. There were some Caucasian customers, Turkish, some African, even East Asians, so I shouldn’t feel so much like an outsider. But then, I’m pretty sure they were all Germans.
Another one incident that could have given my identity away was when a staff at the counter were calling out order numbers in German. I freaked out a bit when I heard her calling out one number after another. So I stayed near the counter hoping that when she called out my number, I could just showed the receipt to her and quietly ask in English. My trick was to watch out for the tray that looked like what I ordered and I would immediately knew that it was my number she was calling.
But the couple shouldn’t even have any idea that I’m not German, I thought. They arrived later. Fuck, I shouldn’t be overthinking. But I really can’t help it.
I’m sure we all say things like, “I lived like locals when I visit these places and went to places locals go to and eat what they eat.” Is this enough of an indication that you’re not a tourist but more a traveller? A visitor? One who perhaps, eat sinfully good local fast food chicken at Risa just like the locals do but avoid the tourist/shopping heavy areas like Alexanderplatz?
Self expectation when one is travelling is high but the reality might not. The fact, on the other hand remains: these are new things to you and/or you are new to these. And there’s no point acting like there are experiences that will automatically be classified as cliche touristy things-to-do and that you should avoid them, because to be honest there’s none!
It’s so easy to get caught up in these ideas of wanting to assimilate or understand how the locals live or wanting to not doing touristy thing, because they won’t change the fact that you’re a visitor on a mission to explore and experience. What’s important is that in the process, you’re defining and refining your perspectives after any form of experiences because at the end of the day, to others — this couple included — you’re still a visitor, an outsider, a tourist.
All these being said, when I’m back in Los Angeles in future — if that is ever going to happen anytime soon — I’m going to Disneyland. I don’t care.
Written on October 3 at my AirBnB flat on Zionkirschplatz, Berlin; edited in Kuala Lumpur. The Tourist Part 1 is story #2 as part of the #StoriesFromMyTrip series.