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Joan Z. Shore

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Summertime -- and the Livin' is Touristy

Posted: 07/25/07 07:15 PM ET

Don't get me wrong -- I love the summer.

Wedged between an uncertain spring and an inevitable autumn, summer is a season of promise and pleasure and peregrination. Anything goes -- we strip off our clothes, we loosen our inhibitions, and we race off to the shore, the mountains, or the countryside. Or we exchange one sweltering city for another: we leave Chicago to visit Rome, we quit New York to visit Madrid.

We hit the road with a carload of cranky kids and bulging baggage, or we trudge through airports swarming with sweaty fellow-travelers. The old French Line used to have as its slogan, "Getting There Is Half the Fun." That's not true anymore.

Americans, with only two weeks of paid vacation, are particularly disadvantaged. Europeans actually have a whole month off -- four weeks to recover from the other 48 weeks of work. (They are also likely to get a week or two off in mid-winter, when health experts say we need a break the most.) So the American response is to make the most of this meager hand-out. The result, as we know, is a fortnight of hectic activity followed by a breathless return home.

The real luxury, of course, is to travel out of season, but work obligations and school schedules make this impossible, and it is only at retirement that one can enjoy this prerogative. Even then, the summer syndrome seems to persist: we are forever in the habit of taking "summer vacations."

My life in Paris, even after many years, still makes me think I'm on a permanent vacation. But I'm certainly not a tourist. And I must admit, I view the actual tourists, the summer arrivals, with a critical eye. They are easy to spot -- guidebook in one hand and camera in the other. I don't begrudge them that. But often, they have sloppy clothes and sloppy manners. They seem to forget that they are visiting a capital city of historic dimensions, of enduring tradition; they should realize that they are not just cruising the local mall in their T-shirts and sneaks.

Yes, they are struck by the city's beauty, but they are stunned and insulted when their English is not understood. They are dazzled by the restaurants and cafes, but they end up ordering "un hamburger" and a Diet Coke.

This year, three and a half million Americans are expected to visit France, in spite of the feeble dollar vis-a-vis the flourishing euro. They will gripe about the prices, they will criticize their unhelpful concierge, they will complain about the long lines at the Louvre, they will bemoan the general scarcity of air-conditioning.....

I want to yell at them: "Then why didn't you just stay home?"

No way.

They have come here, T-shirts, sneaks and all, to gape and grumble and gawk and groan. To light a candle at Notre-Dame, to trudge up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and to be ripped off at the Clignancourt flea market.

And you know what? They will probably return next year.