In 2011, there were approximately 30.6 million visitors into London, who each spent an average of £584*. It’s evident that London is a hotspot for tourists, but how welcoming are we as Londoners?
After a recent trip to Brazil, it became apparent to me that maybe we in London look at tourists as an annoyance as opposed to solid contributors to our economy and are often very reluctant to talk or even acknowledge our friends from abroad. During part of my trip I was with a group of ten friends from London and the other I was on my own. Being part of a group and then individually, I was pleasantly surprised just how much the locals went the extra mile to talk and, in certain cases, take me out with them. Their tips, conversations and advice were more valuable than any over-priced travel guide book I have bought.
Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you spoke to a tourist? When was the last time you actually asked a tourist to come along with you and your friends to a bar or a restaurant you were going to? I’m certainly guilty in answering those questions with an ‘um, don’t think I ever have!’ If my memory serves, every time I have been to another country I’ve always managed to make friends with locals. But the most recent trip to Brazil really sticks out as a particular example of how people in other countries seem so much more welcoming of tourists than we Londoners are.
The first week of the trip was a stag do. Forget the minibus up to Newcastle or a weekend in Eastern Europe; we really pushed the boat
out on this one. Picture the scenario: you’ve got ten guys in Brazil on a stag who are walking the streets as a group, going to bars and restaurants as a group and doing pretty much all activities in a small army. It is safe to say we stuck out like a sore thumb. I wouldn’t say my friends and I are your typical ‘Brits abroad’ (i.e. football chanting-pint swinging -‘get your tits out for the lads’- louts) but we do get a little over-excited after a few beers. Intoxicated Brits on a stag- do in another country- we’re hardly at the top of everybody’s list of people you would want to make friends with. Let’s flip this scenario. Imagine seeing ten slightly worse-for-wear Brazilian lads who have been on the Caipirinhas, walking the streets of London. How would you react? My guess is, after looking at them in utter disgust, you’d swiftly get on with your life hoping never to bump into them again. You might expect this as a universal reaction across the world. But to our utmost surprise, most places that we visited we were welcomed with open arms. Obviously if we drunkenly stumbled upon a Favela, the story would have probably been very different: after being kidnapped, a few of us would have been used as drug mules with unknown substances being forced into unfavourable parts of our bodies while the rest of us would end up being used as personal masseuses to a Brazilian drug lord. I certainly know which one I’d prefer; can someone pass the oil please? The places we were most welcomed were naturally the more central areas.
An example which really stands out is a night we spent in Lapa, a popular neighbourhood in Rio De Janeiro renowned for its vibrant night-life. It was our last night so the beers were flowing, everyone was getting merry and there were small traces of the standard loutish behaviour materializing from our group of ten. We met some local Brazilians and found one of the guys spoke English — now this is a rarity in Rio, as the majority of people do not speak a word of our humble language. We began talking and a couple of us mentioned to him that we really wanted to see the Escadaria Selaró – these are the famous steps in Rio which some will know from Snoop Dogg’s music video Beautiful’. This stranger actually offered to take us there himself. Let’s not forget that this guy was out with a group of friends, including his girlfriend, with the whole night still ahead of him. And yet, he chose to spend it with a group of ten overly merry stags visiting a notorious tourist hot-spot which he is no doubt sick off. It’s a bit like someone in London who is out for a friend’s birthday deciding to leave them and instead takes a group of tourists to Leicester Square for a Haagen-Dazs ice cream. But Fabio was great. His insider knowledge of everything Brazilian was absolutely priceless; he almost turned into a tour-guide trying to control all of us, making sure we were always together and no one got lost. He even saved one of us from entering the Favela at the top of the Escadaria Selaró. A future of never being able to sit down properly had been on the cards for this guy, if it wasn’t for Fabio. At the end of the night he got us cabs to get back to our apartment and made his way home acting like it was just another night out with his friends. Our evening with Fabio was the most vivid example of a local going out of their way to make a group of tourists feel welcome. There were plenty more during the trip, but Fabio’s friendliness was a lovely gesture.
All through the next day we were discussing how this would never happen in London. How many people can actually say they would have done what Fabio did – being an unofficial tour guide to a group of drunken Brits during an evening he was supposed to be spending with friends? Obviously there are some horror stories featuring locals in certain countries who are the complete opposite and can actually be a threat to tourists. But this article is about the good guys, the Fabio’s of this world. Maybe it’s time we start becoming a little more welcoming to the tourists which visit our beautiful city.