Traveler or Tourist?

Am I a tourist? It’s hard to think of myself that way in Alcala where I have much of the town memorized in my mental map. I know which buses will take me every direction; I know the cheapest places to buy quality clothes; the best tapas bars; where the freshest fruit is sold near my house. I’ve been to the Monday market, seen at least 4 separate festivals, gotten lost and found myself at least a dozen times, and I have on two occasions given directions to someone in Spanish without flinching. However, I have come to the sad conclusion that I may always be “other” even if I was here for several years. I am not sure what would decide that I was no longer a tourist and now could be considered a local; maybe language proficiency, knowledge of the culture, knowing my neighbors, or perhaps a time limit that must be broken. As someone who identifies as more of a traveler rather than a tourist, I have become to associate the word tourist with a slightly negative connotation. Surely a tourist is one who overwhelms a city, pollutes the beaches, forces money into the toxic tourist trade, and is shepherded through the “important monuments” like a herd of sheep. Perhaps though in order to belong I simply have to want it. If I want Alcala enough and call it mine, is that enough?

I was sitting in the Plaza, as I often do, simply enjoying the spring weather and the children playing tag around the Cervantes statue when a tour bus pulled up. Out poured like 50 middle aged tourists. They were all chattering as they began to clog the plaza and overrun the children’s playground. I was annoyed and immediately thought “Ew. Go away. This is my place.” It was quite a reversal of roles. The only difference between them and I is that I’ve been here longer. Sure I’ve put down roots, but it’s only been 3 months; only ¼ of a year. Does disdain for other tourists mean I’m not one? The ownership I have begun to feel over Alcala is akin to the ones I have felt with any city I have lived in back in America. Strange that I could be so defensive over somewhere I haven’t even been for a year.

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