"Who's more annoying: Germans or French Canadians?"

This conversation between staff members at a bar in Costa Rica taught me early on that one constant in the world is that everyone has opinions on tourists and often they're less than flattering.

I learned the basic stereotypes quickly on that "gringo trail" through Central and South America: Israelis travel in packs after they get out of the army; Germans are abrasive; Australians are partiers; Canadians are instantly offended if asked "Where in America are you from?"

As for Americans, we don't travel to the Third World. Instead, middle aged Americans speak loudly in English in European restaurants and Mexican resorts (often about timeshares), and our recent college graduates spend much of their one-month Eurail jaunts in the coffee shops of Amsterdam.

It goes without saying that stereotypes are dangerous generalizations, but they are sometimes justified. I learned firsthand of the complexities of the tourist issue while living in Maui in the mid-'90s. There, locals exhibited open contempt for tourists. I have to admit that, after a few months as a waitress who was constantly refilling the coveted "sweet tea" for sunburned mainlanders for a 10 percent tip, I started to succumb to the cynicism: "You can treat me like crap, but I live here." The smugness was enhanced by the fact that most places offered a kama'aina , or locals' discount we even had our own set of prices.

My contempt for tourists in Hawaii peaked the day a couple said they were bored of the beaches and asked me what else there was to do. I suggested renting a car and taking the road to Hana a breathtaking drive through rainforest and waterfalls and the woman held up her hand to silence me. "We did that yesterday and turned around halfway," she said. "I mean, it's great if all you want to do is look at trees all day ."

This is not to say they were all like that. I waited on plenty of cool people too, though they sometimes seemed like the minority of visitors. Women on female-bonding vacations were usually fun, and honeymooners were often generous. I only met one couple from Colorado, but they stuck out because they were camping, hiking and doing things locals did. They were mellow and having a ball.

Years later, here I am in another tourist town, in the midst of another tourist season teeming with what a buddy of mine calls "New Texahomans." A few weeks ago, a woman in a car with out-of-state plates flipped me off on my drive home from work, and I felt an inkling of the old Maui cynicism return. A few days later, I was visiting with a friend who works in a clothing store. We were discussing her recent honeymoon in Hawaii, ironically enough, when we were interrupted by an annoyed "Hellooooo we're ready to check out already." After she rang up their $16 purchase and they left, she said, "It's the ones that snap their fingers that I hate the most."

But of course, there are nonsnappers and nonbird flippers, too. A few weeks ago, at a deli counter, I met a visitor from Vail who was in town for the adventure race. He was easy going as he cracked jokes with the local in front of us who was loading up on boneless chicken wings.

I've taken numerous photos of happy couples in front of the train station, which is near the Telegraph office, and the couples are always thrilled to be in Durango, in a photo together. I've seen elderly couples clasping hands as they window shop, and small children grinning up at the "horsies" attached to carriages on Main. I love that stuff, and the fact that these people feel welcome and happy in our town makes me feel proud.

The fact of the matter is that tourists are sometimes good for a laugh and always great for the economy. The town's existence depends on them. And if we're tired of being the hosts, we can always go some place else for the weekend. I'm sure there are endless refills of sweet tea in Silverton.

-Jennifer Reeder



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