How to behave to give tourists a bad name
Our tour guide at the Aachen Dom told a shocking tale about how the actions of irresponsible tourists give their fellow travellers a bad name, which I think is worth sharing, as it highlights how insensitive some tourists can be, and how the perpetrators are not always young people.
A couple of years ago, he took a tour with a fairly elderly group, whose maturity seems sadly to only have extended to their age. By the time he had shepherded the last of the group up the stairs to the first floor where Charlemagne's throne is located, a man called Charles - who was celebrating his 72nd birthday that day – had already been 'installed' on the 1200 year throne (to which access is expressly forbidden) and had been ‘crowned’ by his friends with a paper crown from Burger King which had been brought along expressly for this purpose.
To give due credit to the guide (who is still clearly incensed by the incident), he summarily ejected the Birthday Boy from the throne, halted the tour immediately and evicted the entire group from the Dom, but of course by that time, the damage was done.
I am horrified by the insensitivity this tale displays, and I cannot counternance how anyone could possibly consider it acceptable to desecrate a uniquely important international monument in that manner. Sadly having the financial means to travel doesn’t always guarantee that you have the emotional maturity and sensitivity to respect this privilege.
And we tourists wonder why we are not always welcomed with open arms ...
Guidance on photography in churches: Homer's Rules
Visiting churches is one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Europe, and provides a fascinating insight into the most powerful influencethat has shaped European cultures of the past couple of millenia.
Unlike some other religions - where access to places of worship may be restricted to members of that religious group or a specific gender - the vast majority of Christian churches will allow tourists to visit at most times, including routine services (although some may charge an admission fee for doing so, and access may be denied for private events such as weddings and funerals). However, tourists should realise that most churches are still active places of worship, and so visitors need to exhibit a certain sensitivity to display respect to the culture and avoid giving offence to people at prayer.
The following guidelines are based on wonderful advice offered by Homer (homaned) - who does this for a living - in a forum response, and although specifically written for Christian places of worship, would apply equally to places of worship for other religions
So, here is a general list of do's and don'ts for people wishing to photograph during a church service:
READ THE SIGNS
If photography is not permitted - because, for example, it may damage paint on delicate murals - this will usually be indicated by a pictogram of a camera with a red line through it. Under most circumstances, you can assume that photography will be allowed (unless otherwise indicated), but may not be permitted during services. If in doubt, ask for clarification - this shows respect and will very seldom be met with anything other than a helpful response.
TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!
Every camera on the market has a button on it which will turn off the flash. The number one most alarming and distracting thing that can happen during a liturgy, and one which will even get you kicked out of some churches, is the bright flash that goes off when you take a picture. Not only is it distracting, but it usually makes the picture turn out dark, because your camera's flash only has about a 10-15' range. Turn off the flash, and hold the camera up against your eye, using the viewfinder, and you will likely get a better picture (and you definitely won't have any red-eye problems!).
DON'T MOVE AROUND ALL OVER THE PLACE! (UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION)
Instead of walking all over down the main aisle and in front of everybody, pick a good place from which to take a picture at the beginning of the liturgy, and stay there. Unless you're a professional photographer with practice at stealthily moving during liturgies, you're a distraction, and you're being disrespectful. Even if you're a pro, try to stick to one out-of-the-way place, and use a zoom lens and zoom in to get pictures. Walking in front of people is a surefire way to distract and disrespect and closing in on priests or other celebrants just to capitalise on a photo opportunity is offensive.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S SOUND!
Every camera has some way to mute all its 'cute' beeps and clicking noises. If you press a button, and hear a beep, or if you take a picture and hear an obnoxious shutter clicking sound, you need to turn off those sounds (the muting option is usually in one of the menus). Along with the flashing, it's an obvious sign that someone is taking pictures and not showing much respect for those trying to pay attention to the liturgy.
TURN OFF THE 'FOCUS ASSIST' LIGHT!
If your camera can't focus without the little laser-light that shines in everyone's eyes before your camera takes a picture, then don't use your camera. You have to turn that light off! It is very distracting to be watching a lector or priest, and see a little red dot or lines pop up on his face all of the sudden. It's as if some rifleman is making his mark! Turn the light off (again, look in the menus for the option to turn off the 'AF assist' or 'focus assist' light). If you can't turn it off, put a piece of duct tape or some other opaque material over the area where the light is, so the light won't shine on someone.
TURN OFF THE CAMERA'S LCD!
You should never use the LCD to compose your shots anyways; just put your eye up to the viewfinder, and that will not only not distract, it will also steady your camera against your face, making for a better picture (especially if you don't have the flash on). And if you must review the pictures you've taken, hold the camera in front of you, down low, so people behind you don't notice the big, bright LCD display on your camera
CERTAIN PARTS OF THE CEREMONY ARE PARTICULARLY SENSITIVE
The consecration (blessing) of the eucharist (bread and wine) and distribution of communion to the congregation are considered to be particularly sacred parts of the service, and it is offensive to photograph these activities.
The main thing is to try to be respectful of the culture and of other people present at the service. Don't distract. And, if you are asked to not take pictures, or if there's a sign saying 'no photography allowed,' then don't take pictures. You can always ask a priest's permission before the liturgy, but if he says 'No,' put away your camera and enjoy the freedom you have to focus on the privilege of being able to share an experience with people who consider these religious rituals core to their culture and identity, rather than focusing on your camera's LCD!
Homer's Rules ... Homer rules!
Disappointingly ineffectual Tourist Information
Aachen's tourist office is beautifully appointed in a lovely classically inspired building right next to the Elisenbrunnen. The staff members are pleasant, but really need to go up a gear in their dealings with the public if they are to deliver a quality of service befitting this splendid city and worthy of their major investment in establishing the Route Charlemagne.
My particular peeve is that I visited twice in one day with various queries (which were handled pleasantly, if unspectacularly) and yet on neither occasion did the staff think to mention that the following day was Karnival (and thus, a public holiday). This sort of detail is important, as Karnival is a holiday whose date varies according to the date of Easter that particular year, and is only a regional public holiday: thus it is easy for the international tourist (who has probably only checked national holidays) not to realise this. I fell into this category, and, as a result, missed out on visiting one of the museums which had attracted me to Aachen in the first place (which was closed on the public holiday - something that I also take issue with, as most tourist attractions are usually open on public holidays, which are among their busiest times).
Similarly, when I asked where one fountain - depicted on a postcard in the tourist office - was located, the young lady concerned could not tell me (in fact, I could not have visited it anyway, as it was covered up to protect it from possible damage during the Karnival festivities, but that wasn’t the point). Quite simply, you can't provide quality information to tourists unless you know the city yourself, and staff selection/training needs to take this into account.
Another minor but irritating gripe: nowhere was it possible to buy a postcard of the reliquary of Charlemagne’s head, which is his best known image (note that this can be photographed in the Dom Treasury, but not using a flash). Given that the tourist office concedes that this is their bestselling postcard, would it not make sense to ensure that adequate supplies are kept in stock?
the Homeless or drunks
Aachen has a few drunks and homeless around that will ask for money. The drunks are a little annoying because they can be close talkers. Usually i just said i didn't speak German and they didn't bother me. If I spoke better German I would have offered them a beer in return for general knowledge about Aachen. Homeless always know more about a city than the local residents, at least from my experience.
Biking under the influence or BUI
Here's the deal, the dutch and german students can ride their bikes while intoxicated. I'm just gonna say Americans can't. Don't think you can, because you cannot! I thought I was clever enough to do so, I discovered i'm not clever and i'm a bit dumb. Within moments of getting on the bicycle I fell. Falling off a bike while intoxicated is inevidable and it will hurt a lot with lots of bruises! I promise! It might not hurt that night, but the next morning you'll feel like someone beat the crap out of you. But actually you kicked your own butt!
Cobble streets and Flip Flops
Sure cobble streets are historic and beautiful, but they can be a mence! Imagine you've a few too many at the pub and you're walking back to your hotel or where ever you are staying. The cobble stone is uneven, character comes with imperfections. Don't wear sandels or flip flops! I stubbed my toe, big time! It broke the nail and gave me a huge blood blister! I suppose if you are walking back drunk, wear shoes that cover your entire foot! My foot was sore for 2 days and you have to take good care of your feet in these european walking cities and towns!
So much Rain!
Seriously, take an umbrella, you'll thank me. It is raining there practically every day! It is often that annoying mist rain. I saw most people walking without umbrellas, it seemed like they were use to the rain and stopped fighting it! haha!
No dogs alowed
Strange city. Dogs are not alowed to leave their droppings on the street, but the city guards ride their horses on the city center walkways.
No wonder Napoleon called this town "Europe's toilet".
Luckely Aachen knows 300 rainy days on average during a year.
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