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Do You Have 'Irritable Tourist Syndrome'?

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Do You Have 'Irritable Tourist Syndrome'?

Arts & Life

Do You Have 'Irritable Tourist Syndrome'?

Do You Have 'Irritable Tourist Syndrome'?

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Vincent Frankowski, center, and his class from Centreville, Mich., tour the Capitol on an end-of-the-school-year trip in summer 2011. David Aaron Troy/For The Washington Post hide caption

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David Aaron Troy/For The Washington Post

Vincent Frankowski, center, and his class from Centreville, Mich., tour the Capitol on an end-of-the-school-year trip in summer 2011.

David Aaron Troy/For The Washington Post

As tourists are swarming to Washington D.C. this summer, The Washington Post Columnist John Kelly followed eighth graders from Centreville, Mich. to see the city through their eyes. Host Michel Martin speaks with John Kelly and Terry Miller, the teacher of the Centreville students, about the students' gains from their class trip, Washingtonians' love/hate relationship with tourists, and whether locals appreciate their cities in the same way tourists do.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: And now we turn to The Washington Post magazine, something we do just about every week for interesting stories about the way we live now. And if you are lucky enough or maybe unlucky enough, depending on your point of view, to live in a place that other people like to come visit, you'll probably like this next conversation.

As summer tourists flock to the nation's capital, Washington Post reporters follow them to see the city through their eyes. And it was not always a pretty sight, especially when it came to how the locals treat the visitors. Columnist and native Washingtonian John Kelly wrote one those tourist tales. He tagged along with a group of 8th graders from a small town called Centreville, Michigan on a class trip. Here's one of the students, 15-year-old Hunter Miracle sharing his thoughts about Washington.

HUNTER MIRACLE: I think about, like, the capitol building and all the monuments and all the major museums and the libraries. The people that live there are used to seeing all that. And, like, where we come from, a small town like that, we're just totally amazed by all the stuff. I loved it all. It's real exciting.

MARTIN: Washington Post columnist John is with us now. Also with us is Terry Miller, the fearless 8th grade teacher who leads a group of Centreville students on their class trip to D.C. every year. Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for joining us.

JOHN KELLY: Thank you.


Terry, you've been coming to D.C. for eight years now with a group of students.

That's correct.

MARTIN: And besides deserving a badge of honor, what makes you want to bring the students every year?

MILLER: Well, it's a great opportunity for me to be able to take them on this trip that for some of them it might be the only opportunity to see our nation's capital. And I think it's a great opportunity for them to be able to see our nation at work.

MARTIN: And John, as we mentioned, you were born in D.C. And you wrote in your article that people who've lived in D.C. for a long time often have what you called irritable tourist syndrome. Will you tell us about that?

KELLY: Well, that's when, you know, Washingtonians, we feel we're very important. We have a very important city, we have very important work to do and anything that gets in our way irritates us. And so as we ride the metro or as we walk down the street or as we drive, we feel that we're interrupted by tourists and tour buses and clots of people on the metro. And that's irritable tourist syndrome.

MARTIN: You know, it really made me pause, reading your piece, to wonder whether I was participating in that too, 'cause I actually came here on a class trip when I was in high school and I remember too, even though I'm from New York and I, you know, come from a big city, I remember that sense of awe and wonder that, you know, that I felt. And it does make you stop and think, you know, are you appreciating your city in the same way that people who are visiting are appreciating it?

Terry, for example, we heard from one of your students, Hunter, a bit earlier. We asked him to compare Centreville to Washington. And this is what he said.

MIRACLE: There's not much in common, at least that we saw. We have a stoplight. Washington has stoplights.

MARTIN: So Terry, is that true that there's one stoplight in Centreville?

MILLER: Actually, yeah. We can say one stoplight uptown and one blinking light.



MILLER: And that's our big town of Centreville.

MARTIN: Did you feel irritable tourist syndrome when you were here? Or were you just too busy to notice it?

MILLER: There's times that it depends on where we're at, you know. Of course the only time we have a traffic jam in Centreville is fair week in September. So you know, I'm kind of curious how people are feeling sometimes when we're in front of them with a bus or trying to make a turn and, you know, it's tight turns at different locations.

But I've never had any negative feedback from the Washingtonians and then how I was treated there. I've always been treated with respect. But you know, I know I can see the look on their face, though. Oh, here comes another group of tourists walking our sidewalks and I got to get to work.

MARTIN: Well, John, do you mind reading a short passage from your piece about - that where you kind of describe the view from the perspective of the locals.

KELLY: Well, this is about the tour groups themselves and how we see them: Shirts are important, not just the keepsakes tourists buy, but the ones they bring. The matching shirts that every group is issued. The Centreville kids aren't wearing theirs today. They donned eye-watering safety green Ts yesterday for the mass photo. But plenty of other groups we bump up against are. There are the purple shirts of the People to People Student Ambassadors. The red shirts of the Bristol, Rhode Island Girl Scouts. The green shirts of the Alachua County, Florida safety patrols.

The groups move through the city like glittering shoals of tropical fish or dots in a pointillist painting. Their attire marks them as effectively as any cattle brand, ties them together as tightly as a crypt bandana. We're a gang that's come to your hood.


MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking about how tourists experience Washington. Washington Post magazine writers wrote about this is this week's edition. Our guests are Washington Post columnist John Kelly, who wrote about the students on a class trip from Centreville, Michigan.

Also with us, Terry Miller, who takes students on a tour of Washington, D.C. every year. And it is a grueling trip, Terry Miller. You guys don't rest for a minute. You do a bus trip here and then you're running all day long. How come you pack it so tightly?

MILLER: Well, I think it's a great opportunity. Again, Washington, D.C. has so much to offer the students. And again, this might be their only opportunity to get there or the first time they've ever been out of the state of Michigan. And I give them a little taste of just about everything. And the previous teacher that had set this trip up, she took it nine years before I did. And she's going to set the itinerary and I kind of tweak it every year just a little bit, add something, change something from one year to the next.

And I give them a taste of a little bit of Washington all the way through. And if they want to go see more, they can come back and talk their parents into going back to Washington, D.C. as a family trip.

MARTIN: Do you think that, though, Terry, the trip changes people? In reading your piece, John Kelly, it actually made me wonder whether part of the reason I eventually wound up in Washington, D.C. was because of that class trip. Because even though I came from a big city and seeing the government in operation and seeing that these people are not royalists, that you can actually walk up to them and talk to them.

I mean, I met a senator. He took a picture with us. He was just like a regular person. It makes me wonder whether that has something to do with the career path that I eventually chose. And so Terry Miller, do you think that it has that effect on these kids?

MILLER: Well, and that's what I'm kind of hoping to put on there - you know, some of the students are still young. Of course they're just getting out of 8th grade. They're getting ready for high school. Still not deciding what career path they want to take. And so they see a lot of different opportunities in D.C. We do meet with the senator in the senator's office. And a lot of the interns there give them insight of, you know, hey, I was in high school and started working here and took a summer trip just like you guys did.

I think it gives them a good opportunity to see other jobs that are out there. And hey, one these days maybe they'll be our only - maybe they'll be our state senator if somebody takes the political pathway.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. And John Kelly, did spending this time with these students change you in some way? Kind of change your attitude a little bit?

KELLY: It did. And just to Terry's point, quickly, I heard, I got emails this week and from more people who said the reason I'm in Washington is 'cause I did a school trip in 4th grade, 8th grade, 12th grade, whatever. And so I think you're right that that does have an effect.

Yes, it changed my mind. I mean we think of tourists often monolithically. Oh, this big group of people in matching shirts and shorts or whatever. And they're all individuals and it was so great to spend time with them because they love our city. And we sometimes forget how lucky we are to live here. So being with them and seeing the affection they had for it, these kids, these beautiful kids, 13 and 14-year-olds from this tiny little town, it made me feel better about them.

I'm not going to - you know, I'm going to take a deep breath, I'm not going to get upset if I'm blocked on the metro escalator, big deal. And it also made me - reminded me, wow, I live in a really great town, and I should appreciate that more.

MARTIN: John Kelly is a columnist for The Washington Post. Terry Miller is a math and history teacher at Centreville Junior High School in Centreville, Michigan. John joins us from our studios in Washington, D.C. Terry joined us from member station WMUK in Kalamazoo, Michigan. If you want to read John's piece in its entirety, and we hope you will, we'll link to it on our website. Just go to Click on the programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE. John, Terry, thank you both so much for joining us.

KELLY: You're very welcome.

MILLER: Thank you for giving us this opportunity.

MARTIN: And then get on out there and see some monuments.

MILLER: That's right.

KELLY: When it cools down.

MILLER: Take a trip to D.C.

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