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Everyone’s a Gaper Somewhere Else

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Anywhere humans tread, the relationship between local and visitor can get downright acidic. I remember chuckling uncomfortably when I first heard the unkind sentiment, “Why is it called tourist season if we can’t shoot ‘em?” Tahoe locals are known to call out as they zoom by wide-eyed tourists on a snowboard, mountain bike, or car, “Outta the way, gaper!”*

Perhaps it’s xenophobia, an irrational fear of people who are different. Or frustration that one’s late to work and the guy driving 10 miles-per-hour, swerving as he gazes at Lake Tahoe, is severely hampering one’s progress. At its base, I think it’s a need to feel one belongs to a certain group, to which other people can’t or don’t.

Any way you look at it, it serves little purpose other than to generate tension and nastiness. To see a visitor as an outsider negates the biological drive to explore new places. Imagine plopping a mountaineer into a cypress swamp, with the vague direction to avoid the crocs and water moccasins. Who’s the gaper now?

I just visited Kaua’i, Hawai’i, for the first time. Less than two hours after stepping off the plane, I was in Hanalei Bay, frolicking in the warm water, gazing up at sculpted mountains. Although I was definitely a gaper, I felt an immediate and indisputable connection.

It was xenophobia’s antidote: topophilia, a Greek term which literally means “love of place.”

While on the island, I realized a lifelong dream of riding waves on a surfboard. A tanned local named David, who looked part native, part Chinese, and part lord-knows-what-else, was my first teacher. His main teaching methodology was, “It’s easy. Just breathe.”

He commented that Tahoe is probably a lot like Kaua’i, full of tourists coming to visit an incredible landscape. I agreed and asked about the local versus visitor mentality. “I’ve known people for two weeks that belonged here more than a person whose family is third generation,” he said.

The term “‘gaper” is nearly a compliment. It means someone is taking the time to stand still, gaping about, awash in awe of such a beautiful place.

This month, a new Moonshine writer explores what a mountain would say, if a mountain could write and tell us all to slow down.

Mayumi Elegado

* Longtime Tahoe locals will remember the term “turkeys.” See Tim Hauserman’s column, “Growing Up in Tahoe.”

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Reader comments so far...

-Rt... (not verified)
I feel you're blending two terms together in this article. Tourist does mean gaper and vice versa. One can be a local and still be a gaper and yes, the local getting out to see the world becomes the tourist. For all intensive purposes, the gaper is typically one who is conducting themselves like a moron. Let's use your surf lesson as an example. Sure, go out and learn a new sport, take a lesson and pat yourself on the back when you ride a wave in. Be the tourist and enjoy your vacation! Now, go sit in the ocean on a board and ask the locals how to surf and get in their way not knowing what's going. Now you're the gaper! It's unfortunate that the term has such a broad, misunderstood, and negative definition. Typically, it's used as a displacement or defense mechanism. It's often easier to take out one's frustration with crude remarks instead of helping others become part of the team or community. Look before you leap! We should learn about places, cultures, and behaviors before venturing off. Help other people when at home, correct the wrongs in an appropriate manner and try to promote positive vibes. Those who visit your home will do it right next time and probably pass it on eliminating the gapers! :-)

Doug Fischer (not verified)
I agree wholeheartedly with the reader comment. It's not necessarily all tourists that locals dislike; it's the inconsiderate ones who treat our home as if it were their own personal fantasy land. Plus it's not just that inconsiderate tourists, a.k.a. gapers, are annoying (which they are). Quite often they also create dangerous situations on the ski slopes and on our roadways. Maybe you recall the incident last summer when a local boy was struck by a gaper while crossing the street in a crosswalk. He spent the rest of his summer in the intensive care unit and thankfully has since made a full recovery. You might also recall the local couple that was struck and killed by a drunken tourist in Incline Village. It's not OK to be inconsiderate to the point that you create hazardous situations for those around you. Most locals could care less if some tourist wears their ski boots into the store - it's just a laugh to us - but when they put us, our friends, and our families in danger, all the while acting like they own the place and are doing no wrong, good local folks rightfully take serious offense. Honestly, I can't really imagine this article's author getting rear ended by some tourist and thinking to herself "Oh well, we're all gapers somewhere else." Yeah, right. Sure, some tourists are respectful of the land and the people here, but those who aren't (and there's a lot) are infuriating and dangerous. It would be nice if all the local papers would quit publishing pro-tourist articles just to keep their tourist-based business sponsors happy. Instead, what if a tourist picked up the local paper and found a list of things they could do to keep from being a hazard to our hard working locals? Wouldn't that be something?

Chris Werfel (not verified)
I agree with the reader's comments here. I'd like to think of all the folks that needlessly purchase a huge, status symbol gas hog SUV as GAPERs: Grossly Arrogant People Environmentally Ruining Society.

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March 14, 2019