Tourists, tourists everywhere. (Photo: LifesizeImages/E+/Getty Images)
We’ve all heard it before. “The Ugly American.” The clueless ding-dong who travels to other countries doing the following: talking too loudly, complaining about everything (especially cigarette smoke and the lack of decaffeinated coffee), bringing their own peanut butter to live on lest the local food poison them, wearing funny-looking clothes, and ignoring the personal space of everyone around them.
Now, some of these stereotypes have a kernel of truth. Take Daddy, for example. My old man has a strict summer uniform of ecru Rockport Walkers, long white knee socks, tan pressed khaki shorts belted at the waist, a short-sleeved button-down golf shirt, sunglasses, and a sweatband or fishing hat.
Daddy in his uniform. The sweatband makes the outfit. (Photo: Paula Froelich)
Daddy also has an endearing habit of going to European countries and talking “local like.” For example, in Italy he’d randomly say things like “Mamma mia!”
But it’s all in good fun.
No, my friends, after traveling the world, I have decided that we Americans get a bad rap. Especially since there are other countries’ travelers who deserve attention for bad tourist behavior. And so I present the top five countries around the world whose tourists make us look good:
Dress for the culture, people! (Photo: Robin Robokow/Flickr)
1. The Russians
Armed with rigid self-confidence and a boatload of rubles, traveling Russians just don’t give a damn.
Case in point: Last year, there I was in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt — all sorts of covered up, not just because culturally it’s respectful, but also because I didn’t want to get a third-degree sunburn — when I noticed the locals’ eyes bugging out. Behind me, a tour bus of Russians had arrived, the women in bra tops and short-shorts, the men in various stages of undress (it was 100 degrees out), and all turning a nice shade of boiled-lobster red. As the relatively scantily clad group wandered around, a bunch of local kids started running over to catch the pay-per-view.
“Those Russians don’t care about anything,” said my guide, Osama. While I wouldn’t go that far, Osama has certainly seen his share of tourists and had an opinion.
I’ve heard versions of that opinion before.
A few years earlier, when I stayed at the Amantaka resort in Luang Prabang, Laos, a hotel employee said, “No one is here right now but a few Russians. They just sit by the pool and yell at us.”
Osama, the hotel employee, and I are not alone in rating Russian tourists as some of the worst offenders: In a survey conducted by Triposo, Russian travelers were high up on the list of the badly behaved — even 42 percent of the Russians surveyed voted for themselves. In a LivingSocial survey, 11 percent of Americans said that Russians were the worst tourists, and in a survey conducted by Real Holiday Reports, Russians again topped the list, with respondents complaining that they eat almost everything off buffet tables, swear, and offend with bad fashion.
Behave! (Photo: Yeow/Flickr)
2. The Chinese
Chinese tourists’ behavior is so bad, even their own government has commented on it.
Vice Premier Wang Yang has criticized the “uncivilized behavior” of certain Chinese tourists, saying, “They make a terrible racket in public places, scrawl their names on tourist sites, ignore red lights when crossing the road, and spit everywhere. This damages our national image and has a terrible effect.”
He’s not wrong. Last year, a 15-year-old Chinese boy scratched “Ding Jinhao was here” into the 3,500-year-old ruins at Luxor in Egypt. Another group of tourists killed a dolphin while trying to use it as a prop in their photos. Others ate endangered sea clams while visiting the Paracel Islands, and still others forged marriage papers to get a honeymoon discount in the Maldives. One mother even let her child defecate on the floor at an airport in Taiwan. So you can see why they’re earning a bad rep.
“Overseas travel is a new luxury; Chinese who can afford it compare with each other and want to show off,” Liu Simin, a researcher with the Tourism Research Centre of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Reuters. “Many Chinese tourists are just going abroad, and are often inexperienced and unfamiliar with overseas rules and norms.” Indeed.
A German tourist behaving badly. (Photo: Stephen Mitchell/Flickr)
3. The Germans
It’s almost not their fault that some German travelers can’t seem to chill out — almost. Germans love rules. They also like to do things their way, and they want to do them speedily and do them now.
I was on the climb to La Ciudad Perdida outside of Santa Marta, Colombia, recently and there was a German we’ll call Gunther. Gunther was practically a speed walker and couldn’t understand why the strenuous trek had to be broken up into four days.
“Why can I not go to the top now? I want to walk fast and go! Why can this country not be like Germany? I pay park fees, and I walk and go!”
“Dude, Gunther, relax,” someone said. “There are still some FARC rebels around here, and someone was kidnapped a few months ago from this trail. You’re not allowed to go off on your own for a reason.”
“Yes, but I go now!”
Another group of Germans almost lost their minds when they saw a Brit smoking on that trek.
“It is a drug addiction,” one German woman sniffed to her partner.
“Disgusting!” he said in a stage whisper. “They kill themselves and us!”
“They cannot help themselves. They are just little addicts.”
Again, I’m not alone in calling out the Germans — they’ve climbed to the top of many a survey. In the LivingSocial survey, U.K. residents voted Germans as the worst-offending tourists, and they were high on Triposo’s and Real Holiday Reports’ lists too.
Don’t forget sunblock. (Photo: La Citta Vita/Flickr)
4. The British
Ever since the sun set on the British Empire, the subjects of the queen have been going out, trying to recapture the glory. They show up in former colonies, pale (not their fault — the sun never shines in the U.K.) and ready to rock.
Many get drunk, some even get belligerent, and a few undress. When they get arrested for bad behavior — like having sex on the beach in Dubai or dressing up as naughty nuns in Greece — they are incredulous. In 2012, according to a British Foreign Office study, more than 6,000 Brits ended up behind bars on holiday, often because of crimes fueled by alcohol. The study also showed that as many as 10 Brits a day ended up in the hospital on vacation.
God bless the queen!
Saudis travel in style. (Photo: Tribes of the World/Flickr)
5. The Saudis
You probably won’t run into a Saudi outside of the Middle East unless you are in a quite swanky location like New York City, St. Bart’s, St. Tropez, Aspen, Gstaad, Monaco, or … well, you get the point. Though Saudis don’t make most worst-tourists lists, they are certainly making a case for themselves.
Take this, for example: Earlier this year, would-be vacationers were understandably peeved when their previously booked (and very expensive) accommodations at Anantara’s Veli, Naladhu, and Dhigu resorts in the Maldives were reportedly canceled at the last minute. The reason? The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, decided to book three whole islands for nearly a month. And apparently Prince Abdulaziz al-Saud gets what he wants.
Though the crown prince is not your normal tourist, Saudis traveling abroad almost all seem to be part of the ginormous royal family, and many hold diplomatic passports, which can allow them to get away with unacceptable tourist behavior: If they do something bad like driving drunk or murdering someone, they often expect to get away with it. Sometimes they do.
Incidentally, even Saudis themselves seem not to love Saudi tourists. In fact, many deliberately avoid vacationing where they’ll run into their fellow countrymen, according to some travel agencies. Complaints include Saudis’ not respecting the laws of the country they are visiting and engaging in generally disruptive behavior.
So that’s my list. I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts. And, yes, I know — the French didn’t make the cut. But there’s always next year!
This article is based on a piece that originally appeared on A Broad Abroad.