Tourists: Ambassadors Abroad

Monday Author: Susanne Skinner

When you travel abroad you are a representative of your country, and your behavior—good or bad—is a reflection of who you are.

Bad behavior, no matter where you hail from, is rude.  After my recent trip I’ve concluded that it has escalated to a point where it is so blatant it deserves a blog.In fact, in a recent online poll rating the rude behavior of tourists, Travelzoo gives high honors to citizens of the United States, finding their behavior while away from home the worst overall. Other polls have given this honor to the British, Chinese, Canadians, Brazilians and Germans.  Having just returned from a trip to Edinburgh and London, I think there is enough go around and be shared by all of us.

Tourists may not realize they are ambassadors abroad but bad behavior, no matter where you hail from, is rude. After my recent trip I’ve concluded that it has escalated to a point where it is so blatant it deserves a blog.

Airport Rudeness

Let’s start with the airport. It seems nobody is able to be parted from their internet connection. Battery running low? Hog the charging stations while you text, call, post and surf. Don’t forget to take some pictures.

Need a power outlet?  Stretch out against the wall and plug in—putting your feet in the aisles and your baggage where ever it will fit. Fight delayed?  No problem, stretch out on the floor or claim two or three seats and catch some Zs. I think you’re traveling in your PJs anyway. Don’t mind me—I’m just trying to navigate the crowded aisles and gates…hopeful for a place to sit until my flight is called.

Fight delayed?  No problem, stretch out on the floor or claim two or three seats and catch some Z’s.  I think you’re traveling in your pj’s anyway.  Don’t mind me – I’m just trying to navigate the crowded aisles and gates…hopeful for a place to sit until my flight is called.

And speaking of sitting, once you’ve finished that pizza just put the box on the empty seat next to you—you know—it’s the one that doesn’t have your backpack, pillow and stuffed giraffe on it.

Despite the row and seat printed on your boarding pass I think it’s perfectly acceptable to jump ahead of those of us waiting patiently for our boarding call.  Perhaps the flight attendant will be too tired to notice and once you’re on board you can stuff the overhead compartment with bags the laws of physics tell you will not fit. Keep trying—you can do it. When you spring the hinge we won’t be able to take off until the ground crew can repair it.

Everybody Does It

When did behaving rudely while on vacation become acceptable?  Every country seems to export rude tourists. These are people who would never exhibit these behaviors in public places in their home countries, but put a vacation sticker on it and all bets are off.

As someone who travels frequently for business as well as pleasure I am aware of how I am perceived. I did not grow up in the United States, and called many foreign cities and countries home before settling in New England. I know that once I leave Americas shores I am a foreigner but I’m reluctant to call myself a tourist since that seems to be getting such a bad rap—and deservedly so.

Small things can be overlooked, or at least given some latitude. I don’t want to be that person who gets annoyed every time someone with a backpack and a camera stands next to me. I’m talking about offenses I’ve never seen before, the perpetrators unconcerned that their actions are blatantly rude, inappropriate and often a violation of clearly stated rules.

My conclusion:  they don’t care.

What Does Rude Look Like?

Here are the top five from my recent trip:

  • A couple came into a restaurant and sat across from us. She immediately opened her bag, took out a brush and began styling her hair. Then she took out a bottle of perfume and sprayed herself—heavily.
  • While waiting in line to see the inside of an 11th century chapel that held a maximum of 20 people the guide told us there were four benches where one could sit for a moment. The line moved at a snail’s pace and when we finally got inside we knew why—all four benches were filled with young women from an Asian tour group texting on their phones.
  • Before taking an underground tour in Edinburgh the guide stated quite clearly there was no photography or filming allowed. That seemed to apply to everyone except the people surreptitiously taking photos and videos with their iPhones.
  • 	Tourists with selfie sticks were everywhere.  The owners photograph themselves in front of just about everything, often without any real knowledge of where they are.  On tours, they ignored the guide, rushing to get one more photo in before we moved on.  Selfie sticks are just plain annoying.Tourists with selfie sticks were everywhere. The owners photograph themselves in front of just about everything, often without any real knowledge of where they are. On tours, they ignored the guide, rushing to get one more photo in before we moved on. Selfie sticks are just plain annoying.
  • No Smoking. This doesn’t seem to mean a thing to the people who are smoking.

We are all Foreign to Someone

I am relieved to say that none of the above offenders were my US comrades but the Ugly American is alive and well on foreign shores. Recreating America while abroad seems to be the manifesto of many American tourists. Pointing out customs they think are strange or criticizing food, clothing and even foreign currency are all things I have seen and heard.

White sneakers, fanny packs (yes, still in use), baseball hats and shorts readily identify Americans, as do their loud voices and excessive patriotism. Yoga and sweat pants and T-shirts with questionable text and graphics abound, screaming out Americano. Complaining that you can’t find a Dunkin’ Donuts or KFC also outs you pretty quickly. All of these stereotypes are embarrassingly true.

There’s something in all of us that fears the differences foreign travel brings. It’s hard to arrive in a strange country and immediately grasp your surroundings and the customs of the people who live there. But rude behavior, no matter where you are, is unacceptable. Overcoming the bad tourist stereotype is pretty simple…if you are not in America, you are the foreigner. Behave accordingly.  Let’s show them how it’s done by being ambassadors for and from our country.

3 thoughts on “Tourists: Ambassadors Abroad

  1. cool post. I stumbled upon your article and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog post. After all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  2. I have to admit bafflement. Why go overseas if you just want to have it be “America away from home”?

    Though… many years ago, on my last trip in Italy, I was subjected to a tirade of “Americans this” and “Americans that” and how awful America is on any number of fronts… to which I replied “I’m sorry, what part of Europe are you from? The part whose ass America saved, or the part whose ass America kicked?”

  3. I think the airlines are responsible for some of the airport rudeness. They treat their customers so badly that people pick up on the bad behavior and give it back. It’s like the “broken windows” theory of policing only in reverse.

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