What makes a bad tourist? It's a cultural thing!

What makes a bad tourist? It’s a cultural thing!

I recently read an article on a great site I follow by Australian photographer Leanne Cole. She talked about why going to New Zealand as a tourist became an unexpectedly stressful experience for her. This was because of the behaviour of other tourists.

Everywhere in the world you can encounter people who behave badly, but some cultures tend to accept rude and obnoxious behaviour in public more than other cultures. These people generally end up making bad tourists when they visit abroad.

I should mention at this point that I’m not perfect! As a young person in my late teens I was guilty of some obnoxious behaviour while overseas, I’m sure. A result of being young, going on pub crawls and being always ready to party in Shanghai. But with age comes (hopefully a bit of) wisdom.

It made me ponder though, how do we become good tourists and not be labelled as annoying assholes while overseas?  Here’s what I think on it.

 What makes a good tourist?

  • Someone who attempts to learn at least a few words in the native language in a country in order to communicate. Learning how to say: hello, bye, thank you, excuse me can make your time in a place easier and also shows respect to the people in the country you visit.
  • Someone who embraces a country’s cultural and social norms and goes with the flow in terms of what’s important and the unspoken social rules there.
  • Someone who takes the time to learn the cultural values of a country and what’s important to people there, and then implements the same to fit in seamlessly. The ‘when in Rome…”principle.
  • Someone who is patient and will patiently wait in lines at tourist attractions without loudly moaning, pushing in or being obnoxious.

What makes a bad tourist?

  • Someone who sees a new country through the lens of their own country and imposes their own viewpoints and perspectives on a new place, in an arrogant way.
  • Someone who is rude, loud, obnoxious and demanding towards local travel operators, hoteliers, taxi drivers, etc.  
  • Someone who is not patient or kind to locals or people they meet.

Why? It’s a cultural thing

Although it’s very easy and possible to typecast people from specific countries as being (in general) bad tourists. I have neatly avoided that here. It’s a cultural thing though, for sure.

Respect starts in one’s home country is embedded in every part of a society. If a culture has a strong historical tradition of formality and respect for elders and people in high positions like bosses, parents etc – what happens is that people (for better or worse) will follow rules and customs of expected behaviour. This makes a society orderly and tourists from these countries are generally more well behaved, respectful and considerate of others. Visiting countries like this where people know how to behave is an easy, trouble-free experience. I am thinking of two places like this – Poland and Japan.  It’s no coincidence that they are my two favourite places. What do you think? Does this theory bear weight or am I talking bullshit? Let me know what you think and if you can think of other examples, both good and bad write in the comments below.


5 thoughts on “What makes a bad tourist? It’s a cultural thing!

  1. Tourists, in general, are a bad thing. If not for the economic benefits who in their right mind would encourage them?

    A major criticism of tourists might be that many of them, in their own way, are racists who somehow expose their own racism in their over zealous attempts to hide it.

    It is hard to criticise tourists, on the other hand, without sounding racist yourself (or, at least, culturally biased) because they do seem to follow patterns consistent with their country of origin.

    Australians are loud, insensitive and frequently drunk. The English still think they own everything and tend to overdress (except on the beach where they are prone to do the opposite). Americans dress as if in a deliberate attempt to clash with everything in sight and they are constantly complaining about the food (“where can we get some American food?”). What IS American food, anyway? The Japanese are annoying because they don’t seem to be on a holiday at all but on some sort of high-speed school photography excursion. Mainland Chinese tourists are just horrific. And rich. The Germans are all right, I suppose, but one always suspects that there may be some weird sexual motivation behind their travels. The list goes on ….

    The strange thing is that all these people are just lovely in their own country.

    So most of us should probably just stay at home.

    1. Haha! Yes I agree with you on all counts. The temptation of what lies over the next hill or sea is too strong though for many people, myself included. Being aware of these no-nos makes it easier to not be one of the obnoxious ones at least. Thanks for getting in touch here. I’ve been to your website love your poetry and I’ve got a lot more to catch up on there.

      1. You are very kind.
        And don’t get me wrong – I have spent my whole life travelling and my behaviour has not always been perfect.

        I try not to look like a tourist but frequently fail.

  2. Every tourist takes their cultural baggage with them – which is usually fine. Poorly behaved Individuals can sometimes amplify cultural differences in a seriously off putting way.

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