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.

8 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.

  3. After traveling 11 countries, 39 cities of Europe in 100days (2 weeks to go) by train, bus, ferry and plane…..I officially hate visiting any “famous” locations. And the Tourists in those locations. In each city we have visited, I have spent hours in internet to learn about each city, language and culture. Tried so say some words even in Slovenian.
    And then I have seen “Fast Food” tourism. It was horrible and messy. Those tourists just come, take 1000s of photos in 5 minutes, always loud and then leave. Unfortunately, these are the majority people who ruins for the rest of us.

    1. I just had a look at your blog too, lovely to meet you Sourov and Vanessa. It looks like your life is a way very similar to mine and my partner’s life who I refer to here as the Polish Bear.

      There is so much to love about being a free-spirited traveller. Yet this is the side of being a traveller that really sucks. I know exactly what you mean about the fast food tourists. The people who ruin it for the more polite people. I had people jostling into me at the Golden Temple in Kyoto and putting elbows and knees into me so that they could take the perfect photo – just disgusting. Life always feels false and inauthentic in these places and I agree…the real world where people live in other countries is far more interesting than the tourist hot spots.

      Out of curiosity, seeing as you have travelled to many places, what has been the most interesting place you have been with the least amount of annoying tourists? For me it was Morocco in these out of the way towns in the desert. Take care and look forward to joining you on your blog following your adventures.

      1. Lovely to meet you both too.
        That Kyoto incident is horrible! Do you know that, there are “Keep Out” , “Private Property” or other warning signs everywhere in Santorini because Tourists are jumping on local’s houses to take that perfect photos. Mayor of Rome is going to put fences around Trevie Fountain. After hearing your stories, and learning from our experiences I look at “those” travel Instagram photos not in a good way anymore.
        About quiet place..hmm.
        As you can understand it depends on season. We are traveling during winter so some places were rather peaceful than usual.
        That said, GDANSK, Hamburg, Bratislava, Salzburg, Paros, Naxos, Ravenna, Interlaken, Lagos were not bad. Outside Europe, my wife can tell better because she has traveled more.
        I lived in Australia for 11 years. I loved Tasmania. I am from Bangladesh. But my family lives in India. You can find Darjeeling peaceful. Rajasthan is great. Too many people. But not many Tourists. Same goes for Kolkata.
        In Nepal, Pokhara is magnificent.
        We are going to permanently live in Ile De La réunion, little Hawaii of France. You will love it. Vanessa can give some more suggestion I am sure.
        We are going start our Tour d’France after our Tour d’Europe. Then we can tell more about France. For now, I can suggest Normandy.

        Anyway, thanks again for reaching out. Really looking forward to share each other’s story soon 🙂
        Safe travels and let’s talk soon.
        Sourov and Vanessa.

Leave a Reply to Content Catnip Cancel reply