Worst travellers

Is there anything worse than the Brits abroad? Well people working in the tourism industry seem to think so… 

It only takes a few visions of boozed-up stag parties laying siege to an Eastern European city in-between paintball and prostitutes to form an impression that British tourists are the worst in the world.

Then there are those who head to the Spanish costas to eat steak and chips every night, drinking solely in bars named after footballers. Or the hapless fools being pulled out of the sea in Bali or Sydney because they’ve failed to heed the warnings about the rip. Throw in the usual refusal to learn a single word of foreign languages, and it’s easy to understand why the British are regularly regarded as terrible travellers.

However, I’ve found that this reputation tends to be one held almost exclusively amongst British people. One of my bad habits when I’m abroad is asking tour guides or hotel workers which nationalities they find the most objectionable tourists. I know I shouldn’t and that there’s probably an equal ratios of horror shows from each nationality. Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to hear the responses.

Sometimes you ask, and they um and ah about it – meaning that no nationality in particular stands out as especially bad. Other times they instantly launch into a rant about one nationality. What’s curious is that they never pick the British as the worst offenders. This may be because I’m British and they don’t want to offend me, but half the time they think I’m Australian and the British still never come top of the list.

This is a game that throws up some peculiar localised irregularities. Ask in Bali, and the Australians will come out on top by a long chalk. In Estonia, they’ll pick the Finns. In Hong Kong, it’ll be the mainland Chinese.

But, rightly or wrongly, three nationalities come up time and time again. The Russians, it seems, have developed a worldwide reputation for brash boorishness, taking over resorts, drunkenness and generally being rather unpleasant to everyone they encounter.

Israelis seem to do well on the obnoxiousometer too. Particularly young, male Israelis who have just finished military service.  Some guesthouses in Thailand operate a “no Israelis” policy after one too many tales of trashed rooms, leaving without paying and general looking down upon the world rudeness.

Then there are the Indians who, fairly or not, have a reputation for haggling unreasonably over the price of everything, turning up really late then expecting everyone to wait for them and refusing to walk anywhere. The latter can be partly attributed to a tendency to travel in large family groups – it can be about sparing grandmother’s legs as much as laziness or expecting to be chauffeured.

Not everyone from every country is the same, of course. But people from different countries do tend to have some fairly common foibles. Think the Germans with towels on the sunbeds and nudity, the Spanish turning up in the most bizarre places in summer because they’re relatively cold, the Canadians obsessively sporting maple leaf badges and Arabs requiring what we’d see as an unusual degree of privacy.

The British have such not-quite-across-the-board foibles too – drunkenness and appalling language skills being most prominent. But such British traits, from my experience, are rarely seen as the worst.