Thursday, July 23, 2009

The World's Worst Tourists

As we get ready for our trip to Germany to celebrate the 90th birthday of Agnes's father, I've been observing the hordes of tourists that descend upon Washington, DC, at this time every year. I'm looking for pointers on how not to be a tourist. Some of the reasons tourists are hated in DC include:

Jaywalking ...

Insistence on standing on the left side of the Metro escalators, blocking those of us who are in a hurry to catch a train; and,

Reaching the top or bottom of an escalator and immediately stopping to get their bearings, so that the still-moving escalators roll you right into them.

Are Americans the same when we travel outside the country? Do we do stupid touristy things? Is the "Ugly American" still a valid stereotype?

Maybe not. At least, maybe not completely.

According to this article from the French news agency AFP which reported the results of a study of the global hotel industry, the French are the world's worst tourists. They are described as rude, penny-pinching, and terrible at foreign languages. At the other end of the spectrum, Japanese are characterized as clean and tidy, polite, quiet and uncomplaining; along with the Japanese, Canadians are reported to be the least likely to complain loudly when things don't go right or meet their expectations. Sharing the bottom rung of the yucky tourist ladder with the French are Greeks and Spaniards. The French did score some positive points, however, for elegance (a category in which they placed third), discretion, and cleanliness.

British tourists took second place for their overall behavior, politeness, quietness and (oddly enough) elegance, taking a surprise second place in dress sense only to the Italians.

We so-called Ugly Americans were rated as more likely than the French to try to speak the local language (the French don't really recognize the existence of a language other than French, anyhow), and we tend to be the most generous tippers. On the other hand, Americans are said to be the least tidy, the loudest, the worst complainers, and the most badly dressed.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me. So far, here's how I think I stack up:

Speak the local language - yes.

Quiet and polite - well, generally yes, although I'm less likely to suffer fools gladly than I used to be.

Tip generously - yes, with appropriate guidance from Agnes.

Don't dress like a garish American tourist - Agnes makes sure of that.

Don't stick my gum on walls or kiss inanimate objects (read more here) - check.

Looks like I'm ready. We leave on Tuesday...I'll let you know how it comes out.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Amanda said...

From what you've told us about your German, it sounds like you won't stand out as a tourist at all.

The thing I noticed about American tourists is that in general, they smile a lot. BIG SMILES....goes with the loudness I guess.

anOCgirl said...

you know, when i travel, i honestly do my best to avoid looking by a tourist. how do i do this? by conducting extensive research about the travel destination before going there. i would hate to act like a dc tourist in some other city because i know how tourists are viewed here and the last thing i want to be is a nuisance to the locals.

heck, i'm so self-conscious about looking like a tourist that i only carry pocket maps with me and i sneakily take a glance at them when i need to.

also, i avoid the fanny pack :)

Melissa B. said...

We cut across 15th street by the Washington Monument the other day. Tourists were dashing to and fro, and we almost hit a couple. It's a game of chicken we often play with the kind folks from Ohio and Kansas. We've never hit anyone...but we've come close. Enjoy your trip to Germany!

Leslie David said...

Have a great time and take lots of pictures (I know you will). So I won't see you at the studio until 8/14? Will you keep up the blog while on your trip or will we have to wait until you get back?

As for looking like an American, I must have blended in OK in Paris when a woman came up to me on the streets and started speaking French to me. I don't speak French. I also don't speak Catalan and it's been over 30 years since I've tried to speak Spanish and over 45 years since I spoke Portuguese, so I have a phrase book and Portuguese dictionary to take with me on the trip, which should be fun as I puzzle out exactly which bus and which train to get on while traveling. Maybe if I'm well dressed but looking puzzled someone will help me out and OC's right--a big smile goes a long way.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

The British like to shout slowly if someone doesn't understand them.

Mike said...

"Don't dress like a garish American tourist"

So you're not going to take your Borat outfit along?