Monday, July 07, 2008

A Great Birthday Present from Time Magazine

Today is my birthday! And this morning I found an awesome article by Time Magazine about the most obnoxious tourists in the world. Guess what? Americans are no longer the most obnoxious tourists in the world! 

Cue the fireworks. 

According to the article, a non-scientific poll conducted by Expedia says that the French are the most obnoxious tourists in the world. The survey was given to 4000 hoteliers in France, the UK, the US, Germany, Italy, France, and Canada. Hotel workers see it all, have to deal with checking in clients, checking them out, dealing with room service, with payment issues, and rock star destruction. Here are the crimes committed by French tourists the world over: 
Will that move them to improve behavior the poll characterized as impolite, prone to loud carping and inattentive to local customs? If so, that's just the start: the study also describes the voyageur fran├žais as often unwilling or unable to communicate in foreign languages, and particularly disinclined to spending money when they don't have to — including on those non compris tips. 
Wow. "Unwilling or unable to communicate in foreign languages?" That shocked me. I always felt that as a matter of respect you should do as the Romans. After all, if I wanted to do things the same way as I do them at home, I'd have stayed home and save my money. When I was in England, I did my best to immerse myself in the culture. I wasn't completely successful because I had 20 years of being American behind me. But I mad the effort, and that's what is important. I may not know French really well (despite years of French language classes in high school and college), but I'd make an effort to je voudrais un coca at the McDo.  The same thing goes for people visiting different regions of the same country--I'm going to try the Philly cheese steak in Philly, I'm going to eat good Italian food in the Northeast, and I'm going to eat the barbecue in Texas. 
American tourists fared well in some surprising ways: despite being notoriously language-limited, for example, they top the list of tourists credited with trying to speak local languages the most, with the French, Chinese, Japanese, Italians and Russians coming in last in the local language rankings.
See? We try to speak the languages! And with my experience with teenagers, they love language--they just hate the grammar. Who wants to know how to spell? They want to know how to converse, what foods to ask for and, most importantly, what curse words to use.  My friend Anna came to talk to my students a few years ago and they wanted to know how to spell their names in Russian and ask simple questions. 

So, where's the good news for Americans? Where do we rank in the hotelier survey? 
Over all, French travelers landed 19th out of 21 nations worldwide, far behind the first-place Japanese, considered most polite, quiet and tidy. Following the Japanese as most-liked tourists were the Germans, British and Canadians. Americans finished in 11th place alongside the Thais.
Woo-hoo! We're middle of the pack! Take that, mediocrity! The Japanese bit didn't surprise me, though I would have thought the non-offensive Canadians would have rated hire than the British, though both are completely agreeable. 

Of course, this does nothing to dispel the "stupid American" myth, which irritate me to no end when I was in the UK. And it wasn't the Brits that said that to me (for the most part). One girl from Bulgaria said that I "was the smartest American" she had ever met. 

I was the second American she met. And the first didn't really count because she carried passports of three countries and grew up in Germany. Yeah, that's a scientific poll. 

So, perhaps our reputation is improving. Yeah, we're Puritanical and repressed, but we're also so wonderfully average. We'll never be as nice as the Japanese, but at least we're eight whole spots above the French. 

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