Monday, July 27, 2009

Toursts! Behaving Normally

“Blend in,” they say. “Don’t dress, act or look like a tourist.” Travel agents, guide books and even the government are constantly harping on ways for people to get along overseas. In this first of a six-part series on the different ways tourists stick out no matter what, Rule #1 is never expect your daily routine to be the rule of thumb anywhere other than your own home town, even in your own country.

Everybody is a tourist when they leave home but I kind of feel that nobody ever acts like a tourist. Rather, they simply act like they’re at home and then get confused when overseas brochures describe a destination as a “home away from home” or encouraging tourists to “make themselves at home.” That said, the rude foreigner shoving a camera in someone’s face and forcing them to pose is a bit much but what, or rather who, makes a rude tourist?

"Time" magazine reported on a survey conducted by Expedia recently to determine which country could claim the worst behaved citizens abroad. This time around it was the French who were called out for the third year in a row by 4,000 hoteliers around the world for being cheap, arrogant and not willing or able to speak the host language.

The French! Japan, a culture world-famous for manners and saving face, whose people wouldn’t dream of embarrassing themselves as guests or hosts, ranked the best.

Yahoo! picked up the story where it reported that the survey further suggests that perhaps the problem is the French, some 85-90% of them, rarely leave home. Home? That’s just nuts.

Air France flies just about everywhere on the planet and I’m pretty sure not just for foreigners. Further, if only 10-15% of the population flew, how do you justify the size of Air France's global network on the less than 10 million French that do travel?!

The survey’s own findings also show that the average Frenchman gets 37 days of vacation yet budgets his funds to cover all of those days. The average American, on the other hand, barely uses all of his 14 days but throws money around big time when he does. With 37 days and a global airline at their disposal it appears that the French travel more than the survey gives them credit for. How else could they be so memorable?

Why the French get a bad rap seems easy to see. Everybody wants to go to France, the number one tourist destination in the world with over 90 million visitors a year. When the French do go abroad they probably travel most often to places where the language and customs are exactly the same as they are back home. "Home." There's that word again!

French influence touches every corner and climate of the planet: Caribbean colonies, Quebec, from Cote d’Ivoire and Morocco in Africa to Lebanon, over to Vietnam and Laos and across the Pacific to New Caledonia and Tahiti. All over the world tips are automatically included in the bill, there is a high service culture and everyone speaks the language. Even southern Louisianans know how to cuss in Creole, right?

The comeuppance is that even with the convenience of a former empire the French apparently need to get out a little more and leave their comfort zone at home. As do we all.

Gotta go!

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