Bad tourists in the globalised world

Updated: 2016-08-18 09:37

By Mike Cormack(

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Bad tourists in the globalised world

Participants at a campaign calling for civilized travel. [Photo provided to China Daily] 

Yet another video has gone viral in which Chinese tourists have been shown up in a bad light. This time, it’s of a Chinese tour lady operator on a Thai beach, excoriating the behaviour of a tourist from Jiangsu after she demanded to be able to take a branch from a lover’s beach back to China. In salty language, the tour operator cursed the Jiangsu tourist after she claimed she had visited over twenty countries and had always been able to do as she liked. The tour operator was deeply unimpressed, saying that the idea that anyone could do as they liked led to bad behaviour throughout the China. Should parents just let children do what they wanted, she asked, even if it upset others?

The video garnered substantial praise as well prompting renewed discussion of the “bad China tourist” phenomenon. As a British person I know what its like for one’s compatriots to be an embarrassment. After all, the “Brit abroad” combines numerous unpleasant stereotypes: the football lager lout; the drunken hen and stag parties; the parochial suspicion of anything too foreign, with a total inability to speak anything other than English; the flaming skin from overenthusiastic sunbathing; and the drunkenness and rudeness to locals. Probably the football hooligans are the worst, with so many dreadful examples. During the football European Championships in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2000, they rioted in Brussels and Charleroi, chanting “If it wasn't for the English, you'd be Krauts!”(One can only imagine the disgust the men who had actually fought in the Second World War would feel, had they been able to see them.)There was more trouble at the World Cup in Germany, in 2006, and at this summer’s European Championships in France, with fighting and drunken disorderliness. Then there are fine cities like Tallinn, Budapest, Prague and Dublin, swamped with hen and stag parties, volubly drunk and parading with that peculiar aggressive entitlement that weddings provoke. Spanish beach resorts like Majorca, Magaluf and the Costa Brava too have their influxes of the British tourist, so much so that they have areas masquerading as a Little Britain, with endemic fish and chip shops and British-style pubs. The Brit abroad has a poor reputation for the forty years since cheap air travel made holidays abroad accessible to all, and this doesn’t look like ending any time soon.

The reasons for Brits abroad behaving so badly are, when you look closely, often the same as for bad China tourists. With Britain an island and China so large and until recently closed off from the rest of the world, many have little substantial experience of foreigners, in comparison to Western Europe, say, where the borders of France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxemburg are at most 200km apart. Both countries are former hegemonic powers, with long, proud histories. Both countries also saw themselves as the centre of the world, with Britain positioning the Greenwich Meridian through London and China styling itself as the Middle Kingdom. So there might be a certain insular self-importance in both countries that seems to come out towards their neighbors. (Of course, every place has its own vanities and flaws. Paris might be considereda romantic city but Parisians are famously superior, and the Seattle Freeze is such a renowned phenomenon that it has its own Wikipedia page.)

This isn’t to say that every Brit or Chinese person will behave badly when abroad. The minority who embarrass themselves are, however, captured on smartphone and social media as never before. But it’s worth remembering that the number of Chinese studying abroad has boomed, from 295,000 in 2010 to 523,700 in 2015, with growth averaging around 19% for the past four decades. Think about how much thesestudents are absorbing from their host nation, and how this social knowledge is making its way back to China. This should give us hope. We might evenbe more likelyin the future to read Chinese newspapers tutting sententiously about the poor conduct of the British tourist abroad.

The author is a British freelance writer who has been writing on China since 2008. He blogs at