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Good and Bad Tourists: It’s your call
The July 2008 issue of Time Magazine published a poll declaring the French to be the worst tourists among all travelers of the 21 countries they considered, putting them behind the only travelers from India and the Chinese.
Will this survey cause the millions of French travelers visiting destinations across the globe to rethink their actions? The French are everywhere because thety love to travel, have lots of vacation and take package deals. I mean, look at this way: If you live in New York and want to work on your French, all you have to do is head to Bloomingdales
The poll is brutal in characterizing the French as impolite, prone to loud carping and inattentive to local customs. If so, that's just the start: the study also describes the voyageur français as often unwilling or unable to communicate in foreign languages, and particularly disinclined to spend their abundant and powerful euros when they absolutely don’t have to—in other words, pretending not to know that tips are not included in the restaurant check.
French travelers ranked 19th out of 21 nations that Time rated. The Japanese, considered the most polite, quiet and tidy, came in first. Following the Japanese as most-liked tourists were the Germans, British and Canadians. Americans finished in 11th place tied with people from Thailand.
A poll is a poll is a poll, but you wonder how you sort this out culturally—Japanese, Germans, Britons, and Canadians leading the pack. The last two might have a lot in common, but the Japanese and the Germans—the tea ceremony people and the people who love singing in beer halls—winning and placing? And Americans and Thais in a dead heat?
The survey was worldwide taken from what looks like a broad sampling. Four thousand people in the hospitality industry were asked to rank tourists using the following criteria: general attitude, politeness, tendency to complain, willingness to speak local languages, interest in sampling local cuisine, willingness to spend money, generosity, cleanliness, discretion and elegance. Many replies simply conformed to long-established reputations: Italians, for example, were described as the best-dressed tourists. The French were not far behind.
Fair enough. But four thousand poll respondents in an industry as broad, wide and deep as travel and hospitality is a little thinner than we would like to see.
Having lived in France for twenty years, I’m fully aware the French might be perceived as brusque with one another. But I wondered how the French might be seeing themselves, so I conducted a poll of my own. Maybe it’s not so surprising that the French were very critical of one another about their travel manners.
Laurence de Bure admits she agrees. “I don’t know about their being the worst, but I normally stay away from the French when I travel. My brother who’s a Parisian travel agent says avoid the French when traveling because they tend to be negative. Their inability to maintain open minds make it difficult for them to adapt or accept other cultures. They tend to complain and compare everything to France and close their eyes. They can take the pleasure away from your travels.”
Parisian hotelier Thierry Dechaux said, “I don’t know if the French are the least desirable tourists. I do know they tend to complain about the minute details rather than calling attention to something that may not be to their liking. As a result, the staff may be more accommodating. But there is no good or bad tourist. We only have guests who expect value for the money they’re spending. As professionals, we hope guests will respect our staff and our local culture, and the French don’t tend to be the best when it comes to that whether they’re in France or traveling elsewhere.”
One of the problems, of course, may be that traveling in packs brings out the worst in everyone. Large groups of any nationality can be obnoxious, since whining ringleaders can dominate the whole. The French are generally no different, although their generally far higher standards for cuisine and antiquities can lead them to publicly express comparisons that may not be ideal in a foreign environment.
David K. Gibson, a journalist who lives in Aspen, has a different perspective. “I suppose it depends on what your criteria are. I live in a tourist town, and the French who come here seem polite in town and excited on the ski slopes. I don't hear complaints about the French. The stereotypes I do hear. Russians are rude and entitled, and too rich for their own good. Germans are too loud, in voice and dress. Australians are friendly but don't tip. And Texans are all of the above.”
And finally, Susie Lavenson, senior partner of a consulting firm that advises clients in the hospitality and tourism industry said, “We're all hosts in our own countries. If hospitality is welcoming and thoughtful, the recipient of that hospitality is going to be grateful and personable, whether he's French or American. That's a universal truth. Tourists are travelers, hungry for food, shelter and recognition. They're in a foreign land. It's not too much to ask hosts to behave graciously... particularly if they're in the hospitality industry. If they're not in that industry, then good manners and human kindness should fill the gaps. Everything else is just trimmings.”
Gary Clarke, an executive in business development says, “In my travels, I have witnessed ugliness from people of all walks of life, from every corner of the world. Generalizations certainly apply — but parochially rooted small-mindedness is an affliction made worse, not better, with money and transport.”
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