The Ugly [insert nationality here]

We all know the stereotype of the Ugly American.  But are Americans the only ones who are badly behaved when they travel abroad?  Are there other “ugly” nationalities out there?  Are Americans simply more well-known for their bad behaviour and, therefore, take all the attention away from others?

I’m inclined to believe that most nations are aware of how their countrymen behave while abroad.  My British friend has often mentioned the stereotypical British tourist who demands his fish and chips cooked just so.  While on holiday in Britain, one woman mentioned the bad behaviour of Russians while abroad.  My Russian friends agreed with this and said that many are badly behaved while on holiday.

I came across an article on the bad behaviour of Chinese tourists abroad as well as Russians and the British.  I’m sure a thorough search could bring up similar reports on numerous other nationalities.

But why does such “ugliness” occur?  Is it really a matter of people being rude and acting inappropriately?  Or is it a simple matter of two cultures coming together and clashing?  In some instances, tourists are just unaware of local laws and customs.  This can lead to being arrested for violating the rules.  In some places, there are rules against things that we take for granted or never think could possibly be illegal.

This isn’t to say that some people aren’t inconsiderate, ignorant and ill behaved.  But more often than not it seems that people get bad reputations for doing things that come naturally to them when they’re at home.  In the article on Russians, the author comments that Russians never say “sorry” when they bump into you, for example.  The author acknowledges that this happens in Russia and is part of Russian culture and is then carried over when Russians go abroad.  The assumption here is that people should change their behaviour when they travel and adapt it to the host country.  This idea in and of itself reflects our cultural beliefs and notions about how to treat people.  Perhaps not all cultures share our ideas about how to behave while abroad.  After all, where is it written that we have to adapt to them, some might wonder.

So the question remains.  Are tourists really being rude or are they just ignorant of other cultures and various cultural rules?  If the latter is the case, can we really blame them?  International executives are not always aware of the cultural rules of the place they’re doing business.  So should we really expect such specialized knowledge of the average tourist who may barely be able to afford their holiday, let alone a crash course in intercultural communication?  It’s food for thought, and I’d love to hear yours!

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2 Responses to The Ugly [insert nationality here]

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I believe there are “ugly” people is all cultural groups – they are rude and out of step at home as well as when they travel. These people stand out in all crowds and give their culture a bad name.

    As students staying in Youth Hostels in Europe (in 1960s) – our first holiday abroad – my friend and I met an American student and we all explored together. She was embarrassed and hiding from some loud Americans while we were hiding from some embarrassing Brits. We all learned that the loud, obnoxious few from our home countries resulted in stereotypes their fellow country persons are labelled with.

    I think that its important to separate personality from cultural norms and remember that a few inconsiderate tourists do not represent all their fellow citizens and cultural norms.

    • JMS says:

      I couldn’t agree more and I’ve been in that situation before, hiding from the loud Americans. I’ve had mostly positive experiences abroad though and when people meet me there may be an initial judgment based on my nationality but once they got to know me, friendships were solidified based on personality compatibility.

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