Passenger Shaming: Why other travellers hate you
How many times have you heard people talking about passenger shaming? I remember those times prior to my travels, enjoying my coffee in a far too hipster chain for my own good, listening to a conversation between a petite girl in her 20s and a bearded dude in his early 30s. They were talking about their long haul to Australia and how they hated the long queues, the annoying child kicking the seat, the unorganised group, the too loud American traveller who ruined their supper. They were berating the rude Chinese travellers as if it's perfectly normal. Is that not racist, I'm asking myself?
All I could think was, jeez, calm down, travelling is a privilege and if you don't like it, better to stay at home. However, the more I travelled, the more I became utterly shocked to see how many tourists behave so badly. I startd to agree with the Aussie couple. It took me 5 years of travelling around to realise that passenger shaming became part of my daily routine too.
Before you jump to my throat (you will have your chance in the comments section below), let me tell you that I am not some arrogant traveller who lives in a privileged bubble. I am not some rich, spoiled brat, who disregards people. I am a legally educated, who worked really hard to afford to travel the world. I am the quiet person on the plane, the girl who respects your space and the person who will smile back if you politely ask me something. I adhere to cultures and traditions and I absolutely won't spit on your restaurant's floor, nor push you with my elbows. I don't expect you to change your ways, I just expect you to be an educated individual, capable of complex thought who simply takes others around into consideration... unless you want to be part of the passenger shaming movement that is.
"Being considerate of others will take you and your children further in life than any college or professional degree.”
Marian Wright Edelman
So what do we hate about the rude traveller that we simply can't just ignore no longer?
The superficial problem
People have absolutely no disregards for others around them. Simply put, people don't think much beyond their basic instincts and needs. This is a rather bold accusation, I appreciate it, but I will explain a bit more about the 'cause' for this a little later in this article. Travelling is fun, as long as it takes you out of the comfort zone, right? Well, I agree, as long as there is still some comfort left in there for me. I love meeting new people, socialising with fellow travellers, learning their story. I have no interest in sharing my seat with a pair of stinky feet, listening to the sound of someone's loud conversation, or fighting to stretch in the extra legroom space I purchased whilst some crazy person is doing yoga. We are all forced to travel together, so why can't we all be... Japanese about it?
Kris from Nomad By Trade
"I can't stand people who think they're the only ones trying to enjoy scenery and attractions. They're the ones that push their way to the front to take the perfect picture or block a crowd's view while obliviously checking their phones. The worst I've ever seen was a woman we came across in Iceland. We walked the 4km out to see the famous plane crash wreckage and found her there yelling at other tourists to step back from it so the guy she was with could take a picture with the drone they were flying. I was so stunned that anyone would be so obnoxious that I couldn't even find the words to sass back at her. It's been over a month since that encounter, and I'm still furious about it.
I hate making generalisations like this, but it's usually fellow Americans that annoy me the most when I'm overseas. There have been several times when I've pretended to be Canadian since my Midwestern accent fits reasonably well. If I had to pick another nationality, I'd go with the Brazilian tour groups that descend on Disney parks in Orlando every year, though I'm pretty sure their obnoxious behaviour has more to do with the fact that they're unsupervised teenagers in a foreign country than anything related to being Brazilian." (You can follow Kris on Facebook & Instagram)
Danielle from WorldSmith
"Travel bloggers like to say everyone can and should travel. Sorry fam, but it's just not true. Travel takes a particular set of skills, including patience, a willingness to roll with the punches, and just plain common sense. Case in point: While planning a trip to Greece, I got sucked into a travel safety forum online and stumbled across the most hysterical all-caps post about how dangerous Santorini is. (Just in case you've never been, Santorini is hands down one of the safest destinations I have ever seen.) Apparently, this cruise ship passenger was very upset that there was poop on the Old Donkey Road in Fira, and if you weren't careful, you could slip and fall. She dubbed the island the most dangerous place in the world over this grave offence. I couldn't help but laugh out loud. This is still one of the most ridiculous travel complaints I've ever heard. If you think donkeys don't shit, just stay home! " (You can follow Danielle on Facebook & Instagram)
Well, despite this poop situation, I can't help but agree with both Kris and Danielle. Plain common sense should be exercised at all times. Children should be educated or at least properly supervised by their parents. I, for example, get seriously frustrated with people who stop in the middle of the road to have a chat, check their maps or look at a shop. In Japan, there is this saying that 'Only Gods walk in the middle of the road'. So for the sake of it, just move aside, and let the traffic of pedestrians flow. Thank you.
"If there is one kind of traveller that I can't stand, that's the voluntourist. I like to think that volunteering should only be done for a cause, whether that is helping local communities, animal shelters, development projects, refugees, etc. through the hands of a good non-governmental or international organisation. However, voluntourists generally end up surrendering their time to local and - often - international business who profit from their efforts, such as hostels.
Whilst thinking that travellers are all privileged people who are upset because people don't respect the law or are too load, there are also serious problems which travellers bring with them."
Claudia from My Adventures Across the World continues saying that:
"Voluntourists are usually young-ish backpackers from Western, developed countries, though there also are some that have long passed the 30-year-old threshold, and they typically work in exchange for a bed and - at most - one meal per day. In doing so, they are indirectly having a negative impact on the local communities because, by accepting not to be paid for a job that should be paid, they are not allowing a local (in a developing country) to actually get a paycheck from that job and as such supporting his or her family." (You can follow Claudia on Facebook & Instagram)
Alex from Lost With Purpose has a serious problem with those who need to respect our beautiful Earth and help maintain a clean environment for our generations to come. Can you blame her?
"Indians, I’m looking at you.
I see you visiting sights and strolling through parks, casually tossing aside your empty bottles and crinkled chips bags. You may think nothing of dropping paan wrappers in the palaces of Rajasthan, or peeing in ancient temples in Maharashtra, or dumping three day’s worth of fast food leftovers in the forests of Kerala… but I do, and I know I’m not alone. Your disgusting habits are further destroying your already disastrous country, and they’re earning you a first place spot on my list of the world’s worst travellers.
The cherry on top? I still have to pay 10 times as much as you to be a tourist in your country, even though I actually know how to use a trash bin."
(You can follow Alex on Facebook & Instagram)
I was wondering when someone is going to pick on the trendy beg-packers who made the whole travelling community so angry. Naturally, Jordan from Inspired By Maps has something to tell us about it:
"Undoubtedly one of the world’s worst travellers is a new breed - the ‘beg-packers’. You know the sort right? People who feel so entitles to travel they are willing to beg on the streets of third world countries - taking cash out of the local economy and away from the people who need it most in order to drink their way around Asia. This group also includes those who busk or sell shitty goods on the street - You might be acceptable at home but it is 100% - without exceptions - not OK in developing countries where people still struggle for clean water and a roof over their head. I’m also going to lump in here people who crowd-fund back home in order to fund their journey of ‘self-discovery’, again taking money away from far more needy causes than their next overpriced mojito at a Seminyak beach-bar. Travel has the ability to change the world for the better and is a privilege that those of us in the global west are lucky enough to enjoy. Beg-packers are simultaneous destroying both those concept and need to be stopped."
(You can follow Jordan on Facebook & Instagram)
Cris from Looknwalk scolds her fellow Romanian travellers
"My fellow Romanians have been part of many amusing and annoying things that have happened while travelling.
The worst, though, were the extremely loud travellers in Vienna at Prater. You cannot visit Vienna and not go to the amusement park. I am not a major fan of rides but the ferries wheel attracted me. And so did those funny things you can stick your head into and take photos. And that’s exactly where this happened. Quite a lot of people were screaming and taking over the place as we were approaching. Recognised the language – Romanian- and debated what the heck to do. Ended up using a bit of a foul language but it got the point across and eventually, they moved away and allowed us to take photos, too."
(You can follow Cris on Facebook & Twitter)
Danni from Live in 10 Countries wrote
"The worst world travellers I've encountered would have to be those who spit and snort phlegm loudly in public. It's hard not to be disgusted, and isn't confined to a few individuals who are excusably sick but seems oddly common and pervasive! On a public bus in Beijing I felt myself in a sort of symphony of bodily functions, but it didn't seem to bother any of the other travellers, and I've seen it many other places too. Am I too sensitive? Is there a reason for this? I'd love to know. The spitting comes hand in hand with some travellers wherever you are."
(You can follow Danni on Twitter & Pinterest)
Fran from La Vida Nomade
"Oh my dear English people, I have so many friends from their country. But I'll be honest: in Asia, I was very disappointed by their attitude. Especially when I saw them approaching the locals, talking English very loud, treating them as subnormal because they didn't understand them. I saw it happening all-the-time.
Well, I know they usually say they don't need to learn another language, but actually, they should. First, because it's been demonstrated the cognitive benefits of it. Second, you will be perceived as a more approachable person. Would you imagine being approached by a Chinese in your own country, yelling at you in Mandarin? Rude, right? You don't even have to be fluent: trying is key. Believe me, people always complain about Parisians, but since I learnt how to say the basics in French, I've always been treated nicely."
(You can follow Fran on Facebook & Instagram)
Fran is clearly not the only one feeling strongly about the subject. Lauren from NorthernLauren seems to have something to say about this too:
"The world’s worst travellers are by far and away those who refuse to learn the language of the nation they’re travelling to, either out of obstinacy or sheer bloody-minded arrogance.
This special breed of ‘I Only Speak English Travellers’ are almost always North American or British, hailing from nations raised on colonialism and the misguided belief that everyone speaks English, so therefore no effort is required on their part. You can almost always spot them at twenty paces thanks to either their patronising efforts to make themselves understood (by, you know, speaking slowly and loudly), or their horrific sunburn and socks-sandals combo.
I’m not saying you need to be fluent in Korean before visiting Seoul or have your Thai twang perfected before heading to party it up at a Full Moon festival in Thailand, but at least learn the basics. Is that really too much to ask?"
(You can follow Lauren on Facebook & Pinterest)
How much I agree with Fran and Lauren. This is actually a sign that you are a spoiled privileged brat. Planning on travelling somewhere new? Then please learn to at least say hello, thank you and goodbye in that language. In Japan, few people speak English, hence, learning how to speak basic Japanese and adhere to the good old method of pointing at pictures and using Google Translate works like a charm. Everyone is happy, nobody feels uncomfortable and you don't become a disrespectful traveller. Simple.
Taiss from Together To Wherever
"My opinion on the worst type of traveler is the kind that does not educate themselves on the proper dress code for the place they are visiting. A lot of times this goes hand in hand with just being a little knowledgeable on the customs and beliefs of the people.
I have witnessed visitors in Northern Thailand wearing bikini tops or clothing that is more suitable for the beach. For a more conservative area of Thailand this can be a bit insulting to the locals. Another example of this is seeing a woman in a thong bikini at an elephant sanctuary. I mean, does this activity require full exposure of the behind for a better tan? All they had to do was wear a pair of shorts on top to be more appropriate.
In another instance, I've seen tourists walking around in Jordan (Muslim country) wearing short shorts and spaghetti strap tops. It's just very disappointing when there is no attempt to at least try to respect the religious or cultural beliefs of the local people. My recommendation would be to do your best to “fit in” and sometimes knowing what to do is as easy as looking around and observing how the locals do it."
(You can follow Taiss on Instagram and Facebook)
Sarah from Not Another Travel Blog
"We all know that staying in shared dorms has its ups and downs, but there are some pretty universal rules that all travellers should obey. The very worst travellers in my book are those who stay in hostel dorms and indulge in bad behaviour…
One classic is those who have set an early alarm but when the time comes, just can’t face getting out of bed. I’ve been witness to one fellow traveller pushing snooze on their alarm more than 10 times in one morning. Perhaps even worse is the backpacker with an early flight who decides to get up and loudly pack all of their stuff at 4 am before departing, never to be seen again.
Don’t even get me started on those backpackers who like to bring someone back to the dorm after a night out. Waking up with your bunk bed rocking before you realise in horror what’s happening below you is not a fun experience. Should you put a pillow over your head and pretend to sleep or interrupt the happy couple?!
We love staying in dorms, and it’s definitely the best way to meet fellow travellers, but not all of them will be your cup of tea."
(You can follow Sarah on Instagram & Twitter)
Emily from Kids and Compass
"One of the most annoying types of traveller are those who don’t pay attention to local dress codes, managing to offend locals and lower their opinion of other tourists.
Some are ignorant/oblivious:
Like the woman who was wearing a bikini top to go on a day trip in Egypt. It might have been OK on her cruise ship but couldn’t have been more inappropriate in the middle of Luxor.
Or the shirtless middle-aged guy who was obviously a regular in a Bangkok cafe; chatting away with the owner, he seemed to know her well. But privately she admitted that his not wearing a shirt made her uncomfortable; she just didn't know how to tell him.
The worst offenders are those who do it deliberately:
Recently it’s been a trend to strip off entirely for photos at popular tourist sites like Angkor Wat. Hilarious. Get caught and you’ll be fined and deported.
Some people go all out and manage to offend locals at the highest possible level by getting naked at a sacred site, like the top of Mount Kinabalu. When this happened recently Malaysians were outraged.
It's not difficult to work out what you should be wearing; if in doubt cover your shoulders and knees. Respect local customs and you'll have a better trip (and nobody will be deporting your naked ass!)"
(You can follow Emily on Facebook & Instagram)
As you can see thus far, people don't have unreasonable requests and shaming passengers only come as a cry for help in most atrocious circumstances.
I asked hundreds of bloggers to respond to my poll on what is the worst nationality on this planet when it comes to travellers. This was entirely anonymous.
The winner of the worst traveller nation of 2017: The Chinese Tourists. One of my fellow travel writers wrote desperately "Why are Chinese tourists so rude? Is it impossible to reason with these people!"
The second place for the worst traveller nation of 2017 goes to the Americans. "Americans are too loud and obnoxious, almost as bad as the Chinese! " said a travel photographer who just came back from a long trip around Asia.
Amongst the most named and shamed were the French, the British and the Russians. Come on guys, education is key here, strive to be better!
The deeper problem with bad travelling behaviours
There are so many issues with our world right now, tapping into the real problem of why people tend to lean towards having bad behaviours is rather impossible. There are as many reasons as bad behaviours. In fact, the deeper problem is rather philosophical and not at all straight forward. What seems natural to you, might seem totally abnormal to do in a different society. The values you learned from your family, might be totally outrageous to another. Who is right and who is wrong? Is there such thing as an international 'book of manners'? Of course there isn't because we all come from different societies and have different cultures.
So why are Chinese tourists so rude? Hard to say. The first answer that comes to mind is a very nasty one, of course. But the more you think about it, the more you see the fact that it's all due to lack of education. Education, as many other things in life, is relative. I'm not saying Chinese people are uneducated, in fact, I had the privilege of meeting several Chinese people in my lifetime, who I formed strong ties with. These were very pragmatic, incredibly intelligent and down to Earth. As a traveller, I asked: "Why are Chinese tourists so rude". My friend Zhao laughed and said, "Don't even get me started, I hate the poor bastards, but I pity them more". Interesting. The conversation revolved around the idea that Chinese people come from an oppressed environment. China is a communist-capitalist country. I don't want to turn this article into some political debate, but oppression never works. An interesting perspective can be read in Medium - 'Chinese Tour Groups Suck'.
China is highly nationalist, and it fuels an intense brand of hostility to foreign influence. Should any Chinese intellectual dare to judge its own kind, such people are often jailed or killed. Their stories never reach the general masses and most importantly such intellectual don't get their point across for children in schools. Whilst the Chinese might be educated, they only see one side of the story. A story of 'Chinese exceptionalism and a sense of entitlement that breeds insufferably bad behaviour'.
The Japanese and the Thai governments started issuing booklets on bad manners aimed at Chinese tourists. Some are even considering creating Chinese-only zones to minimise the damage. Is this normal?
What about loud Americans or spoiled Europeans? They haven't been oppressed, and most of the time, education is freely available. So what went wrong there? Some say that it's because of their sense of entitlement, that they simply forgot their basic common sense. Hard to say, really. I find it incredibly difficult to understand how the French backpacker takes her shoes off and puts her stinky feet on an armrest. It's difficult to reason with the British tourist who drinks too much before the plane even takes off. Why is that American traveller not making her baby stop kicking my chair? The list can continue forever, and the fact is, that all nationalities are bad travellers. I believe it's easy to point at certain nations only because they perhaps have more resources which in turn allows them to travel more. But have you ever been in a plane full of Italians, Hungarians or Romanians? Very little differences. Why? Because it's not a nationality thing, it's a human thing to be rude, uneducated and badly behaved.
As a quiet child, I am puzzled by it. I learned that pubs are where you go, get drunk, socialise loudly and have a fun time. I feel that public spaces should be kept tidy, quiet and nice at all times. I would love a quiet plane where everyone respects ALL the rules. It would be amazing if people would not stop in the middle of the road and would form orderly queues. Travelling would be bliss if people would respect the space and wash before a long haul flight. Well, that would be an ideal world, which I feel it's pretty unattainable. But one can dream, right?
The solution, in my mind, is pretty simple: introduce a manners class in school. The rich have traditionally been labelled as arrogant. Are they arrogant, or just more sophisticated? Back in the days, the upper class was forced to learn how to use a million types of cutlery for various dishes, learn how to greet depending on the circumstances, how to speak properly, walk nicely, respect space and be a lady/gentleman. This was only available for the elite, and few working class children had the luxury of being thought proper mannerism, as many were instead taught how to work the land, get a job at the local factory or work in the service industry for the elite. Nowadays, although there is still a pretty clear distinction between social classes, every child has the right (and obligation) to attend school. Maths and grammar are compulsory, why not manners? How is it better for a child, to understand how to pass a geography exam if they don't know how to behave properly in the world?
I think the problem and the solution lie in education. I would love it if all governments would come together and will force the masses to learn about education. That could result in no more passenger shaming. Imagine a scenario whereby you would have to take a test to prove you know how to behave in certain circumstances? Wouldn't flight attendants love that? Wouldn't you love boarding a plane knowing that nobody will shove their stinky feet in your personal space?
Unfortunately, this is just me dreaming away, of a perfect world where people start thinking a bit more, be considerate and learn how to behave. As far as I'm concerned, the world is moving towards the exact opposite direction. And it is because of badly behaved travellers, that more countries and regions will start implementing stricter rules and allow fewer foreigners to visit. Can you blame them? I don't think so. Until we all learn to coexist, respect each other and celebrate our differences, passenger shaming will thrive.
The Golden Rule is "One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated". Maybe next time you are boarding that plane, remember this one. Oh, and for the love of God, don't take your shoes off in a public place, unless required to do so: it's disgusting.
What do you think?
Did you like this article? Do you have any questions or suggestions?
Leave a comment below.
"Why is that American traveller not making her baby stop kicking my chair?" What do you expect us to do, kill it? Sometimes even the best behaved kid has a moment. Some of us try really hard to keep the disturbance to a minimum, but bratty adult passengers don't help by getting all huffy over a minor, momentary issue. Yes, I agree, some parents don't try at all, but I bet those are very few. We also do not enjoy disturbing others, and do our best, but life happens.
Thank you for reading this. We absolutely don't expect anyone to kill anyone.
But we believe we should at least see adults try to calm down their kids or tell them off when they are in the wrong.
I can totally agree that some parents try really hard and I appreciate even the best-behaved kids might throw a tantrum. But is about keeping those to a minimum and seeing adults clearly doing something about it. When the parents are enjoying their wine on the plane, watching movies and ignoring a badly behaved child who kicks and screams and bangs, I think it's a huge issue.
I can see from your comments that you are a responsible parent who thinks bad parents are in the minority. I'm sorry to disappoint but it's actually the opposite: you guys, are in the minority.
Wishing you awesome travels with as little issues with the little ones as possible.
Good read! I often complain about the lack of "travel etiquette" out there. I would love to come up with the curriculum for this class! LOL. Even though, I am guilty of being the loud American, mostly after alcohol. LOL. But hopefully I'm politely loud, if that's a thing!
I love this. I actually considered starting an anonymous blog "Assholes in Airports" due to the sheer disregard some people have for others around them. Never ceases to amaze...
Thanks for sharing. Definitely some good points were made, but I do also think as a species we need to be more understanding that everyone is different and their norms are different. I do believe that people should always find out what is acceptable to wear in different places.
Working at an American school in one of the poorest countries in the world, I agree that needing to teach kids about respect and manners is key. But difficult. The students at my school are pretty lazy and entitled and will probably become the rude travelers you speak of. I only hope some of what I have taught them rubs off on them.
I resonated with so much of this article! I also find myself annoyed with tourists when I travel. I think one of the most obnoxious experiences was when I visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and people were taking inappropriate selfies. Like wtf... why would you think that's ok.
It really does amaze me how little regard for others some people have. I feel ashamed even reading some of these examples haha! I'm sure I'm guilty of being a terrible traveler on some level, but I really do everything I can to be considerate of and kind towards my fellow humans and our animals and planet.
Very thought provoking article YCT, perhaps we should introduce 'The art of travel' as a school subject before it's too late - might help !!
This is one of my dreams. I should set-up a curriculum. :D