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Indian tourists are not the world’s worst!

June 20, 2007

We Indians are not the world’s worst tourists. The French are. Something to smile about? Ummm, not really. We are actually second worst!😦

In a tourist etiquette survey (carried out by Expedia, a travel website) the Indians were second worst, followed by the Chinese and then the Russians. The survey was conducted in Europe amongst 15,000 European hoteliers who were asked to rate tourists on ten attributes: Politeness, willingness to try out local cuisine, the state in which tourists left their rooms, the tips they gave, the way they dressed, how noisy they were, how considerate they were…

So why did Indians score so badly? Don’t we know it? We are the rudest people on earth! On this attribute we scored worse than anybody else. Well, rudeness is a national past-time in India…who hasn’t been at the receiving end of the indifference of a sales girl/boy, the brusque tone of a government official, the sneer of the security guard, the insulting tone of a school principal, or who hasn’t experienced the shove from the suited booted guy standing behind in the queue or borne the rude honking of the car behind? Rudeness unfortunately is an everyday phenomena in India. You get so used to it that when someone is polite, its a mild shock.

Rudeness isn’t the only reason why Indians scored badly. Indians who travel aren’t eager to experiment with local cuisine. This too is well known to us and to travel agents. In fact we had heard so much about this that we are careful when we take a trip. We prefer to travel in family groups. Eating samosas in Cairo or puri bhaji in Beijing is not my idea of fun.

However, there is a reason for a reluctance on the part of Indians to experiment with food. Its a cultural thing, and I feel those who conducted the survey should have taken it into account. Firstly, in India, food is central to one’s existence (like it is to the Chinese) and the variety of cuisines in different parts of India and the extraordinary variety of dishes is testimony to that. For Indians, having just a couple of dishes on the table is sacrilege. A complete meal will include a sabji, dal, rice, chapatti, finely chopped salad, chutney, pickle, papad, lassi or dahi (yoghurt)…and a sweet dish. At least. And this is just a meal…I am not talking of evening snacks and breakfast…the variety of Indian food is in fact quite mind-boggling. And in every part of India the food tastes different. There is no way that an average Indian will be satisfied with the western cuisine. Its not just the variety that Indian food offers, its also the taste. Indian tastebuds are attuned to spicy food or at least mildly spicy. Even mildly spicy food would be difficult for westerners to eat. And most important Indian food is vastly different from European cuisines. The variety of spices used, the kind of oils, the methods of cooking, everything is extremely different! There is far more similarity between what Americans and Europeans eat. Therefore to evaluate an average Indian by the same yardstick as the Americans isn’t correct.

The Americans (inspite of their high score on noisiness) stood second in the survey and their willingness to experiment with food was one of the reasons. The Americans also won out because of their generous tipping habits.

Again, I don’t think its fair to evaluate people on how much they tip. American currency is strong and in any case they earn far more than people from most other countries…in fact I am sure that Indians must have scored poorly on tipping (unfortunately I could not get hold of the survey online) but as I said its not fair to compare Indians with Europeans, the Japanese or even the Chinese where tipping is concerned. We are the poorest nation in that sense. The rupee is weak even compared to the Chinese yuan. Naturally, we want to make every rupee count.

Its a cultural thing as well. In India we lack a tipping culture (though this is changing due to western influences). We haggle over the taxi fare and do not like to pay a paisa over the meter fare and we hate it if anyone hankers for a tip. People are getting a salary aren’t they..thats mentality of the average Indian. In fact in India, even saying thank you is not the norm and no one thinks it rude. When you do something for others, you do it out of the goodness of your heart and thats understood. Actually, Indians are basically helpful by nature, an emotional people who often go out of their way to help others, and they do without expecting a tip or a thank you. I think its a great quality but try telling that to those who conduct the surveys! The survey has judged people on superficial attributes.

However it is true that Americans are generally well meaning and friendly. During our trips abroad, no Europeans even made eye contact with us, but Americans would always do so…and smile as well. And when I had traveled to the US, I remember people would smile and say how are you…complete strangers! In the UK we did not experience any kind of friendliness from the local people.

Apparently the French are the worst tourists because they are pretty clannish, don’t mix and don’t like to try out local cuisine or speak the foreign language! We had three large groups of French tourists with us when we went on a Nile cruise. And can you believe it, during three whole days together on the same ship, none of them even looked at us? We made friends with a couple from New Zealand though.

Coming back to rudeness…Indians generally speak loudly and this can make them appear to be ruder than they actually are. Overall we are a noisy people…but one cannot automatically assume that this is a lack of consideration or label it as bad behavior. Most families who are noisy feel its normal bohemie that they are exhibiting…that its natural when they are out in a large group. They are very tolerant to noise from others too, being used to community living. India is a noisy place anyway, even without people yelling! So I guess many Indians have simply no idea that they are disturbing others. Its very difficult for an European to understand the level of back-slapping closeness that Indians tend to share. I am not advocating noisiness…no. All I am saying is that to label noisiness as a lack of consideration is a little too harsh. The fact that the Italians came a close second when it came to ‘bad’ behaviour proves the point. The Italians are known to have close relationships with family and friends. And as a nation, Italians are used to expressing ourselves…on just about everything…like the Indians.

Another reason why Indians lost out in this survey was because they left their rooms in a bit of a mess…I needn’t say anything further! A look at our streets and we know the survey is probably accurate!

So who are the ideal tourists then? Why, the Japanese ofcourse! Don’t we all know how quiet, and polite they are? I have interacted with Japanese businessmen and their politeness is awesome, even irritating! One never knows what they are thinking. So on the politeness score its not at all surprising that the Japanese scored the maximum! The Swiss were third in the survey, after the Americans. The Swiss scored high on politeness and consideration for others.

So the extraordinary politeness of the Swiss and the Japanese and the adventurous spirit and friendliness of the Americans has placed them in the top three slots.

As for the British, they were fifth from last. They didn’t so well as they scored low (as compared to the Swiss and the Japanese) on politeness and tipping too.

Well, these surveys aren’t worth much…but what they do tell us is how the world perceives us. And its not at all bad thing to try and improve the perception.

(Photo is a stock photo. Taken by me in Egypt and copyrighted)

Related Reading: Sex Tourism rampant in India
Where does India stand as a Tourism hub?
Indians traveling abroad for holidays – trends
Tipping in India

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22 Comments leave one →
  1. June 20, 2007 12:04 pm

    I agree! Comparing different countries and cultures on the same yardstick is just not right. One’s friendliness may be other’s invasion to privacy. One’s hyper politeness may be other’s artificial behavior.

    P.S: I just stumbled into your blog recently, and I must tell you that I simply love the way you write (and the topics you choose, of course!) Your writings on China were very interesting and informative.

  2. June 20, 2007 12:18 pm

    thanks Vasuki for those appreciative words. I love writing and writing on this blog has given me a strange sort of freedom, the kind of freedom one can never experience as a journalist.

  3. June 20, 2007 1:47 pm

    //reluctance on the part of Indians to experiment with food. Its a cultural thing, and I feel those who conducted the survey should have taken it into account.//
    Not only cultural thing it is a religious thing as well. A majority of our population is vegetarian and that explains why. Among the vegetarians also we have groups like people who don’t eat onions and garlic, we have seperate food for them. This is the reason why Gujaratis carry so much food with them(most of them are vegetarians).
    // One’s friendliness may be other’s invasion to privacy. One’s hyper politeness may be other’s artificial behavior.//.
    This varies from state to state in India itself. Punjabis are louder than people from other states.(nothing wrong with it, they are fun loving people).

  4. June 20, 2007 2:25 pm

    Thats a very relevant point, about vegetarianism. Indians are so strict about this that they fear to eat vegetarian food from non-vegetarians kitchens. And as you said, its a religious/spiritual matter for many.

  5. June 20, 2007 9:35 pm

    We have a Hindu friend who hails from Delhi and while his wife was visiting her family in India, he and his university student sons came to dinner. He carefully explained that in their household no animal sourced food had ever touched the cooking pots and implements, so we negotiated how to clean my stuff to a relatively acceptable standard before preparing a vegetarian version of Hungarian food which he and his two sons wanted to taste . Yet I was aware that by accepting the dinner invitation they were. compromising their strongly held religious/philosophical beliefs. As you imagine, this was quite the challenge, substituting vegetable fats for animal fats upon which depend the flavours of traditional Hungarian cuisine, but it was fun to do and we discussed during dinner the variations of doing things from culture to culture. I learned a lot, and am still learning from your blogs, which I am so curious to read, daily or as often as you post.
    I mistrust these rankings of people from different cultures, because the categories people are ranked on reflect the most superficial aspects of behaviour. Real life is not so clear cut and categorical, I find. Travelling to my mind is a quest one undertakes with openness, respect and a willingness to share in the ways and means of others. Other places are not a Disneyland for us to gawk at, take in a whirl of fantasy and whim. Unfortunately modern travel seems largely of this sort.

  6. June 28, 2007 12:41 pm

    I am not sure if I fully agree with you on this. They you should be Roman in Rome. When we travel foreign country we must respect their culture and values. We never like tourist coming from western world and expressing their love and feeling to their spouse and parteners in public.

    About food, I do agree. Most of the Indian vegetarians are religiously vegetarian. I use the term religiously vegetarian for the people who are prohibited to eat meat by their religion. This people will always have problem trying foreign cousins. Eg. Indian Brahmin or Jain can never eat Chikken Grill Sandwich, if you separate chiken from it. But American vegetarian will be okay as he is vegetarian by choice and not design.

    Thx,
    Ken

  7. TanujaAbhishek permalink
    July 4, 2008 6:53 pm

    Hi Nita,

    We are composing this opinion sitting on a bed in one of the hotels in ISRAEL. We just realized how true is your opinion on our behavior in another country is. For example, we just changed our Refrigerator for no reason at all😛.

  8. Shot permalink
    July 7, 2008 7:22 pm

    So let me try to understand this. A culture should not be ranked in a poll without breaking down every fiber of their existence, that is just ridiculous. The poll is simple, who is the worst tourist, not who are the worst people and why. The reasons are not important, it is just a generalization. If you don’t want to be on a list like this as a people, try traveling to places that would not look at your habits as insulting. Or better still try traveling in groups of less than 20, because I am am on vacation also and don’t particularly care for being swarmed by two mini vans full of people at the hotel pool. Just a thought!

  9. mikeklashinko permalink
    July 7, 2008 8:52 pm

    Chinese and Indian tourist problem might be people of ‘low income’ and ‘lower class’ visiting other countries and not knowing how to behave…since both countries are still developing.

  10. mikeklashinko permalink
    July 7, 2008 8:53 pm

    I’m just talking about “some” tourists though

  11. saurabh permalink
    July 7, 2008 9:36 pm

    Nitaji,
    Chanced on your blog today. Thought I’ll add my ‘do rupiya’.
    There is absolutely no doubt about us being perhaps the rudest people on the planet….and this is a self-evident truth! On other things, particularly food, many will not experiment with the local cuisine because of religious issues (vegetarian etc). Regarding tipping (or lack of it, rather), it seems to be hard wired in our DNA. I think many of our tourists still have a mindset of being on a ‘teerth yatra’ when they visit foreign lands, and since you do not tip during a ‘teerth yaatra’, why start now! That said, there is definitely a generational thing as the younger tourists are more adventurous, have less taboos and are wiling to travel for the sake of travelling.

    @ Mikeklashinko….any Indian who can travel for pleasure is not ‘low income’. Now class,
    I don’t know!

  12. Jay permalink
    July 7, 2008 10:09 pm

    I am an Indian living in united states. I agree with most of the article. Some credit for this ranking goes to the vegetarian habits of our people but there is a lot of truth to the ranking. My in-laws and my parents travel a lot outside of India but, I can never get them to try any of the local cuisine. To me that is part of the fun, but they are not the experimenting kind. I have seen this in many other indians as well. Another thing I noticed is the different standard of hygiene that exists in India and the west. I haven’t found Indians to be overly rude but the fact that they travel in huge groups can get annoying.
    –Jay

  13. Jay permalink
    July 7, 2008 10:10 pm

    sorry, forgot to mention the fact that my inlaws and my parents are all omnivores.

  14. Traveler permalink
    July 7, 2008 10:11 pm

    Interesting reading and as an Indian American here are my thoughts:

    1. ‘Seeing’ is not the same as ‘experiencing’. Think of all the places you have visited. You may have tons of photos to validate your claims. But the trips you will always cherish are the ones where you had an ‘experience’ and have a story to tell – even a bad story.

    2. Surrounding oneself with people that are identical (race, culture, economic, occupation etc.) is a guaranteed way to shut out conversations with the locals and therefore any insight about the place and people. Exploring new cultures has never been a great Indian quality, as is politeness.

    3. Regarding trying new food – I hear the arguments about vegetarianism etc. My experience has been that you can always have the food engineering to your specs. All I have to do is take a dish that looks like I would enjoy, and ask the waiter to substitute tomato sauce for meat sauce etc. Voila we got it! And at least in the US, the restaurant would often give us a discount!

    4. Tipping varies from culture to culture – know what the local culture is and follow it. Remember in some places (including the US), tips and not salary is the major source of income for waiters. So, naturally they are offended when they do not get a tip. A tip is for good service, not a service charge. Do you think the person earned a tip?

    A little extra on tipping: While the survey says ‘Indians’, it doesn’t mean Indians from India. It includes fellows like me as well. When I was working as a waiter while in college, it was generally accepted that Indians (Indian Americans that is) were the cheapest (i.e., no tips) and no one would want to wait on them. So, the argument of the Rupee not buying much overseas does not apply to this particular scenario. Conversely, on my first visit to the UK, I left a tip at a pub (not common) and the waiter asked me “what is that for?”. I said “because you were prompt about bringing our orders and keeping the table clean”. He was still suspicious. The manager saw this whole episode and said “You must be American!” and laughed.

    Closing thoughts – the survey is about ‘perceptions’, which are different than ‘realities’. Reality of course varies from person to person and situation to situation. The survey should have included a question about ‘Who would you trust to help you in a problem situation?’. Our people would have scored high on that count.

  15. Srini permalink
    July 8, 2008 11:56 am

    About trying new food – imagine a Westerner coming to India and not trying any of the food. They just missed out on a lot, didn’t they?

    Exactly.

    Now apply in reverse.

  16. tim permalink
    July 9, 2008 11:56 pm

    Now imagine if a westerner went to India with twenty five family members packed into 2 hotel rooms and two rental cars, and none of them ate the food.

    Exactly.

    The reverse has already been applied!

  17. Abdullah K. permalink
    June 14, 2009 12:28 pm

    I agree with the vegetarianism argument when it comes to Indians not experimenting with foreign foods. A lot of food in Europe that would ordinarily be considered vegetarian might not be so to a religiously ‘veg’ Indian. For example, bread in Europe are usually leavened using pork/beef larder, which might not suit Hindu/Muslim-Jew tastes respectively.

    Indians’ lack of experimentation and adventurousness abroad boils down to their concerns about ‘safety’. Indians are culturally programmed to pursue safety over every other consideration, when it comes to most things including marriage, socialising, travel, career, food and even while choosing an accomodation. This attitude might be construed as being ‘rude’ by people in the west, as Indians wouldn’t get out of their safety net to experiment outside the ‘familiar’.

    Putting these issues aside, if we really look at it a self-critical way, we might be able to see why Indians are seen among the ‘worst’ tourists when abroad. A lot of Indians have a lack of civic sense that is apalling, not only to foreigners but also to fellow Indians who live in a more orderly society. Moreover, there is an inherently ‘cheap’ attitude among a lot of Indians, particularly among those of the ‘noveau rich’ kind. Indians also seem to have a very negative attitude against cultures other than their own, which limits Indians against mixing with people who are culturally very different from them.

  18. Eric B permalink
    July 17, 2009 12:14 am

    “the variety of Indian food is in fact quite mind-boggling.”

    Oh yes ? I was not aware of it.
    Coming from France, where we have an incredible array of vegetable, cooked and fresh, of meats and meat pieces (beef, calf, lamb, pork, poultry, all the way to frog legs and snails), of fish and sea products (all kinds of shellfish…), of cheese (360 kinds) and milk products and by-products, of desserts and cakes, of breads, of drinks (wine will of course come to mind…)…. everytime I come back to India, I must say that the food is one my most frustrating side of the indian culture, where all the dishes are either too damn hot or too sweet….

    But I suppose the “variety of Indian cuisine” is one of those myths that is hard to break the neck to….

    Eric, I really don’t know how to respond to you because it is not possible for me to list all the things about Indian food. India is much more diverse than France. One state in India will probably have the variety in food that France has. Whether it’s Bengal or Tamil Nadu. Yes foods are not bland, they are either hot, sweet, sweet and sour. But to Indians western food is too bland. All our food is strong tasting. For example there are a hundred ways just to make lentils! However as I said it is not possible for me to detail everything here. – Nita

    • vasudev permalink
      May 24, 2010 2:24 pm

      Eric
      Probably you need to try our vegetarian dishes as we are predominantly vegetarian. And as Neeta rightly commented, right from Kashmir up on top to Kerala down way below, India could offer you millions of different dishes. Do not base your judgement of Indian cuisine with the limited exposure you had at Bangalore.

    • Stefan permalink
      August 23, 2013 5:48 pm

      Indian food is simply stunning!

  19. P4KISTANI permalink
    May 19, 2010 5:14 am

    BHAI SAHAB RELAX
    THEY MAY NOT BE THE WORST
    BUT THEY SURE ARE CONFUSING

  20. meera permalink
    June 3, 2013 12:30 pm

    Loved this article. Being an indian….It got me thinking as well……… Also traveling for indians is a New concept, on an average, before 10 yrs ago, most indians would travel only within india, but now after this generation has come into money and of a different mind set which is to enjoy life n don’t have to save so much like our parents n theirs…..the concept of what is considered good manners globally is foreign to us….though indians are making an effort to change and adapt and understanding how one is to behave and respect the laws to whichever city you are visiting.
    Yet leaving the rooms messy is unacceptable.
    I would say the new generation of indians who are traveling are definitely improving as I am workin in a field where we receive tips and I get way better tips from local indians than europeans (who will NEVER tip and be very demanding and speak rudely because they see that’s the only way to get work done around here……..but for them to come down to that level of rudeness seems to come very easily to them ) bUT the americans are very friendly, adventurous, and also tip well depending on the service.
    Overall very nice article n made an interesting read

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