Stereotypes of Travelers: Fair or Ignorant?

“I  guess her audience found the advice valuable”, posted FlyerTalk member stackm, referencing a series of reports pertaining to a recent trip to Paris by Kendra Collins of the Points & Pixie Dust weblog. “One even provided an additional helpful ‘tip’ for August travel: ‘but the one thing that guidebooks don’t say explicitly about Paris in August is that the city is mobbed with people from Asia. They might say that the city has lots of ‘tourists’ in August, but you are left to assume that it will mostly be Americans doing their darnedest to act french. It is anything from that case’.”

The content shown above was posted in a discussion on FlyerTalk called Boarding Area’s Fall. I will post a bold prediction that BoardingArea’s fall will officially begin on September 22, 2014 at 10:29 in the evening Eastern Daylight Time — but I digress, as usual.

What stackm posted is approximately the beginning of a discussion pertaining to stereotypes of travelers — most of them ugly — whether they pertain to American, Russian or Chinese citizens…

…or pretty much anyone else, for that matter. Are French people rude to Americans? Not by my experience. In fact, I remember on one Bastille Day along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, French people actually encouraged me to get a prized front-row position to see the annual parade. I will never forget that; and I appreciate that to this day.

One time I was in Paris, I had a rare runny nose and I needed tissues. I walked into a pharmacy — gotta love those illuminated green plus signs — and looked through my translation dictionary for the word tissue in French. “Avez-vous les mouchoirs?” I asked. The helpful person behind the counter points to the aisle where the tissues are and said “Kleenex.” I laughed — but I believe that the person behind the counter appreciated my attempts to communicate with him in his native language; and to me, that made all of the difference. I was not that stereotypical “ugly American.”

I had a friend who went on his honeymoon to France. He did not know any French; so to communicate with French people, he would simply speak his English loudly and slowly, mimicking a French accent.

He actually said to me when he returned from his trip that he did not understand why French people were not more helpful; and even wondered why they looked at him funny.

Is it any wonder? Really?!?

Anyway, are Italians really lewd and rude? Are British people really that boisterous? Are Germans really ill-behaved?

I remember being told by one person years ago about how she disliked Japanese people. This was based on a trip to Hawaii on which she took her parents. They stuck together in crowds and were rude and abrupt to others, according to her.

It was not until she traveled to Japan years later that her mind changed considerably — and she initially did not want to travel to Japan based on her limited experience with Japanese people. The Japanese people — especially complete strangers — were as close to the perfect hosts as possible. She then realized the possible reasons why the behaved the way they did in Hawaii years earlier, saying that at least when she was in Japan, everything was clearly marked in English. Hawaii was not as accommodating pertaining to Japanese people and their language. Also — being in a strange land and on official tours of Hawaii — the Japanese people apparently were aggressively attempting to stay together out of the fear of being left behind, lost and fending for themselves.

I am not sure how true all of that was — but it was certainly possible; and other reasons could have been involved as well.

To be fair, there are modicums of truths which lend to stereotypes based on the paradigms of which people were raised in their respective countries: traditions passed down through the generations; economic status; topography; climate; availability of resources as a few of many factors. Norwegians were not raised growing and eating fresh pineapples as a main staple. People raised in Singapore did not have to prepare for the harsh cold and snowy winter every year…

…and yet these two factors are possible for Americans — depending on where they live, of course, as the United States is quite diverse in terms of many of the factors mentioned above. This is why a New Yorker will seem quite different from a person from Arkansas. Is it fair to lump them as the same “ugly” Americans?

Even within the United States, there are stereotypes about people from different regions. I have taken people I know who have never been to New York on a personal tour of my hometown when they visited for the first time. Almost every single time, each one of them would say with an astonished look on their faces and in a pleasantly surprised manner: “New Yorkers are not rude.”

No, New Yorkers in general are not rude. It may just seem that way because many are usually rushing from one appointment to another and usually do not have the time to stop and engage with people; but I can understand how people from other parts of the world could consider that behavior rude. I have not lived in New York in years; and yet I still walk faster than most people. Old habits are hard to break, I suppose — but I am not rude.

Whenever I travel to another country, I try to acclimate myself as much as I possibly can. Learning a few words of the local language goes a long way towards a great experience. When local citizens see that I am attempting to show an interest and make an effort to learn their language and customs, they are almost always friendly and more accommodating to me.

In other words, I show respect and consideration towards the people and their language and culture of each country I visit — even if they seem unusual to me. Is that not one of the purposes of traveling in the first place — to experience how different people around the world eat, talk, go about their business and live their lives?

“Stereotyping is a lazy pursuit, of course”, wrote B.R. in this article posted at The Economist. “If there is a kernel of truth to a cliché, it is swiftly magnified by confirmation bias.”

That; and people have a tendency to want to “label” things — including other people. To me, stereotypes are the lack of desire to truly understand individual people. Let’s just lump them into a category or two, as they are all like that. Is that fair?

Tolerance and understanding of different people and different cultures is an important part of what makes the world go around. It is a major reason as to why travel is so interesting — at least, to me. Imagine what travel would be like if everywhere you traveled was similar to where you are based. Why bother traveling at that point?

Ignorance should give way to embracing those differences and learning more about them, rather than just conveniently lumping people into stereotypes — which, in my opinion, causes far more harm than good.

One more thing: for those of you who participate in the discussion on FlyerTalk called Boarding Area’s Fall, I do not intend to use any words in this article associated with excrement.

Wait a minute — I just did, didn’t I?!? Oops…

8 thoughts on “Stereotypes of Travelers: Fair or Ignorant?”

  1. Gene says:

    If you take a close look, all Kleenex packaging in bilingual — French and English!

  2. Koko it's says:

    Ha! This post is more evidence that p&m bloggers just lift their stuff from Flyertalk!!! :p. 😉

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I have been proudly “lifting stuff” from FlyerTalk for greater than eight years — in fact, that was the primary purpose of The Gate most of this time — and I have been a FlyerTalk member longer than that.

      How can I not give a nod to FlyerTalk?

      Actually, I appreciate the criticism posted on FlyerTalk. It keeps me on my toes.

      Thanks for the laugh, Koko it’s. I do appreciate it!

  3. Eric says:

    You’re welcome to join in the actual discussion on FT…we don’t (all) bite (much)!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Although not lately, I have already posted to the discussion in question more than once, Eric.

      My identity on FlyerTalk is a very loosely kept secret. I do not advertise The Gate on FlyerTalk and I rarely link to it.

      Thank you for the invitation to post, though — and I think the “bite” adds flavor.

      I would take Astrophsx preview and turn it into a reality — but there is one minor issue: I have never flown as a passenger on Etihad Airways; and I must remember to bring an extra roll of toilet paper just in case it does happen…

  4. Greg M says:

    Excellent article! Learning a few basic phrases in the language of the foreign country you are visiting will go a long way in enhancing your trip. Even if you mispronounce words, people take your effort as a sign of respect.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      …and guess what, Greg M? It works both ways.

      When a visitor from a foreign country asks me for information here in the United States while using “broken” English, I do everything I can to help that person. It is especially rewarding when that person smiles as a result and seems excited to continue his or her visit.

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it.

  5. globetrotter says:

    I read Points and Pixie Dust three times, at most, last year. After I read her account on one trip with her family, husband and children, when she tried to prove her high tolerance of alcohol to a group of male strangers as well as her massaging a strange male on his back with lotion. I commented that women should show their character and ability based on education, skills, knowledge and independence. Secondly, I might put up with verbal flirtation but when it comes to physical touch, all gloves are off. Why did she leave her kids with her husband at the pool or elsewhere on the resort while participating in drinking competition or binge with male strangers? She screened incoming comments, deleted mine and took down the post immediately. I also remember Mommy Points supported her take up the challenge. Americans travel abroad tend to fail leaving behind their pre-conceived perception at home. Others will relate well to another culture only if it resembles their own culture, lifestyle or standard. Anything different will make them feel indifferent to it.
    My general impression is that the majority of travel blog community emphasize elite status, premium cabin, and five star hotels. It is hard to understand how you can understand the host country’s culture and people while vising touristy hot spots, staying at luxury chain hotels and only communicate with staff who work with tourists. Most people I talk to have less than flattering experience or impression of the French, but I had the exceptional interactions.

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