Friday, December 26, 2008

The Ugly Indian Tourist

Recently we had gone to Ladghar in Konkan. Stayed at the Pears beach resort. Nice place - I would recommend staying here.

But this isn't about Ladghar, Pears resort, or even the Konkan. This article is about us Indians as tourists. And how we desperately are in need of improvement.

Back to what happened at Ladghar. We had a lovely time there. The only blight on our trip was when a big group landed, nay, rolled in like a pack of cats jumping on empty barrels.

The noise they made was enough to wake the dead (and kill them again). This behavior was consistent across all age groups. It was as if there was a competition going on as to who could shout the loudest. Age 3 to 73, all of them braying to their hearts' content. Now if kids shout, that is understood. But when adults also do the same thing, then it is just not done. When those who are supposed to enforce discipline need disciplining themselves, then it becomes a very sad scene indeed.

I think most of you can guess the state that they came from. But this is not about a particular group of people either. This is about all of us Indians as tourists, and our behavioral pattern while doing so.

This pattern of behavior is repeated not just in India, but overseas as well. I remember an incident when I had gone to London with some colleagues from my erstwhile organization. At the hotel where I stayed, the employees around me used to give us strange glances when we used to pass by. I generally noticed that they were not comfortable when they used to see us. At that point in time, I put it down to simple racism - stories of treatment given to brown Indians in England came to mind.

However, there was more to this than met the eye. I somehow ended up chatting with an elderly white gentleman who also was an employee of the hotel. After exhausting 'normal' topics, I hesitantly brought up the topic of the behavior that I had seen, and asked him what the reason could be. He paused, and then said "I know that you are thinking that it is racism. However, that is not the case. It is due to some other reason."

On prodding further, he revealed that the strange behavior was because previous guests from India or the Indian subcontinent had acted badly while staying there.
Examples were:
  1. Dirtying up the place by dropping paper, wrappers, food items, etc. in every place except the waste baskets.
  2. Filling up the juice placed on the counter during breakfast into thermos flasks or other containers and taking it with them out of the breakfast hall.
  3. Pushing the fire alarm button. This was usually done by kids, which by itself is not that unexpected. But the sad part was that when this was reported to the parents they would shrug their shoulders and say "Oh that's normal behavior for children!"
  4. Deliberately giving the wrong room number when the bill is presented after a meal. This means that someone else staying in the hotel is charged for that meal. 
  5. Spitting in the hotel premises.
  6. Talking loudly even at the dinner table when in the midst of others who were very quiet.

He had other examples as well. After hearing them, I was really ashamed of my fellow countrymen. I really could not blame the hotel staff for being apprehensive about all Indian tourists.

After that conversation, I remembered that I myself have seen examples of this during my travels abroad. It starts with the plane journey itself. We Indians shout, demand too much service, follow no table manners, rush for seats instead of waiting patiently in line, stuff all our luggage into the overhead bins without sparing a thought for whether other passengers have space to put even one item, etc. etc. And it continues at places where we jump queues (yes, the great Indian disease of cutting in lines travels with us abroad as well). No wonder we are disliked.

Most of those who can afford to travel abroad are educated people. If education can't teach you manners, then what is the use? Do we need to have common sense, civic sense and etiquette as part of our school curriculum? Is it really so hard for us to follow a simple rule - "Don't do anything that will trouble others"?

Why do people resist good manners so much? Do they fear that if they stand in line patiently they will miss out on something? That if they don't shout while eating they won't digest their food properly? That behaving in a civilized fashion will corrupt their moral values? :-)

Some questions have no answers. I can just hope and pray that we take some of the good things from the West like manners, punctuality, public behavior, etc. instead of copying the wrong ones...

No comments: