14 Oct 2018 18:19 IST

Travel companions of the worst kind

Indian tourists tend to make a pretty poor impression, and that hurts

It doesn’t matter one bit whether we have a 500-year-old civilisation or a five-year-old one. We are uncivilised and we prove it time and again, wherever we go. I recently read that the organisers of a Royal Caribbean cruise refunded passengers after a huge party of Indians misbehaved throughout the trip, practically confining the other passengers to their cabins. They took over the deck, pool and bars, constantly photographed other passengers, particularly women, brought along their own dancers and food, and generally made life miserable for everybody else. So miserable that the organisers refunded other passengers after the cruise!

That’s the Indian tourist for you, child of one of the oldest civilisations, bearing the burden of a long and cosmopolitan history of cultural exchange and assimilation. That’s us. Shameful.

Disliked, worldover

It would be passable — by a very long and generous shot — if this were the rare blot. But it’s not. A friend visiting New Zealand with her husband and two boys told me how on one of their guided tours she felt ashamed of being Indian because of the group of Indian tourists on that same tour behaving most obnoxiously. Loud, clamouring, bossy — and constantly eating. Another friend, on a visit to Spain with her boyfriend, was driving into Granada when they heard some incessant honking. ‘That’s got to be an Indian,’ her boyfriend said, because in a lot of places in the world drivers simply don’t honk; it’s considered rude. And certainly not this persistent honking. They turned around to see that they were indeed Indians.

Zimbabwean and South African friends have said how they dislike the Indian community in their country because they show off how rich they are and they don’t mingle with the locals. We know that one of the reasons Indian students in Australia were being attacked some years ago was that they would flash their latest mobile phones and laptops in a show of superiority. This doesn’t mean the attackers were justified in their actions: completely the opposite, in fact. But this example only serves to illustrate the consequence of behaviour.

The bad behaviour of the Indian tourist has been documented. A Times of India article titled ‘Oh, bother, it’s an Indian tourist’ (May 30, 2007) quotes a survey by Expedia.co.uk to conclude that Indians are the world’s second worst tourists, next only to the French. Many people have seen how Indians behave at airports: they rush to be the first to board and the first to deplane. They will not wait for the seatbelt sign to be switched off before getting their cabin baggage down. And, of course, they will continue talking on their phones, even after repeated requests to switch off mobile phones.

Pride and prejudice

I have seen fellow countrymen, young and old, drinking and drinking on flights like there is no tomorrow. I have seen them drunkenly misbehaving with stewardesses and fellow passengers, pawing them, bullying them, and worse. And we know how arrogant we can be, even without a drop of alcohol in us because we like to boss and bully, put the other person down, even as we cower in front of someone who is bossing and bullying us.

Of course, it’s not as if all Indians or only Indians behave badly. There’s something about travelling in a group that gives people the false courage to act up because they’re hidden or anonymous, to a large extent. Then again, there’s the black and white chip we carry on our shoulders. We look down on white people — the gora, the gora kaathaad — for what we believe their lack of culture, and we look down on black people for what we believe is their lack of culture. Of course, it could be said that white people look down on black people for their lack of culture and on brown people for their lack of culture. Black people look down on... Where does this end?

Travel blogger Mridula Dwivedi says that when she’s shopping in malls in Asia, she’s often asked if she’s Sri Lankan — because she is friendly and polite! Apparently, Indians are particularly popular in Thailand — for obvious reasons. Now, the shoe could bite both ways but it does leave you thinking. Littering, fussing over food, making a mess of the toilets, never being punctual, bargaining like your life depended on it, freely taking pictures of women and even trying to feel them up them sometimes, loudly expressing opinions and generally being politically incorrect apart from being very impolite — these are some of the traits displayed by Indians, particularly when they travel. And Indians today are travelling like never before.

Uncouth behaviour

Lhendup G Bhutia, writing in Open magazine about the ugly Indian tourist, begins his article like this: “A finger emerges at the window of a bright pink and green tourist bus. This is the heart of Goa, the road that connects Miramar beach at the confluence of the Mandovi River and the Arabian Sea to Dona Paula, among the State’s most expensive residential areas. The sun is gleaming down. Under the tarred road, as its sides reveal, lies a rusty red. A little away, the sea is gently thrashing the sand of Miramar beach. The bus is stationary. People are moving to and fro, in cars, on bikes and on foot. And then, this limp finger at the back of that bus suddenly comes alive, and from it sprouts a long jet of liquid. The camera zooms in. And, as the video grab that went viral online shows, it isn’t a finger at all. It is a penis, urinating onto a busy street.”

It’s not only on travels abroad, then, it’s within India too. Anywhere, actually. And anyhow. Uncouth behaviour, a highly developed sense of entitlement, outrageous expectations and demands, misusing facilities and privileges… all this is part of the Indian tourists’ game-plan. And it’s getting them nowhere.

If, in the past, India didn’t make much headway on the international stage because the rest of the world didn’t know us, today will the world shun us because they know us?