China’s tourist style guide: falling before the first hurdle

4 Oct

chinese touristsIt’s the National Day holiday period in China this week – a time when the nation venerates the founding of modern China by flaunting the newly acquired wealth made possible by its beloved Communist Party. Ish.

Of course one way those slack jawed, badly dressed, free internet hating Middle Kingdomers are increasingly doing this is by travelling the world. Most studies agree that Chinese tourists now spend more than any other nation when holidaying abroad, but on the flip side, so many of them are absolutely dreadful at being tourists. Loud, arrogant, rude, [insert insult here].

Unfortunately, what’s acceptable in many parts of China – public urination, hawking one’s guts out onto the street, and travelling around places of interest in groups of no less than 30, making that great Instagram shot of the Colosseum virtually impossible – is rather frowned upon elsewhere.

All of which leaves us in the West, Hong Kong and elsewhere with something of a dilemma. We moan about their uncouthness but covet their cash. To misquote Stewart Lee, Westerners slagging off Chinese tourists is like a punter punching a prostitute in the face because he’s sickened by his own desire.

So what’s to be done? Do we just sit there and think of England until, eventually, they get the idea and modify their behaviour abroad? After all, it’s sort of worked for Brits abroad if you discount vast swathes of the Med. Well, no actually, because – never one to pass up an opportunity to tell its subjects how to live their lives – the Communist Party has done all the hard work in a newly released Guidebook for Civilised Tourism.

Whilst laudable in its aims – to improve China’s image throughout the world and presumably prevent teenagers from graffiti-ing their names onto priceless Egyptian relics – the result is somewhat bemusing. In fact, the guide itself is testament to just how ignorant China’s leaders are of the world beyond – despite many of them having been schooled abroad at some of the finest universities on the  planet, and UCL.

Yes, there are the obvious rules – don’t swear at locals; don’t steal life jackets from airplanes; don’t piss or gob into fountains; don’t talk about pork to Muslims; and, of course, don’t take a dump standing on the toilet seat. But there are some rather strange bits of etiquette advice too.

Never click your fingers at a German; avoid playing with your hair in Japan; don’t touch people’s heads in India; don’t smash mirrors in Hungary; don’t comment on babies’ eyes in Iran; don’t give yellow flowers to French folk who invite you into their home; and finally, for the ladies, ALWAYS wear earrings in Spain. Now I may be showing my ignorance of some actually well understood tourist faux pas here but my first thought was “what the holy fuck are they on about??”

Still, as long as it eases cross-cultural understanding and helps the world hate itself just a little bit less, I’m all for it. It should also be mentioned, of course, that Chinese tourists are sinned against as well as sinning, with rogue tour operators, unscrupulous cab drivers and money grabbing restaurateurs all guilty of exploiting the poor chaps in various countries.

However, it strikes me that China should probably get its own house in order before teaching its citizens how not to act like a tit abroad.

Reports from Shanghai reveal that visitors to the zoo there chucked over 70 plastic water bottles into the lion’s enclosure, in a situation staff described as “heartbreaking”. Previously a giraffe there apparently died after eating a plastic bag tossed into its enclosure; punters in Hangzhou in January thought it would be hilarious to pelt the lions with snowballs; and in Shenzhen zoo crocs were stoned to death by bell-ends who wanted to see if they were real or not.

Congratulations China. You have made me sympathise with a carnivorous reptile.

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