Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 10/14/18 6:21 AM

Travel: Indian Tourists: The Way We Are

Nightmare tourists on steroids

I read of the incident that happened last month where the Royal Caribbean International line had to refund passengers after 1,300 Indian men from a gutka company came on board the Voyager of the Seas for a conference, brought along burlesque dancers in their wake, and behaved in an atrocious manner, virtually trapping the other passengers inside their cabins.

I was disgusted and dismayed but wasn’t in the least surprised. Having travelled a fair bit, I have fallen into a habit of studying Indian tourists with a kind of fatal fascination. Even as our country is flush with signs of prosperity, and more Indians head to foreign lands, the roster of bad behaviour remains the same.

I’ve written about this genus before, home truths carefully wrapped in skeins of humour. But as the years pass, as other things change in the country — some for the better, some not — this one trait has not changed.

Anyone different here?

The problem with writing an article calling out your compatriots on their appalling behaviour is manifold. One, you really don’t want to tar every Indian tourist with the same brush: increasingly there are those who take trips like the conscientious tourists they are, and come home happy. Two, you’ll get trolled by the lot you are shining a klieg light on.

Their justification is simple: we are like this only, why should we behave any differently abroad?

You would imagine that as more of us are trekking in Patagonia or deep-sea diving in Yongala, the old repulsive tourist would give way to a gentler, more caring, more interested one. To some extent, this is the case, especially with the younger traveller.

However, we are a populous country, and a lot of us travel. And far too many travel with all their boorish, unedifying traits safely stowed away inside their head and baggage.

I recall seeing a very bad Hindi film called Mann years ago. The hero and heroine meet aboard a cruise vessel and proceed to fall in love. They are surrounded by many Indian co-passengers who mock the girl, sneer at the guy, laugh nastily and uproariously at things others say. Half-appalled, half-amused, I told a friend, this is ridiculous. No one behaves this way.

I was wrong. A lot of Indians do behave this way, acting up, acting out, all the time. They cross the line effortlessly, the line that divides loud from obnoxious, vivacious from culturally insensitive, bindaas from crass.

Full of themselves

This is not self-assurance; this is cocky entitlement. They believe their money has bought, along with plane tickets and hotel accommodation, the subservience of attendant staff, the right to jump queues, the right to delay departures, the right to make loud personal comments, to leer, to carouse loud and long. It’s all about themselves. Each and every time.

Much of this obnoxious behaviour stems from feelings of insecurity.

They aren’t sure of their place in the scheme of things when abroad, and to cover up that insecurity they turn belligerent.

However, understanding what makes my compatriots behave this way doesn’t ameliorate the situation. I have watched kids throwing unholy tantrums and receiving smiles from the “uncles” and “aunties” around. I have heard comments of commiseration sent the way of the man who insists on a drink even before take-off. I have observed that bad behaviour by Indians is almost always encouraged by other Indians.

Earlier, the Indian traveller was always on a budget and grumpily adjusted to cramped air or coach space, keeping in mind the discounted rate at which it came. Now, they are nightmare tourists on steroids.

Hitting new lows

They book trips to Antarctica, Machu Picchu, Everest Base Camp and the Serengeti, fully believing that it’s the travel company’s duty to keep them warm, get them to the top and ensure they see the King of the Jungle a few times over. They are jaded before the trip, dismissive during the trip, and boastful after it. They are needlessly aggressive and needlessly offensive.

What happened aboard the ship Voyager of the Seas was a new low. But the bar keeps sliding lower. Is there is something in our DNA that makes us behave this way?

Perhaps a few more years of observation will provide the answer. Unless, defeated by the Ugly Indian Traveller, I throw in the towel first.

This ran in THE HINDU of 14 Oct 2018.

Other Travel pieces:

Travel: SwaSwara in Gokarna

Travel: Khajuraho, all sexed up

Travel: The places and pottery connect

Photo Feature: Signs in China: Lost in translation?

crass behaviourIndian tourists abroadloudnoisysense of entitlementSheila Kumartravel

Sheila Kumar • October 14, 2018

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