India is a country where everything from government office pens to train toilet mugs come with strings attached for one simple reason: We’re used to getting our way. But ever since an Indian family got busted in the act of stealing pretty much every amenity—from a hairdryer and hangers to a mirror and towels—from a hotel in Bali, everyone on the internet is losing their shit at Indians who get down to all kinds of embarrassing things in a foreign land.
But let’s face it: For anyone who has travelled abroad, the sight of a fellow countryman doing something cringey, embarrassing or just culturally insensitive, is not alien. We take our refusal to stand in queues, respect other people’s personal space, not litter or spit and talk softly, to lands where the etiquette demands the opposite. We’re not alone in being labelled among the world’s worst travellers, though. It wasn’t too long ago that American tourists were viewed as unwanted and uncultured, earning themselves the label ‘Ugly Americans’ for their ignorance and ethnocentric behaviour. Brits have been known of as those who are perfectly cultured till you ply them with a few drinks, after which they might run through the streets naked, whereas according to a 2015 survey by Hotels.com, Argentinians are most likely to steal items from their rooms. Chinese tourists have been unchallenged on the ‘world’s worst tourists’ lists for six years now, though there’s talk of Indians taking over this No 1 position now. But is this deserved, and have we experienced fellow Indians being shitty travellers? We asked around.
Siddhant, 22, student
VICE: How’s it going, Siddhant? Have you ever felt embarrassed or cringed because of fellow travellers from your own country?
Siddhant: I was on a flight when this giant Gujju family got on with a lot of luggage. And in case you’re wondering how I know they were Gujarati, it’s because they were carrying multiple packets of thepla with them, and every few minutes, one of them would keep asking for one. While being handed around, crumbs would fall on me, which wasn’t even the real issue. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, it was as if they were all collectively triggered. Suddenly, hoards of onions, tomatoes, and dhaniya (coriander) emerged from their handbags. They were so shameless that they asked the air hostess for knives and a chopping board so they could make bhel or whatever other concotion they wanted to have instead of plane food. When the crew refused to help, they took out a plastic ruler and started chopping the vegetables. Not only was the stench of it all repugnant, but also, the family was not seated next to each other, which resulted in them shouting out to each other to pass around the ingredients! Finally, even the air hostess freaked out over the impromptu sabzi-mandi (vegetable market) and asked them to stop. But it was such a facepalm moment that I almost died laughing.
Why do you think they thought it was okay to disturb other co-passengers like that?
Honestly, I don’t know why we behave this way. I’ve never seen a foreign tourist come and do such stupid shit in India. Maybe we feel like we’re so powerful, we can get away with it. But it’s like we just don’t care and have no regard for how people around us are reacting.
Dhvani, 32, writer
VICE: Hey Dhvani, have you seen an Indian do a shitty thing when out of India?
Dhvani: I hate to say it but we can be really annoying and even terrible travellers. I remember this one time when I had just gotten back to Zurich after spending some time in the little villages and towns in east Switzerland on a work trip. I had not met a fellow Indian for all those weeks, but the first time I did, it was on a day trip to Mount Titlis. And what was he doing? Peeing by the side of the road before getting on the cable car! On another work trip to Egypt, a senior journalist from Hyderabad who was having breakfast next to me, lined the inside of her purse with the table napkin and tipped a plate full of croissants, toast and cookies into it, to eat later in case she got hungry, despite all of our meals having been taken care of extremely well. It’s like she just couldn’t help snaffling the food.
Why do you think we've got such a bad rap?
I feel we are not culturally sensitive and just outright refuse to learn about the customs of the place we are going to. In Gujarati, there is a saying: 'Rome ma ras, and Paris ma patra', which kind of translates to the fact that you want your own cuisine no matter where on the planet you are. Instead of adapting to the place we are going to, we feel entitled enough to want it to adapt to us, and our preferences and peculiarities. That's fucking annoying.
Do you think we’ve been targeted out of racism as well?
To some extent, yes. I do think the threshold of the West to our peculiarities would be less than say, an American's who is also known to be a bad-behaved traveller. But in many ways, we invite this criticism on ourselves.
Gautam, 33, lawyer
VICE: Hey Gautam! What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen Indians do on vacation?
Gautam: I was staying at a hotel in Zurich and an Indian family was staying in a room on the same floor. One night, the smoke alarm went off and when the hotel staff checked out the situation, it turned out the family had lit a candle in their room so they could roast papad. They said they were homesick and craving some comfort food and seemed like they didn’t even know that something this small could set off a fire.
Wow. So what happened to them after?
The hotel had to call the fire department and the family was fined. But when I saw the family talking to the staff, they genuinely seemed innocent and upset and had done this out of sheer naivete, without even realising that it wasn’t cool. Even I felt quite bad for the poor things.
Malavika, 25, designer
VICE: Hey Malavika. What’s the worst thing you’ve seen Indians do while travelling?
Malavika: I was on a theme park ride at Universal Studios in Singapore. It was one of those roller coasters that gave you a raincoat because a part of the ride involved water splashing on you. There were these two Indian kids—siblings, I presume—who got on the ride behind me. During the ride, the younger kid got so nauseated that he threw up. Then I saw his sister do the most horrifying thing: She took the raincoat we had been given and covered the vomit with it, and then the two of them just ran away. It must have been disgusting for whoever sat on the ride next.
That’s terrifying. Why do you think they didn’t even bother telling anyone?
I feel like maybe Indian kids are ashamed of drawing the wrong kind of attention or they didn’t want to risk getting screamed at by their parents so they thought the best thing to do would be to just dismiss the situation entirely.
Avni, 26, producer
VICE: What’s up, Avni? Ever seen your fellow countrymen get down to something cringey on vacation?
Avni: We were in Copenhagen on a bus and were on our way back home at around 12.30 at night. We were in this fancy first-world Scandinavian country when suddenly, I heard two men talking in Marathi. The younger one referred to the older, balding guy—who was pissed drunk—as his mama (uncle). The uncle, out of nowhere, started loudly singing a cheap Marathi song called “Popat Pisaatla”, while the younger one added to the noise too.
Do you think we’re the only ones who are loud?
No, I think Americans are also pretty loud and obnoxious. also. In fact, I feel they’re the only other group of people louder than us. In fact, I’ve seen Indians often while travelling but none of them are as embarrassing as the Americans.
Rishabh, 27, entrepreneur
VICE: So Rishabh, what’s the worst thing you’ve seen another Indian do abroad?
Rishabh: Once on a flight, this Indian middle-aged person was sitting next to me with a big glass of whiskey. The European air hostess was giving out warm nuts, but that wasn’t enough for him. He insisted that he wanted roasted chana (chickpea—a popular snack in India). The air hostess had no idea what he was talking about and politely told him they didn’t have any. That set him off and he suddenly began screaming in the middle of his flight, “Give me some chana”. Everyone was left baffled.
Another time, I was at the airport in Paris in March waiting to board my flight to India, and a French guy happened to be wearing this fancy puffer jacket while waiting for his flight. Meanwhile, there was a big Maharashtrian family sitting on the side, laughing and pointing fingers at the guy, saying “Look at this raincoat.” They genuinely thought he was badly dressed for the Mumbai summer and were making fun of him. It was hilarious.
Why do you think many of us have such low regard for social etiquette?
I think a lack of exposure to the world and acceptable behavioural norms contribute significantly to this. A lot of Indian travellers that exhibit this behaviour typically come from small towns and cities who have recently become affluent, and they genuinely don’t see anything wrong with their behaviour. That's not to say everyone from the bigger cities understands decorum better because sometimes. But this will change with time and the more we travel.
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