Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bad perceptions of British tourists

George Bernard Shaw once said: "The British and the Americans are two people separated by a common language", and this is very true of the British traveler.

To many American's, British tourists can come-off as reserved, stuck-up, unfriendly and formal, and they have a vast array of strange provincial words, like "blighter" and "wanker" that nobody has ever heard of.

About cultural stereotypes

As an American, I get used to the stereotypes of American tourists as “fat”, “spoiled” and “demanding”, and our American tendency to “put-down” things that are not the same as home.

Personally, I love the cultural differences, even the tiny ones.

For example, here is the USA, we like soda with at least a half-glass of ice, a habit that many British folks mock us for. I’ve had waitresses refuse to load-up a glass with ice, claiming that I was “boorish” for insisting on such a nasty thing. To many Europeans, having ice with a drink means floating a few tiny ice cubes in their drink.

Social scientists talk about the concept of “cultural tourism”, and I’ve seen firsthand some of the cultural differences across the pond:

- American tourists are often seen as obsessed with coffee, as British folks are with tea.

- Americans tourists are seen by British people as “loud” and “boisterous” while Americans see British tourists as “reserved”.

This BBC article titled “British – World’s worst tourists”, quotes a study where nationality was correlated to general behaviors. It notes:

“Germans were the best-behaved and the British, Irish and Danish the worst.”

“The Germans did not perform well in the spending and tipping stakes and were described as the meanest nation - closely followed by the British.”

Personally, I like most Brits, but I don't understand why they are portrayed in movies as having bad teeth:

I don’t know where this “bad teeth” stereotype originated, but it common fodder for comedians, including Jay Leno and the South Park cartoonists, where Parker and Stone draw British people with hideous teeth.

Parker & Stone - Creators of South Park

Personally, I’ve seen lots worse right here in rural North Carolina, and the sales of “Bubba teeth” confirm this perception:

Why do some people dislike British tourists?

According to Expedia UK, British are the most unwelcome of all tourists. Germans are the most welcome foreign visitors and British are the least, scoring worst in all but one of five key criteria: their behavior; politeness; willingness to learn the lingo; enthusiasm to try the local delicacies; and how much money they put into the local economy."

They are said to be a sarcastic people, and sincere complements like "have a nice day" and often misconstrued by a British person as an insult, since they rarely say nice things to one-another. This article notes:

"One of the worst things you can say to a Brit is "Have a nice day". It sounds incredibly insincere in England, and is almost equivalent to "Go f*** yourself".

If you have a broad American accent you may get away with it, but people will probably give you questioning looks all the same."