This week’s newsmaker: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Indian tourist
The desi traveller is infamous for stealing from hotels, harassing hospitality staff and insisting on Indian buffets. A recent incident in Bali is not the first and definitely won’t be the last. But why is the Indian traveller so uncouth?Updated: Aug 10, 2019 16:10 IST
Everyone has their travel horror stories — about loud Aussies, demanding Americans, drunken groups of Irishmen. As Homer Simpson said of stereotypes, they’re funny because they’re true.
The horror stories involving our fellow Indians always seem more horrific. There was the woman who took her toddler into a corner inside Shakespeare’s home at Stratford-upon-Avon and pulled his shorts down to let him pee in a corner (she was stopped by another angry Indian).
The group who used a portable stove to cook in their room at a B&B, scorched the floor and ruined the wallpaper. There are the many, many lecherous mid-life-crisis fliers who ‘get too drunk’, insult or grope the airhostess and have to be reprimanded or restrained.
- The travel pack: Includes family, friends, uncle, auntie. Which would be fine, if they didn’t insist on calling loudly to each other across aisles and playing antakshari at astonishing volumes at the Eiffel Tower.
- The bargain-seeker: Books a room for three, turns up with seven, and refuses to pay ‘extra’; doesn’t want to pay for a meal at a restaurant, so makes rice in the electric kettle instead.
- Groups of ‘jolly uncles’: Kuch daaru ho jaaye? Then some loud comments about female passersby, bawdy jokes in various languages, and a really hurt expression if you ask them to pipe down.
- IST keeper: Always late, always unapologetic, will keep a van full of people waiting, disappear at each site. Is the first to appear at the breakfast buffet and the last to leave it.
- The laundry buff: You can spot him without ever seeing his face. No matter how many clothes racks are in his room, regardless of whether it’s Venice or scenic Prague, he dries all his clothes outdoors.
These were scattered anecdotes until the recent viral video, of an angry Balinese hotelier unpacking an Indian family’s bags to reclaim scores of stolen items from his rooms.
Now, everyone’s sharing their tales in whispers. Because the unruly Indian traveller, should he or she hear, will never admit and improve. Instead, as in the video, they will respond with bluster… what about the Chinese? The Americans are so rude! Have you been on a bus full of rowdy British youngsters?
Well, the Indian family in Bali hasn’t been the only recent embarrassment. Last January, a group of journalists accompanying West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on an official tour to London were caught stealing silverware from the table at a luxury hotel’s conference hall. And in October 2018, a group of 1,300 Indian men on a work-sponsored holiday wreaked such havoc on an Australian cruise liner that the company had to refund the rest of its guests. The Indians apparently took over and entirely Indianised the buffet; commandeered the entertainment spaces; and then dressed up as pirates to cavort with dancers dressed like Playboy bunnies.
What makes us so distinctly, almost criminally, unruly? Most Indians will agree that a lot of it has to do with our passion for ‘paisa vasooli’. It’s what has led Indians to steal bags of food from breakfast buffets with such regularity that a Swiss hotel hotelier framed a special set of rules to try and get Indians to stop doing this (among other things).
Many of us define paisa vasooli not as value for money, but rather as ‘grab all you can’. So anything complementary must be snatched up; anything that’s not nailed down, lifted.
On top of that there is the mindset where, in case of a clash of cultures, we automatically prioritise our own. It’s quite normal for people in India to wash their hands in the same plate they’ve eaten in, so we will do this even in a country where it is clearly making other diners uncomfortable. Domestically, too, the average Indian tourist does not accommodate cultural differences; and so they will complain out loud, for instance, that the smell of pork is making them sick in Nagaland.
The sense of indulgence and privilege that come from being one of the haves in a nation of have-nots, is only heightened when on holiday. So the Indian tourist is almost belligerent about his right to enjoy himself, while acknowledging none of the responsibilities that go along with that right.
Additionally, since we’re not fined for things like littering, urinating in public or dirtying public toilets back home, we feel we can flout similar rules around the world, and at most pay a fine and get away with it.
Notwithstanding these issues, the spendthrift Indian is a big draw. Our celebrities are paid millions to act as ambassadors and draw wealthy Indian tourists to countries looking to boost tourism revenue.
We’re among the world’s highest spenders, with Indian visitor spend estimated at $23 billion worldwide in 2018, according to a recent report by the UN World Tourism Organisation. We shop more than the average traveller from most other countries, particularly in places like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Switzerland — which are the Indian traveller’s most-favoured destinations.
By 2022, over 50 million Indians will be travelling abroad every year, according to the same UN report. As the numbers of us headed overseas rise, it is time to correct our image. Stop arguing that the Chinese are rude too, that the Americans are loud, the Russians tend to drink too much, and the British act entitled. It doesn’t help. The only thing that will help is to not take stuff from hotel rooms. Not pack food for the whole day at the breakfast buffet. Not growl at waiters and refuse to tip. And to learn as we go.
The worst part of the Bali video, well that was the bags being opened and the towels unwrapped to reveal the stolen goods. But the second-worst thing, was that the group wouldn’t apologise. That they raised their voices instead — and offered, haughtily, to pay for what they’d stolen.
It would serve us well, around the world, to remember that it’s not about the money, it’s about acknowledging that wherever you are, you’re in someone else’s home.