Why are Chinese tourists so rude? Apparently because they’ve never learned why they should be polite.
That’s the conclusion, more of less, of a blogger, Amy Li, who wrote an excellent, insightful column about the manners, or lack thereof, of Chinese tourists for the South China Morning News, a daily in Hong Kong. Since Ms. Li is Chinese, she is allowed to be frank. (No, she’s not being rude herself!)
With no disrespect intended, she says Chinese people are good people who tend to be rude, in general, because that’s how they’ve been taught to be; their role models are all rude. In over-crowded China, if you aren’t pushy, and willing to be rude about it, you likely will be pushed aside.
“Living in China, where the rule-of-law doesn’t exist, means everyone has to look out for their own interest,” Ms. Li writes. “It also means people have little or no respect for laws.”
She quotes a recent research study that says “ordinary folk” in China have poor role models. “They are forced to watch their laws being violated every day by their leaders,” she said. There’s a Chinese saying or idiom, “shang xing xia xiao”, which means “people in lower class follow what their leaders in the upper class do”.
Better-educated tourists seem to behave better, according to studies, but the older you are in China, the less likely it was that you received a high-quality education. “Middle-aged or older tourists who have been deprived of or received little education during China’s politically tumultuous times tend to act more unruly,” she wrote.
What sorts of bad behaviour are we talking about here? A new etiquette guide from China’s tourism board chides Chinese travelers abroad for peeing in public pools, chronic nose-picking in public, leaving footprints on public toilet seats (sit, don’t squat, please), and stealing airplane life jackets.
But here are some general complaints:
1. Bad Manners 101. Pushing, shoving and cutting in line is at the top of that list. Again, this relates back to the notion that if you aren’t willing to assert yourself, many Chinese have been conditioned to believe, you will miss out. But those are comparative misdemeanors; there are also reports of really boorish and felonious behaviour, which is difficult to rationalize, such stealing, vandalising and flouting social norms.
2. Ignoring signs, warnings and instructions. Most Chinese tourists who travel internationally speak, read and write no language other than their own (the lack of education issue again). And they tend to come poorly prepared for, uninterested in or overwhelmed by the idea of learning to speak, read or write in other languages. They see a sign, they don’t know – or don’t care – what it means, they keep going on. Until they get shooed away, fall off a cliff, crash, arrested and/or shot at.
3. Being obnoxious, abusive and unruly. Chinese seem to believe they deserve a special standard of customer service and/or value when they spend their hard-earned money. That’s not all that different from most people. But the Chinese tourists tend to take it beyond acceptable levels, Ms. Li said. She quotes a Beijing travel agent who says if Chinese clients don’t get what they want, they can (and usually do) become belligerent, verbally abusive and even “flip out.” “You cannot reason with them,” the agent said.
4. Tipping is another problem; most Chinese won’t do it. The few who do are misers. “Though most travel agents in China would educate their clients about tipping in a foreign country ahead of their trip,” Ms. Li said, “most people ended up tipping very little or none.” The situation can (and has) become “ugly” when staff confront Chinese patrons and demand tips. Chinese think it’s extortion.
5. Idiotic driving is not mentioned in Ms. Li’s blog item. But I will include it here, as I have some insights on this subject. It is very easy for a Chinese tourist, in America, for instance, to rent a car. I think this should not be allowed. Chinese drivers are, in general, poorly trained and inexperienced; up until a decade ago most Chinese didn’t drive – they rode bicycles. The automobile is still a rather new thing to them and they’ve had a rather steep learning curve. Also, back to education – very few Chinese can read road signs (since they aren’t in Chinese characters); so all kinds of misunderstandings and mayhem can occur. Finally, I have been told that in China the person who is ahead owns the road; so, they feel entitled to cut off people behind them, turn anyplace they like, or travel any speed they choose. Plus, as we mentioned above, they are just plain rude.
“In fact, the Communist Party’s Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilisation and the China National Tourism Administration have recently issued a 128-character-long rhyme to remind tourists of behaving in a ‘civilised manner’ on the road,” noted Ms. Li. “The topic has also been a big hit on China’s social media, where bloggers discuss and criticise the uncivilised behaviour of their compatriots.”
But many are not optimistic that the situation will change any time soon, she added. Chinese tourists “have a long way to go before they will be respected by the world,” she quotes a tourism expert as saying.
Of course, the problem is not incurable. Merely harkening back to one basic Chinese principle would make them a lot more welcome around the world. Confucius once wrote, “do not impose on others what you yourself don’t desire.”
[P.S. If you would like to read Ms. Li’s entire blog post, you may find it here.]
August 30, 2013