Why do ‘Russian’ tourists behave so badly abroad?

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Feb. 11, 2009, 7:29 p.m. | Op-ed — by Alina Rudya

Alina Rudya

Alina Rudya is a writer and photographer living in Berlin, Germany. She was born in Prypyat, Ukraine, and briefly worked at the Kyiv Post after graduating from Kyiv Mohyla Academy in 2008. She is the author of "Prypyat Mon Amour," a photo-essay book on how the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear power plant disaster changed the lives of the 50,000 people in her hometown.

Tourists from former U.S.S.R. are quite easy to spot abroad Stereotypes are discriminatory, but they also exist for reasons. So, I apologize in advance to people whose feelings are hurt by this column. But I would also be happy if some people changed their behavior after reading my take about tourist stereotypes.

Think American tourist and many would answer: loud, overweight, doesn’t speak any language other than English and totally ignorant, excluding information that he or she picked up in a Lonely Planet guide.

Think Japanese tourist and many would say: loaded with the latest models of the most expensive photographic equipment to take smiling pictures everywhere; almost always travels in large groups.

But the most controversial, hated, mocked and avoided type of tourist is a “Russian” tourist. Important notice: when I say “Russian,” I mean all Slavic post-Soviets. Probably one of these nations does more than the others in perpetuating the negative image abroad, but I will generalize here. Unfortunately as it is, for most Europeans as well as for the rest of the world, Ukrainians, Belarusians and even Moldovans are still “Russians” when they go abroad.

This tourist type is quite young. But, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the so-called Iron Curtain, more post-Soviets go abroad for holidays. And, regrettably, they behave like bulls in a china shop.

So how does a Russian tourist behave? And why do Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians keep fueling bad images of their countries by behaving inappropriately abroad?

The Russian tourist is arrogant. If you are a foreigner and have lived in Russia or Ukraine for awhile, you probably noticed that people never say “sorry” when they step on your foot. They also never apologize when they push you on the street or in public transport. You are lucky if you are not yelled at instead. This attitude doesn’t change when these people go abroad either.

After you have lived in the country for some time, you get used to its inhabitants, their mentality and their attitude. But when you go abroad and have a chance to compare, that’s when you start to think about why some people are nice and friendly and others are grumpy and arrogant. That’s what happened to me. Until I left Ukraine I thought that arrogance was the norm. But when I started traveling abroad, I understood that I was wrong.

One more feature of Russians is eternal discontent. You can recognize a Russian tourist everywhere by the bored and unsatisfied expression. I remember going to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. I was impressed by its beauty, but my mood was spoiled when I heard: “Oh man, this is just so lame, let’s go somewhere else!” with a distinct Moscow accent. Others I met in Rome were talking about the small room they had in a hotel, the lousy Italian food that spoiled their digestion and the awful heat.

I understand that conditions may not always be the best. But if you cannot change the conditions – change your attitude. That’s what my Spanish friends say. Unfortunately, that’s not what a Russian tourist does. In Finland, the sauna is too cold; in Rome, the pizza is too hot. Paris is not romantic enough. In Oslo, prices are too high and the ocean is not as blue as on Bali. Another saying that comes to mind is: “If a person is not satisfied with what they have, they won’t be satisfied with whatever they desire.”

Another thing comes to mind that is very specific to post-Soviets abroad: not obeying the rules. Probably you’ve heard our saying: “Don’t go to a foreign monastery with your own set of rules.” Unfortunately, Russians do and their set of rules is no rules at all.

Russians are easy to spot in the plane. When the plane lands, the flight attendants ask you to stay seated and keep your mobile phones off until the seat belts signs are off. But there are those who unfasten their belts, jump up and yell into their mobile phones just after the landing gear hits the ground. Those are usually Russians – behaving as if they could jump out of the windows before the plane even stops.

Queues are also good places to spot the Russian tourists. I went skiing in Austria this year. The Russians were the only ones among many nationls who went around the whole line and pushed through. Why is that? I don’t know. I wish they were as disobedient with their governments as they are with people.

I saw a sign in Russian at a foreign spa, reading: “Dear guests! Entrance to the gym is free. But please, go one by one!” It was the only sign in Russian in the whole resort.

So, to paraphrase George Orwell’s famous quote: “All people are equal, but some (think that they) are more equal than others.” This is why they spit where it says “don’t spit,” smoke where it is forbidden and pee where no toilet exists.

All mentioned above is aggravated by the drinking problem many Russians have. There are actually restaurants in Europe that shun the Russian tourists just because they are afraid of losing the rest of their clientele. And it’s not about how much they drink - it’s about the tradition of drinking. Breaking a window and starting a fight is normal after a bottle of vodka in some places. But not in civilized ones. Unfortunately, the answer a manager gets from a drunken Russian tourist who has been asked to leave is cursing. I was a witness to such a conversation once and sorry that I was able to understand.

A wealthy family from Moscow, friends of mine, wanted to go to Courchevel, a fashionable French ski resort where the richest and best go. When they called to book a hotel, the manager refused to give them a room when he realized they are from Russia. “Unfortunately we had a really bad experience with the Russians and we have to keep our hotel’s image on certain level, so we regret…” and so on.

It escapes me why the Russian tourists behave the way they do. Maybe it is the inferiority complex still present in most post-Soviets, or jealousy of a better life, which most of our people didn’t have for a long time. Even though I am a part of this culture I still don’t understand what our problem is.

Whatever the reasons, bad behavior triggers proportional responses. I don’t want to be treated badly or skeptically because I’m from Ukraine. It’s easy to spoil your image, but hard to win back respect. But until some people understand that being happy and behaving nicely is actually good for you, I will suffer along with others who don’t embody the traditional Russian tourist stereotype.

One last example: How do kids react to a newcomer who beats them, yells at them or breaks their toys? They avoid him or her, or they are afraid. The same is with us. If we want to be part of the European community, if we want to be civilized and respected, we have to behave well when we are abroad. Unfortunately, some people are too arrogant to say “sorry” and it’s totally beneath them to stand in line. Sometimes it’s good not to be part of the crowd. But not in this case.

Alina Rudya is a staff writer and photographer for the Kyiv Post.
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