Chinese tourists may be rich, but they’ve gained a global reputation for being poor in manners. Here at home, Singaporeans have frankly found their antics (loud voices, spitting, cutting queues, etc.) hard to take. With their well-known misdemeanours breeding anger across the internet, it may be useful to try and understand the social reasons – right or wrong – for such behaviour.
By Vincent Tan
Feature image belongs to Daniel Case
USA, circa 2061. Image belongs to Ian Burt
The habit of littering in mainland China has been exported with its tourists, prompting even the Chinese President to criticise his people. What’s the cause?
Let’s be frank. Most streets in China are litter-strewn. And for anyone who has visited China, you probably agree from experience, the average citizen simply doesn’t view public litter as a personal responsibility. It’s simply a case of, if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I? Compound that with a lack of public moral education, and no foreign exposure on the part of many first-time Chinese tourists, and it is perhaps easy to see why some carry a pick-up-after-me attitude with them on holiday.
Pooing in Public
Where is the loo?
We were all taught where to do our business, and probably take it for granted that everyone else learned the same. So it’s often surprising to hear of cases like a Chinese couple letting their child poop in an airplane aisle, in front of a Burberry store, or on sidewalks everywhere. It almost sounds too impossible to logically explain, but…
Public toilets were not a common convenience in much of China until recently. Coupled with the widespread use of crotchless children’s clothes, it seems that’s fostered a culture where kids drop it like it’s hot, no matter where they are. Young, metropolitan parents may be much better, but generally, the older generation…
Similarly, the strange practice of discarding used toilet paper in a basket instead of the toilet is a habit from dealing with China’s old plumbing designs, much of which easily clogs and floods if fed with paper.
In Asian culture, it is obvious that speaking loudly is a sign of rudeness and dominance. Chinese tourists therefore leave us scratching our heads (and cupping our ears), and actually motivated a Swiss train company to separate “noisy Chinese tourists” into their own carriages.
This simply stems from the fact that China’s a loud, pushy place in general, and frankly most locals don’t have any global context to understand the way things are done outside of China. They may not even know that it’s inappropriate to talk loudly, since speaking loudly in the mainland is also used to convey strength, or express friendliness. How would they know that we’re actually hearing them very differently? Think of those who don’t quite understand internet etiquette by TALKING LIKE THEY’RE SHOUTING BY USING ALL-CAPS.
Hogging (and queuing)
Singaporeans are raised in a competitive, kiasu culture, but even we are shocked to see Chinese tourists scooping up platefuls of buffet prawns like they just became extinct, with the large amounts left uneaten only further confusing us. What causes this grabbing, greedy behaviour?
Forty years ago, China’s Cultural Revolution left 200 million people severely malnourished, so it’s easy to see where China’s culture of ‘you snooze, you lose’ comes from, at least in the older generation. Basically, can you totally blame (formerly) starving people for trying to take whatever they can get their hands on, whether it’s a heaping plate of prawns or the whole of the South China Sea? Well, no and yes – but it’s complicated. This is why today you’ll see Chinese tourists in a hurry to hog buffet lines, jump the queues or take ‘liberties’ that strike the rest of us as wrong.
Recent waves of Chinese tourists have taken the world by (unpleasant) surprise, trying their patience with sheer numbers and poor etiquette. Thankfully the Chinese government has sought to change this with education, issuing etiquette guidebooks , a rhyme of rules, and threatening its worst offenders with the blacklist.
Frankly it’s not uncommon for someone not used to travelling abroad, to bring their bad habits with them, like unwanted baggage. And being bad travellers isn’t unique to mainland Chinese. We’ve all heard horror tourist stories: Indian tourists blaring loud music in quiet mountain resorts, Westerners stripping on Mt. Kinabalu, sober Dominicans urinating in hotel swimming pools in Florida, drunken Aussies stealing a giant snow-plowing truck in Japan, noisy Americans… being American, or even that Singaporean woman throwing a whole Peking duck at a customs official (in China, of all places).
There is hope that these new travellers may get better with time and proper training, now that proper etiquette has become another mark of status among the newly rich in China. Hundreds have signed up to learn skills ranging from table manners, to small talk, cutlery use and even luxury brand pronunciation and elegant posing for the camera.