Dedicated to my dear friend and mentor, David J. Berliner, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Mondes Contemporains, Université Libre de Bruxelles
During the course of my travels, after a whole lot of intense, in-depth, even, I dare say, highly scientific research (it’s not all fun and games here!), I have managed to further distinguish four subtypes of travellers:
The complainers: generally 55 or older, travelling in groups of six or more, and French. (Seriously, this is no joke, spot a group of elderly tourists and 9 times out of 10 they are from France.) They come to third world countries and then complain all the time because things don’t live up to western standards: the bus is not comme ci, the room is not comme ça, the food is franchement dégueulasse, sacrebleu! Erm, hello, reality check: you are not in western Europe but in a developing country, mon cher ami. Moreover, they still expect everyone to speak French. Can somebody point out to them that French is no longer the lingua franca of the world, at least not since the Second World War? And that after they got their ass kicked in Dien Bien Phu in 1954, we now speak of Southeast Asia and no longer about the French colony of Indochine. (At the same time though, it has to be said, respect to them: at least they travel out to places such as Laos and Vietnam, instead of staying at home or going to pensioners’ holiday clubs like most other people their age would do. So kudos for that.)
- The “big camera, small dick” type. No further explanations necessary, I believe. Although maybe someone could explain them that with their camera, there was a manual, and in the manual, they can read how to turn off the flash. Maybe that way, Buddhist monks who collect their alms early in the morning, performing an age-old religious ritual, are not blinded by their constant flashing. For chrissakes, it’s not Disney’s Parade on Main Street.
- The cretins: a subset of the larger backpackers group. Typically in their early twenties, and usually Australian (Southeast Asia, it seems, is something of a summer playground for young, boisterous Aussies) or British. Can easily be recognised as they are always wearing swimwear and goofy hats and/or sunglasses, even in places where this is highly inappropriate or when the prevailing temperature would induce sensible people to wear at least a few extra layers. The cretin is either drunk, on his way to get drunk, or recovering from his previous bout of drunkenness. They are often found wandering around with a bottle of beer in their hand, even at places such as a local market in a non-touristy neighbourhood in Bangkok or in some swimming pools underneath a waterfall in a beautiful natural setting. Dude, I know the beer is cheap, but do you really have to? I’ve seen a particularly nasty specimen, who was actually working in a backpackers’ hostel in Hanoi, obviously still drunk from his night out, who thought no better than to sexually harass his Vietnamese colleague. Rarely have I felt so ashamed of being a westerner.
- The thrifty ones. Now, this is a touchy subject. I realise there’s a fine line between being on a budget and being downright stingy. Personally, I’m not on the tightest of budgets, I can travel quite comfortably (though not in luxury) and splurge occasionally, and I should not look down on those who really have limited resources. However, being on a budget should not be a reason to constantly bitch about prices, about how “expensive” everything is, about how everybody is always trying “to rip you off”. Of course, it won’t happen to them ‘cause they’re not a stupid tourist and they are adamant they will pay “the local price”.