We’ve all seen the stereotypical “rude tourist” characters in films and in cartoons. Sadly, they’re real, and you’re bound to come across a few in Europe. They stress out service people, make locals cringe, and compel other travelers to tiptoe quietly away and swear up and down that they’re not together. Here are five pitfalls to avoid, since they will turn you from a welcome traveler to a rude tourist in no time at all.
5 Be rude and disrespectful in houses of worship
Since Europe’s old churches and synagogues are marvels of art and architecture, they are very popular tourist attractions. However, many of them are also active houses of worship. Even if you don’t adhere to or agree with the religion, if you choose to enter the building, you need to respect your surroundings. That might involve following any dress code that exists, keeping your voice down, and doing your very best not to disrupt services if they’re in progress.
4 Wreck things
How about those crystal clear Mediterranean waters? The beer bottles you left in the sea will make someone else’s swim less pleasant — most notably the marine life. When you left your garbage on the stoop of that London townhouse, someone had to clean up after you. Thanks for taking a flash photo of that 500 year old painting; you’ve just helped fade it out a little more. You wouldn’t want your home destroyed, so don’t wreck someone else’s. The old saying about leaving a place in better condition than you found it isn’t a bad standard to follow.
3 Inconvenience the locals
You’re on vacation, but the locals walking behind you are just trying to do their grocery shopping or get to work on time so they won’t get fired. If you make them miss their train because you’re standing indecisively in the way, they are going to be justifiably upset. When you visit another city or country, it is good to remember that you’re not in a theme park and the locals aren’t there to amuse you. They are trying to live their lives, and they don’t need to be impeded upon. You wouldn’t want someone getting in your way at home.
2 Loudly criticize the local customs
You’re from America? Canada? Australia? New Zealand? Singapore? And…? Nobody’s going to applaud or give you a gold star. National pride is great; arrogance gets tiresome. Loudly boasting that you are from The Best Country Ever, and that things are so much better back home, isn’t going to impress anyone. You’re not home, remember? Arrogance isn’t going to magically open the stores that are closed at midday for siesta, get the supermarket checker to bag your groceries, or ensure that complete strangers won’t share your table in the café, either. Unless the custom is something that infringes on your personal safety — sexual harassment is a good example of something that is never acceptable under any circumstances — suck it up and deal.
1 Assume everyone, everywhere speaks English
Look, nobody is saying that you have to invest in a suite of Rosetta Stone CDs and develop perfect fluency in another language for a week-long trip. Yes, a lot of Europeans are fluent in several languages so you will probably encounter locals who speak English, particularly throughout Scandinavia and in large cities. However, out of respect for the country you’re visiting, and in recognition of the fact that English isn’t the native tongue, it’s polite to learn a few phrases in the local language. Even if you don’t have an ear for it, you should be able to pick up some basics, such as “please,” “thank you,” “yes,” “no,” “excuse me,” “help” and “do you speak English?” There are a lot of free resources online and at your local library, and if you check the back of your guidebook, there’s probably a short vocabulary list. Making an earnest effort to speak the language goes a long way toward getting help and consideration from locals, and believe it or not, it will make you feel more in tune with your surroundings.
Really, there’s no need to preach. When you’re at home, the keys to peaceful co-existence are simple: avoid being an inconsiderate jackass and remember that the world doesn’t revolve around you. When you’re traveling in Europe, those caveats still apply.