Travel, besides seeing new places, is about understanding a different way of living, of speaking, and interacting with people. After all, these places wouldn’t be the way they are today without the locals who made it happen. Therefore, to be a stranger and to step unto their land is to be let in as a favor, as means of imparting their customs and values in this ever-expanding, globalized world.
That said, being welcomed comes with the unspoken rule of being considerate. In other words, be respectful and mindful of how you conduct yourself in exchange and mannerisms with locals and your surroundings. While it’s true that countries have their specific customs that might clash with others, there still remains some universal ones that are ultimately just common sense. And unfortunately, some people just don’t have that.
Yes, I’m talking about tourists who arrive and have no idea how embarrassing they are. From littering on the streets to demanding a hamburger at a sushi restaurant, these folks have zero self-awareness of their behavior, and they cause locals to resent them, even other visitors. Seriously, I get secondhand embarrassment whenever I encounter a crass tourist on my travels.
I admit, I’ve made some faux pas during my early days of travel. I’m not proud of them, but I’ve actively tried since then to be more mindful of how I act, even do a bit of research on the customs before I go. That said, if tourists are trying to respect these customs, their mistakes can be forgiven. It’s just those who repeatedly make the same blunder that makes me shake my head in disbelief. Harsh as it may sound, it admittedly offers amusing tales to tell.
Hence, I’m sharing with you a few stories of “cringey” tourists I’ve encountered on my travels. These folks made me laugh, shake my head, and overall gave me secondhand embarrassment. Not only are these stories being told for entertainment, but also as a warning sign to, well, not be like them whenever you travel. Don’t be these people, folks!
Don’t Be “That Guy”: Encountering Cringey Tourists (My Experience)
1. London, England (December 2015)
I was in and around Buckingham Palace, and I decided to check out the Royal Mews. Outside of the mews were a couple of British Guards, decked out in their cherry-red uniforms and tall bearskins, on horses. Photos were allowed, and there was a small queue for tourists to do so. There was a woman in her 30s who went up, stood next to the horse, and grabbed the reins as she smiled and posed.
At first, the British guard politely coughed and asked her to “please release the reins,” but when she didn’t (probably didn’t hear him), he got angry, slapped her hands off, and yelled, “LET GO!” The woman was taken back, but honestly, she had it coming. After all, it wasn’t her horse (nor was she going to ride it), so it was tacky of her to think she could grab the reins for a photo. Minor incident, but I felt bad for her, as she was literally chastised in front of a crowd by a British Guard, who are one the most-respectable soldiers in the country. You don’t mess with them!
2. Český Krumlov, Czech Republic (April 2016)
I was on a guided tour around the Old Town, with fifteen other tourists– it’s important to note that the average age of these folks was around 70, and I, being in my early 20s then, was the youngest by far. Majority of us were American, too. These are details, but they’re significant to this story…
Our guide was a middle-aged Czech woman, who was very informative and gave us a lot of history about Český Krumlov. After the guided tour of Old Town ended, she gave us about half an hour to wander Old Town on our own, before we were to reconvene and head up to the castle to continue the visit. She did a quick headcount of us, in order to keep track of how many we were. However, she counted in Czech, and one of the tourists (an older, American woman) mumbled to her friend: “that’s not counting.” Uh…what??
I was dumbfounded at how dumb the statement was– just because the guide wasn’t counting in English doesn’t mean she wasn’t counting! The guide was counting in Czech, because it’s her native language and was comfortable in it. Thankfully, the guide didn’t hear the ungodly ignorant comment, but seriously, I was cringing so hard at that American woman and for the other tourists who heard it, too.
3. Auschwitz, Poland (April 2017)
Now, I have reservations when it comes to visiting sites of tragedy, especially when it has been commercialized for people to come and take photos of it. Yet, at the same time, I do believe they serve a purpose to educate us on past horrors, and to make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself. Auschwitz is no exception.
That said, it’s important to be extra-cautious when conducting oneself at these places, to be aware of how and where to take photos. When passing through the main gate of the concentration camp, I saw a woman taking a selfie in front of the gate. Not only that, but she was smiling. Which is something you best not do while visiting a place that literally killed millions of people. I give her the benefit of the doubt, as she probably forgot that this wasn’t, erm, a joyous place to be taking a smiling selfie, but still, it was a HUGE faux pas. Yikes.
4. Auschwitz, Poland (April 2017)
If the woman taking a happy selfie in Auschwitz wasn’t the only cringe-worthy thing I saw, I clearly hadn’t seen enough. I continued my self-guided tour outside of the concentration camps, and onto the grounds where Jews and other “undesirables” were taken off to the gas chambers to be killed. It was an outdoor area with multiple guided tours going on at the same time, telling the tragic history of it all.
One of these tour groups had a small toddler, who clearly had no idea what was going on, nor cared about the historical significance of Auschwitz. He was quite antsy and decided to run around the grounds, yelling, picking up random sticks and throwing them around. He was making a ruckus, and although it was irritating, what made me mad was that his parents were doing nothing to stop him; they were still listening to the tour guide, pretending their son wasn’t there. If this isn’t irresponsible parenting, then I don’t know what is.
5. Tivoli, Italy (December 2017)
My family and I took a day trip to Tivoli during our stay in Rome. We spent the day on a guided tour throughout town, going from villa to villa and admiring their elegance. We ended the visit at the famed Villa d’Este, which is known for its Roman-inspired water fountains and well-manicured hedges.
There were perhaps ten to fifteen of us on the guided tour, including a young, college-aged girl and her father. The girl was clearly very excited to be visiting Tivoli and wanted to have her photo taken at just about every pretty staircase, garden, or painting we passed on our tour. Now, it’s perfectly fine to want your photo taken with a beautiful backdrop, but when you’re asking your father to take a photo of you at every other site AND dragging the tour behind, it does make the other tourists (and tour guide) impatient and annoyed.
What was especially irritating was at the very end of the tour, we had to exit the villa and head back to our bus to head back to Rome. After a long day spent walking everywhere and getting stuffed with Italian history, we were all-too-eager to go back and rest. However, the girl held us back, as she had to do one more glamour shot at one of the villa’s balconies. Or rather, several glamour shots. As her poor father took one photo after another, we were glowering at her, waiting for her to finish her modeling career so that we could return to Rome. Girl, I’m all for getting that photo for Instagram, but really, that was too much…
Have you encountered a cringey tourist (or have been a cringey tourist yourself)? Let me know!