Mention the word “tourist” and you can be forgiven for recalling the expectorations, feeble linguistic skills and criminally small swimming briefs of this homogenous traveler “race.”
But not everyone’s like that.
To celebrate the diplomatic power of diversity, we’ve compiled a list of the best traveling nationalities. Including people who, even at their worst, are sort of memorable.
Which is why we travel in the first place.
It’s not scientific, it’s not definitive and it will probably make most nations not on it (and perhaps a few that are) angry — which is another reason to love them.
Ours may be the first word on the matter, but it’s hardly meant to be the last.
Identifying travel feature: The Canadian flag. They sew it on everything: backpacks, hats, shirts, shorts, possibly underwear. Many probably have it tattooed some place in case their suitcase gets swiped by thieves who see the maple leaf as an invitation to lay their hands on dull but practical clothing.
Commendable habits: Not being American. All the affirming positivity of their southern peer, without the loud.
Such polite, earnest people that you actually root for their hockey team to beat yours in international competitions.
Shortcomings: Declaring themselves not American at every opportunity, as if they think they’re going to be blamed for the Iraq war, global warming or Sarah Palin.
Identifying travel feature: The nuclear tan. Deprived of sunlight at home, the English love frazzling their delicate complexions with the deadly rays emanating from our nearest star.
Commendable habits: They can (usually) speak English, and the tendency to burn can be used as a handy vacation timeline. Day 1: alabaster. Day 2: lobster. Day 3: blister. Day 4: peeler.
If you buy them a beer — or even suggest it — they’ll be your friend for life.
Shortcomings: For the English, vacations and alcohol go together like cheap liquor and waking up in a foreign hospital attached to a drip. Always unable to communicate in the local lingo, they resort to speaking English slowly and loudly: “Call … the … embassy … someone … has … stolen … my … kidney …”
Identifying travel feature: Independent travel is still a rarity for Chinese vacationers. Most tour in organized groups, being bellowed at by a guide with a megaphone standing less than a meter away.
Commendable habits: Ready, willing and very able to eat anything you put in front of them … and appreciate it like a local.
Oh, yes, and money. While tourism is suffering in the global economic downturn, the Chinese are still spending.
Shortcomings: It’s still early days for Chinese global tourism, which is perhaps why vacation etiquette is a work in progress. The days of carving their names on historic sites and smoking absolutely everywhere will surely vanish soon.
Identifying travel feature: Wearing the Aussie uniform of shorts, singlet and flip-flops regardless of local climate or cultural sensitivities.
Commendable habits: Infectious laid-back nature. If they’d been able to get visas, there would probably have been congenial Australians dressed like surfers wandering around Afghanistan under the Taliban. “Nice beard, mate …”
Shortcomings: Congregating and abbreviating. Great on their own, but tough to take in large numbers (as witnessed in the Aussified bars of Bali’s Kuta resort), largely thanks to beer intake and insistence on shortening every second word. “Cazza and Wozza are going to Afghazza this arvo …”
Identifying travel feature: Italians’ love of designer labels doesn’t leave them when they depart the shopping piazzas of Milan. It’s not unknown to see Italian women scaling the slopes of Machu Picchu in stiletto heels and using Gucci handbags to ward off slobbering llamas.
Commendable habits: If there are Italians, there’s probably good coffee.
They’re also the ones at the table across the restaurant having a much better time than you.
Shortcomings: Italians have a reputation for being pushy and caring little for the feelings of fellow travelers. Unfair, perhaps, but when your home is one of the world’s best tourist destinations, you can probably live with it.
Identifying travel feature: Yes, the cliché about carrying cameras is true, but everyone with a cell phone carries a camera these days. We’re not sure that the white gloves and surgical masks sported by some Japanese will catch on though.
Commendable habits: An adventurous bunch, Japanese tourists can be found everywhere satiating a wanderlust that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with the boozelust favored by so many others. Their passion for all things twee sustains attractions at risk of dying a sugary death. World of Beatrix Potter, anyone?
Shortcomings: Striking V-sign poses in every photo. Suffering psychological problems as over-romanticized view of cities like Paris fails to match grim French reality.
Identifying travel feature: Tall, blond, relaxed, healthy: Swedes are easy to spot, but not to be confused with Norwegians (prone to being taller but gloomier) or Danes (even taller, even gloomier).
Commendable habits: Easygoing Swedes are often seen as the Californians of Europe, even if they can come across as a bit dour.
They’re known for being polite, self-deprecating and evenly tanned. Few nationalities look better in beachwear.
Shortcomings: They make the rest of us look like gelatinous blobs.
Identifying travel feature: Dress like professional golfers … the ones who didn’t qualify for the tour.
Commendable habits: Yes, some are still loud and prone to complaining. But years of PC inculcation and generally peaceful life in one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries has made most Americans more culturally sensitive than they’re often given credit for.
And when it comes to tipping, they’re professionals. Americans will tip you just for staring at them. Try it.
Shortcomings: Still seem to think “American” is synonymous with “entitled.”
Identifying travel feature: An enduring fondness for the beer-belly-and-super-tight-Speedo look that seems to overshadow otherwise ordinary appearances.
Commendable habits: Germans have an innate love of the outdoors and a curiosity about other cultures that frequently takes them beyond the beaches of Europe.
As global travelers, they’re seen as intelligent, respectful and friendly. And while they may drink as much booze as their European contemporaries, at least they can handle it.
Shortcomings: The diminutive swimwear has got to go.
Identifying travel feature: Chilled-out Chileans are true travelers, relishing the journey as much as the destination.
Commendable habits: Too many to recount. Admittedly, this entry is based solely on one experience of sharing transport with a generous Chilean woman in Tibet who, despite the hardships of a year of budget traveling, never once complained.
In contrast, her companion, a European who nauseatingly described herself as a “citizen of the world,” whined constantly and haggled over every cent.
Shortcomings: Too easygoing. Should have dumped the Euro whiner long ago. Preferably in a ditch.