Frankly, I just can’t take it anymore. I can’t listen to one more foreigner yell at someone because they think shouting will help the person understand them better, or mocking the way the locals speak or talking down to them because their English isn’t perfect. For as long as I can remember I have sat quietly, shaking my head, frown on my face, embarrassed by the ugly behavior of the foreigner. I’m not sure when I snapped exactly, but I just can’t sit quietly anymore.
It all started with the man in 1A. I could tell that the man in 1A wasn’t a frequent flyer and had probably travelled internationally few times, if at all. I’m not sure why, but I had made an assumption that people who fly in first class internationally are all either frequent flyers or well traveled individuals. Thank you, man in 1A, for clearing up that misconception. This was my annual frequent flyer mile redemption for an international first class trip; this flight was from LA to Seoul. Right off the bat I could see that the man in 1A was going to be trouble.
The man in 1A was apparently incredibly concerned about how he’d get his boarding pass for his connecting flight in Seoul. For whatever reason, the airline couldn’t print it out when he checked in. He was so concerned that he asked, over and over and over again about it. The very kind flight attended tried the best she could to explain that someone would meet the plane in Seoul to help him. Unsatisfied, he began shouting, as if she would suddenly understand what he was asking and provide some different answer. The flight manager came over and tried to assist. The man repeated himself, many times, and the flight manager kept telling him that when we landed, there would be someone to meet the plane with his ticket. To that, he replied over and over, I have my ticket, I need a boarding pass, can you understand me? He ended each sentence with ‘can you understand me.’ He became incredibly rude and downright insulting.
That was it. I couldn’t take it anymore. The man in 1A seemed shocked that I was speaking to him. I said “I’ll speak very slowly so you can understand me. When we land, there will be someone from the airline to meet you. Can you understand me so far?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “They will have a ticket for your connecting flight. They will escort you to your connecting flight. Can you understand me?” All he said was “but I need a boarding pass.” I said, “Well, either the ticket they have for you will be a boarding pass, or it will be enough to get you to your gate where I’m sure you can get a boarding pass.” He didn’t speak again, for the rest of the flight.
Since then, I have noticed countless examples of rude behavior. While on vacation the last week in Malaysia and Thailand, I’ve found that vacationers seem to be ruder than your average traveler. Take the man at my current hotel whose traveling companion is about 20 years younger than him. The man, along with his ‘escort’ or ‘companion’ walked up to one of the desks in the hotel lobby and said the woman behind the desk, ‘are you the concierge?’ The woman obviously didn’t understand. He said ‘concierge’ over and over. Still, she didn’t understand. So instead of trying to explain what he wanted or asking in a different way, he shouted “does anyone working here speak English?” One of the managers walked over to help the man.
There was a couple at dinner last night who couldn’t understand the waiter. Instead of asking the waiter to speak more slowly or repeat himself, the couple actually laughed out loud and the man mimicked the waiters broken English. That did it for me, I couldn’t hold my tongue. I said to the couple, “Let me see if I can translate for you. He said, do you want mineral water or sparkling water.” The man said, “We want tap water.” Now I laughed. “No, no you don’t want tap water. You can’t drink the tap water here.” I just shook my head.
If you’re traveling on vacation, here’s something you should remember: you choose to come here. It was your choice to come to a country where English is not the primary language spoken. Be patient. Try to explain what you’re after in different ways. Be kind. If you’re traveling on business, keep in mind that the success or failure of your business in that country could be impacted by your ability to communicate, the effectiveness of your communication and your understanding of the local culture. Being rude just won’t help – in any situation.
So please, keep this quote in mind “rudeness is the weak mans imitation of strength” and leave the rudeness at home!