We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]


I am not quite sure how robust this report is in terms of its data sample, but it does rather undermine the standard complaint that the British are the worst tourists. I am still not entirely convinced, but still:

PARIS (Reuters Life!) – French tourists are the worst in the world, coming across as bad at foreign languages, tight-fisted and arrogant, according to a survey of 4,500 hotel owners across the world.
They finish in last place in the survey carried out for internet travel agency Expedia by polling company TNS Infratest, which said French holidaymakers don’t speak local languages and are seen as impolite.


“It’s mainly the fact that they speak little or no English when they’re abroad, and they don’t speak much of the local language,” Expedia Marketing Director Timothee de Roux told radio station France Info. “The French don’t go abroad very much. We’re lucky enough to have a country which is magnificent in terms of its landscape and culture,” he said, adding that 90 per cent of French people did their traveling at home.

Yet we Anglos are not that great at speaking foreign languages either. I mean, I speak passable French, German and a few phrases in Italian, but most French folk I have met abroad do speak English of varying degrees. To a certain extent, such a finding might depend on the type of tourist and the places they go to: most French tourists or expats living in London will tend, I find, to be pretty keen to find out about where they are and so will learn the language a bit.

The report concludes:

“But French tourists received some consolation for their poor performance, finishing third after the Italians and British for dress sense while on holiday.”


25 comments to Tourists

  • I used to feel guilty about not speaking any foreign languages, until a Norwegian once said to me that the problem with going to France was that they don’t speak English.

  • Millie Woods

    I’m putting on my Linguistics prof hat for this comment.

    The reason English speakers aren’t motivated to speak other languages is that they belong to an almost half a billion linguistic community which uses the world’s primary language of access.
    The Norwegian mentioned in the first comment is a perfect example of why non native speakers speak English. If you were part of a language community with fewer than ten million speakers you’d need to know another language to have access to knowledge not available in your own tongue.
    BTW the French first language community worldwide is around 80 million and shrinking.

  • Alisa

    Italians poorly dressed? Hmmm. Well, I haven’t seen them on their holidays, and people do tend to go a bit crazy when going abroad…

  • Any one got a link to the actual rankings? Irritatingly the Reuters article doesn’t link back to them… I don’t really see why not.. this internet thing has been around for and a decade and a half or so… It should be common practise by now!

  • Alisa

    Millie, one doesn’t have to be a linguist to be well aware of the Anglo-American cultural hegemony, of which the English language is an important part. Still, it doesn’t mean that we have to rub this hegemony into people’s faces when we visit their countries, especially when we happen to be asking for their help. Learning just a word or two of the local language, along with a general air of not automatically expecting the locals to speak English, can go a very long way towards mutual good will.

  • kentuckyliz

    Nice to know that the Murkans aren’t the rudest and worst dressed. I was sort of expecting that, given Euro prejudices about Murkans.

  • Millie Woods

    Ailsa, you misread my comment. I wasn’t justifying Anglo anything but merely stating facts about the primary reason people learn languages other than their native tongues – to have access to that which is not available to them in their own language.
    As for learning a word or two or a phrase or two of another language – well I’m not necessarily a fan. I speak a bit of German and found that in Germany it was better to keep that fact to myself because every time I trotted out a bit of the local lingo I was met with a torrent of what for me with my limited German resources was undecipherable. When I switched to French my other language I was met with blank stares. Me Tarzan/you Jane English was the winner hands down every time.

  • Alisa

    Millie: sorry about that, didn’t mean to put words in your mouth, as it were. As to the substance of my comment, my experience is from Italy, and from some friends who visited France (those precious few who did not go on and on about how those nasty French refuse to speak English). It may well be different in Germany. I found that in Greece virtually everyone speaks decent English, and then there is Turkey…long story:-)

  • TomC

    These surveys tend to have a very arbitrary nature, according to the type of respondent and the criteria used. This doesn’t change the fact that British tourists are generally poorly perceived in the most well known surveys of local Spanish people observing the tourists on the Costa.

    That said, the French clearly rank alongside ourselves or worse in ability to speak foreign languages, and having lived and worked in France for 20 years, I can vouch for the money issue also – the cost of eating out and staying in hostelry in France has traditionally been very low relatively, and in addition expectations among the French are very high relative to cost, particularly for food quality.

    Also, in the Anglo-American community “tipping” is a matter of course, whereas in France service charges are traditionally included in all hotels and restaurants – consequently French people will never tip.

    I wouldn’t call the French “arrogant” though. Clearly, the failure to speak local languages leads to the typical conclusion, as many an English tourist will have experienced.

    Finally, we are never going to beat the old language problem. I stopped at a restaurant just on the Spanish side of Andorra with my wife last year, and we confidently opened the menu in the knowledge that between us we spoke French, German, Italian and English, so expected to be able to make ourselves understood. Unfortunately, no one spoke anything but Spanish, so we went through the meal not knowing whether we were ordering goat, ice cream or cheese! It worked out OK though.

  • g6loq

    I found that they understand English if you speak loud!

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Heh. “Your finger, you fool!”

  • Robert Speirs

    I remember a day in Budapest when I ran into some French tourists who were quite miffed that the only language at all practical for speaking to Hungarians – since no foreigners know Magyar – was English. And you should have seen the looks on their faces when some brochures were brought out, in Magyar and English only!

  • Eric

    I find French tourists outside France perfectly capable of speaking English if you have something they need, otherwise they wouldn’t. Which was odd, as I had no trouble getting around in France with guidebook-level French. The locals were generally quite willing to converse in English as long as I made the effort to greet them in French.

  • The grade that a given set of tourists receives from a particular region will depend heavily on the socioeconomic profile of the tourists from that country which it manages to attract.

    With regard to Britain in particular I would say that this is particularly relevant.

  • Yet we Anglos are not that great at speaking foreign languages either.

    American tourists were voted the most likely to at least try to speak the local language.


  • Scrutineer
    At least part of this is probably down to the relatively high educational level of those Americans who choose to travel abroad compared to say working class brits in spain.

    Being based in Japan at the moment I can assure you that most of the G.I.s I see stationed here have little interest in learning the local language

  • Nuke Gray!

    When next on hols, why not try this simple practical joke- speak a few words in Esperanto? ‘Vi parolas Esperanton?’ will confuse them every time! Esperanto as a world language- not likely, and not in the near future!

  • RAB

    We Brits beat ourselves up about our inability to speak other languages, and rightly so, we dont do it very well.

    But then neither do the French, German or Italians.

    I have spent a lot of time in Italy in the last few years, and they are crap at english.
    But also French and Spanish and German.
    Like Johnathan, I have a smattering of those languages, but I was reduced to cod Latin when lost in the mountains of Sardinia and looking for a gas station.

    And what is it about the Dutch that they can speak my language better than I can?

    One of our educationalists aught to pop over there and investigate
    toute soute
    Nes Pas!

  • Valerie

    And for how many years have the French called us ignorant and provincial? 90% of them prefer to vacation in France-O.K., just don’t complain when we American’s prefer to see our own much larger country before we go overseas.

  • Paul Marks

    My father used to say that the British (although he was born and bred here he could still speak of the British as “other” when he had a mind to) were ignorant of other languages and were dirty.

    I would like to disagree – but I can speak no other languages (he could speak several) and the house and garden have certainly become a bit of a mess since he died.

    I suspect I am rather typical of a “modern Brit” in these things – unfortunately.

  • widmerpool

    I found the sight of red-faced French tourists in Vietnam shouting at the English speaking locals quite amusing.

    The whole foreign language thing is simply not true though. I’ve been working around the world for 20 years and it is a simple fact that you will find Brits and Americans that speak Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and can deal with waiters and taxi drivers in half a dozen languages. Everyone else just learns English. Of course the French moan that no one can be bothered to learn French, but why would you? In Europe English is the language of business and politics, every educated person should speak it. The only reason to learn French, Spanish, German, Italian or whatever is for a hobby.

  • Bill Chapman

    I’ve just seen a throw-away comment about Esperanto.

    I’ve used Esperanto on my travels with great success.

  • Kim du Toit

    “The locals were generally quite willing to converse in English as long as I made the effort to greet them in French.”

    You could substitute just about any language for “French” in the above statement, and the point would remain valid. It’s called “manners”, and it’s a critical part of realizing that in another country, you are the guest, and they are the host.

    As for GIs not wanting, or attempting to speak Japanese, I would postulate that the host country’s not using a Roman (Western) alphabet would be a primary cause. Where there is at least even a partially-congruent alphabet, communication is possible. Sanskrit, however, would render it impossible.

    I speak passable French and German (better still the longer I stay), and some Dutch (a heritage from Afrikaans, in which I am fluent). I have absolutely no problem getting around anywhere in Western Europe, but would have extrardinary difficulty in, say, Greece or Turkey.

    Incidentally, I found that my German was of no assistance in Switzerland. In fact, the only time I was ever treated rudely by locals was in Switzerland, despite speaking to them in both German and French in an attempt to ask directions. It was the closest I’ve come to wanting to punch a cop since I left South Africa lo those twenty-odd years ago.

    My favorite story is when I remonstrated with a waitress in Holland, who persisted in speaking to me in English, even though I was speaking to her in halting Dutch.

    “How am I supposed to practice my Dutch when you won’t speak it to me?” I asked. She was unrepentant.

    “How else am I supposed to practice my English?” was her response. “English is more useful than Dutch.”

    Always pragmatic, those cheese-heads.

    When it comes to multilingialism, however, I’m always reminded of the Danish-born Emperor Misha I, who speaks better English than most people who post on the Internet despite the fact that English is actually his fourth language (after Danish, German and Russian). Like me, he only struggles with non-Roman alphabets.

    The Danes are as pragmatic as the Dutch about this issue.

  • Nuke Gray!

    Bill, wasn’t English more useful than Esperanto wherever you went? I know that some people in Britain were told that Esperanto was going to be the language we should all speak, but it seems useless- the World Language has become English. Perhaps we should work on Esperanglo, a consistently-spelt version of English. But English is more useful.

  • I agree that we need an international language, but a lingua franca for the World should be for everyone and not just for an educational or political elite. This is the position for English at the moment. So which language should it be?

    The British learn French, the Australians study Japanese and the Americans prefer Spanish.

    Yet this leaves Mandarin Chinese out of the equation.

    An interesting video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YHALnLV9XU

    You can see detail of Esperanto at http://www.lernu.net