Not-so-breaking news: Brits are consistently ranked as one of the world’s worst tourists. So, as millions of us get ready to pack our bags and fly away for the holidays, this cannot come as a better reminder on how much work we need to do to alter our reputation and attitude towards the rest of the world.
Let’s face it, us Brits have some pretty unreasonable expectations when going abroad – especially when it comes to the issue of language. When visiting a foreign land, a lot of us expect or assume that our host country will be teeming with natives who can speak our language. We unapologetically speak in English, perhaps switching up our tone or volume with complete abandon, whilst having a total disregard towards the language of the country we are in. Yet, on the other hand, tourists visiting Britain can never expect to have the same privilege. What is perhaps worse is that many British folk when abroad, mock or get frustrated with locals who are unable to speak English or cannot do so with great proficiency. Imagine the uproar in Britain if a Polish tourist mocked or got irritated with a Brit for not being able to speak the Polish language properly! Note the double standard? If that isn’t a show of narrow-minded, obnoxious and entitled behaviour, I really don’t know what is.
This to me is deeply shameful. More importantly, it perpetuates a hypocritical mindset in which for some reason, us English speakers think we are entitled to special treatment abroad – especially in comparison to non-English speakers. We bestow upon ourselves the title of being the ultimate VIPs, all because we can speak our own language without any qualms.
Quite frankly, thinking that a lot of the world can or should be able to speak English is an incredibly presumptuous and ignorant attitude to employ. It sort of highlights the privileges we have of living in the West. We live in our own little bubble where as a result of lack of exposure to certain situations, we sometimes find it difficult to understand that many people around the world do not have the same experiences as us. We expect those abroad to make an effort in communicating with us, but at the same time, a lot of us don’t offer the same experience to non-English speakers in Britain. It is just plain rude to think that our needs should be specially catered to, particularly when visiting a foreign country. It shows a complete lack of respect and preparation, where we feel the need to make no effort in a country that is not our own.
It’s quite obvious; when visiting a country, you should come as prepared as possible. And by prepared, I mean being aware of cultural shifts and for the purposes of this discussion, being sensitised to potential language barriers. Now, that does not necessarily mean taking a Rosetta Stone course and learning a language fluently, but rather, it means being armed with some words and phrases you can utilise when communicating any difficulties or questions you may have. If you can afford to go on holiday, I’m sure you can also afford to buy a pretty basic language guide or dictionary. Until recently, one had to pay for roaming charges in Europe, but now you can use your data at no extra charge. So really, you have no excuses, Google Translate is literally with you at all times, across most of Europe. Making an effort is so much better than blindly depending on your assumption that people in a non-English speaking country should be able to speak English. Why should they be able to anyway – just so they can be of some convenience to presumptive and entitled Brits?
I understand that due to its “globalisation” English often acts as a common second-language amongst many people. However, we must remember that it isn’t the be all and end all. A great deal of (sometimes) unnecessary importance is given to English, with this being rooted in British imperialism and colonisation. As a nation, we must begin to realise that Britain is no longer the powerful nation that it once was, colonising vast amounts of the globe. All countries have their own identities which we should learn to appreciate, respect and be tolerant towards. That also means attempting to communicate with natives in a way which they are accustomed to, without requiring them to anglicise their approach due to our laziness and entitled attitude.
As tourists, we are given the incredible opportunity to access elements of a peoples’ country and culture whilst also acting as informal representatives of our own country. The least we could do is not rely on English, a language which does not necessarily dictate another peoples’ identity to the core. Language is a beautiful tool which enables one to assimilate effectively. By not attempting to integrate when visiting a foreign land, the purpose of going there in the first place is completely defeated. Language helps foreigners to experience a place in a manner which is unconfined, whereby it really helps you get to the roots and understand what is actually going on around you.
Attempting to speak the language of the land that you are in also acts as a tremendous sign of respect. It brings about a certain feel of solidarity and unification between people from perhaps different worlds. It is a meaningful gesture that is likely to be returned with kindness. Only if there was some law which stipulates that all countries should aim to educate their citizens in English, and that English was the only “official” language of the world, would I understand why it was okay for people to expect or assume others to speak English. But until then, use Google Translate, get yourself a language dictionary for a fiver, and try to accept that the world does not owe you something just because you can speak English. All anyone really owes you is basic human decency, and as far as I was aware, that does not involving knowing English. Being British and knowing English does not somehow make you better and more intelligent than others.
So, let’s make 2018 a year for change. Let’s make British tourists great again (not that we were ever “great”, but you get the idea)! I mean, who seriously wants to be a part of a nation which is consistently shown to produce the most arrogant, worst and lousy tourists in the world? Isn’t it high time we do something to change our reputation?