Throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties, it used to be fun sniggering at American tourists who wandered the world causing angst because they were so self-centred, loud and embarrassing. Sadly, they have lifted their game while many of us have raced to fill their shoes.
Some of the antics of Aussies abroad are just appalling. There are regular reports from overseas of loutish behaviour accompanied by childish whines of indignation when something goes wrong. This is sad on many levels. For a start, it tells us that our national culture is under siege. Once we used to take pride in how we were perceived. The world did not know much about Australia back then and those of us who travelled used to see ourselves as ambassadors with a national reputation to uphold. Not these days, though. The general demise of good manners across the globe has infected us, too.
It must be admitted that not all of us were little angels in days gone by. We had a reputation in many corners of the globe for larrikinism but most of those high-jinks were cheeky rather than boorish. Yes, there was that particular breed of ockers who would make anybody cringe but their numbers were few. Modern media seem to have demystified so much of life and that new familiarity has bred contempt. We are no longer over-awed when we visit other cultures because we have seen it all before on the telly. Familiarity has robbed us of a sense of wonder. It has made so much seem passé. So, now when we travel we are jaundiced before we’ve even left the loungeroom. Not all of us, of course, but enough for it to be a concern. We have idiots who treat tourist traps with cynical disdain until it all unravels in tears. Take the case of a barmat placed in a handbag. The ‘victim’ may well have been perfectly innocent – as pure as the driven snow – but reports of screaming at local officials, fleeing the scene and then trying to bribe police suggest someone who badly needs to grow up.
That kind of stupid behaviour indicates complete disdain for local customs, beliefs and sensitivities. No-one doubts the truth of reports that in some places scams are run to secure additional income for local officials. The conniving and bribery involved may be abhorrent to our sense of justice and fair play but it has to be realised that these places are not Australia and that we visit them by choice. As the saying goes: when in Rome . . . Even worse is the assumption that because a particular suggestion is aired in a television program or a newspaper article, it is unarguable fact. Yes, there IS corruption in parts of Indonesia but to assume that it is the norm everywhere across that nation and that some 200 million people are all crooked is absurd. But our compatriots wander abroad and behave in just this way.
What is particularly galling is the tendency these days for Aussie tourists to scream for government help whenever things go awry. Like when many were stranded inside Bangkok airport during the recent political revolt. It’s not just that they plead for government assistance but that they demand it. They actually believe that it is their right as Australian citizens to be rescued by their government from any adverse consequence or unforeseen circumstance. What do they expect Canberra to do: despatch troops and stage a hostage rescue mission? Gunboat diplomacy was rarely an ideal policy response in days gone by but it is simply not a viable option in the modern world. It is the same with natural disasters. Anyone can sympathise with tourists caught in a calamitous event but to suggest the government has an automatic responsibility to rescue these people is outrageous. Supplying assistance to those whose neighbourhoods or homelands have been devastated surely takes precedence over personal discomfort. But what is truly galling is the arrogant presumption of many Aussie tourists. They think that if they wander off to see the world there is some sort of automatic safety net in place to protect them from any adverse consequences.
Even if they paid some extraordinary insurance premium to cover the massive cost of such rescue missions, their cheek is outlandish. That they think you and I should burn taxpayer dollars like they were going out of fashion to prevent them suffering inconvenience and discomfort is either stupid or arrogant or both. Where did this belief in government as some sort of massive security blanket come from? Whatever happened to assuming personal responsibility for our circumstances? If you want to go see the world, have a wonderful time. But our responsibility to you pretty much ends at our shoreline. If you don’t like it, stay home!