All hell broke loose on Twitter when industrialist Harsh Goenka tweeted a list of rules meant for its Indian tourists put out by The Hotel Arc-en-Ciel in Gstaad, Switzerland. The list of don'ts would do my matron from boarding school proud: no sharing plates with others, no taking food items from the complimentary breakfast buffet for lunch, no talking loudly in the corridors, and definitely not flicking the hotel's cutlery. An irate Goenka, who happened to be holidaying there, tweeted that he felt "humiliated."
We all know how that one ended. The hotel apologized for sounding “unintentionally racist”. No one really bought the apology—with writer Shobha De pointing out that hotel staff, the world over, are trained to handle such episodes, with more sensitivity.
And just as honour was duly restored, came another video from Bali wherein an Indian family was caught stealing practically all the artifacts from the hotel room, including hangers and dryers. "We will pay for it," said the head of the family cockier than apologetic. "Sure, we know you have lots of money. But this is not about money. It's about respect," retorted the manager.
And that, dear reader, is the heart of the matter.
It's a fact well chronicled that Indians feature regularly on the lists of the world's worst behaved tourists. Given that outbound travel is increasing at a whopping 15 to 18 per cent annually, the year 2020 is likely to see an influx of 50 million Indians abroad. However, as a survey by expedia.com pointed out, the world may not quite be ready for us. The same survey listed the Chinese and Americans amongst regular offenders too, but let's stick to us and our image for the moment.
The Arc-en-Ciel episode had Goenka advising fellow Indians to introspect, what made the hotel issue such a circular in the first place? What is it about us Indians that gives way to the worst, especially in the face of free food and drink offered as part of buffets or travel packages? Given that the hotel charges Rs 32 K per night, it's a destination for rich Indians.
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Clearly, there's something to be said for old habits dying hard.
The episode atop the Royal Caribbean cruise liner in 2018 was a widely reported case in point. A group of 1300 Indian men behaved so loudly and inappropriately, that the tour operators refunded the rest of the passengers—with an explicit "sorry" to boot. Apart from being loud and obnoxious, our dudes stuck to the desi way of bringing their own food to the party. Rules no bar.
To put it down to gaucheness simply won't do. Not if you consider Hotel Renaissance London's singling out of the Air India Crew in 2017 during their layover in Heathrow Airport—demanding they desist from using breakfast as a takeaway. The staff's response? "We reach at crazy times. Eating enough at a go just doesn't work as the system does not co-operate. Hence the takeaway."
Err, but they are known to get in-flight meals too. Is it a case of trying to nab a free lunch?
So yes, we do come from a culture where thrift and sharing of meals are considered a virtue. There are cultural nuances to eating habits. But basic decency and courtesy are universal. As global citizens, it is imperative that we learn and imbibe good conduct and decorum—of being polite and not shouting at staff; not presuming that hotel room accessories are free for all; stopping at two free drinks in flight; not packing complimentary nuts for Munna back home and definitely not washing hands at the water cooler next to the lunch or breakfast buffet—but taking the trouble to head to the designated washroom.
Another area Indian travelers need some education in is in respecting the local traditions and desisting from sneering at local food habits. At the very least, it will ensure you don't get beaten up. I once encountered a Gujju couple checking out the temples in Thailand who suggested we try out a local eatery for Masala chai and Samosas: "At least it is khana for human beings. These people eat food we would not give our dogs," she said disdainfully.
"Amongst the people least likely to try other cuisines abroad are the Indians," says the Indian manager of a high-end luxury hotel in New York, on condition of anonymity. "They want only Indian food even at crazy times—and while most of the times we can oblige, often it feels like racism in the reverse. Or deliberate boorish behaviour. More than other travelers, Indians, these days, tend to have fat bank balances. Yet they do not want to pay for food in the mini-bar. It’s worse when groups arrive, for they like to swap rooms with each other, without informing staff, thereby making it impossible to figure out who's had what from the mini-bar."
Breakfast buffets packed in lunch-boxes is no longer an issue at his hotel, he says. "We don't go around issuing circulars. We simply upped the cover charges. No, it isn't racism. It's business sense that comes from bitter experience."
Arc-en-Ciel in Gstaad has clearly overstepped. And truth be told, so have we.
Featured image only for representational purposes.
Image credit: Shutterstock
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