Those cheeky bastards!

It is sometime between ten and 11 in the morning and I stand in a crush of people in Chatrapati Shivaji International airport waiting to board a plane, which is now pushing five hours late. Directly in front of me stands a young British couple. Behind me stand four more whose ancestors gave this city its more famous name­–Bombay. It is not surprising that the long delay produced some rancour. What is so surprising is how ridiculously that rancour sometimes gets expressed. I should mention, perhaps, that the seven of us western tourists make an island amongst the locals. The four behind me, two men and two women, have been consistently bitching for the past two hours, repeating the same gripes over and over.

The cycle of their monotonous diatribe follows a pathway that takes them from denigrating comments about the incompetence of the particular airline of which I was a passenger, to the willingness of the employees of said airline to lie outright as a cover for their confusion, through how rude they found India’s inhabitants and finally concluding with a general comment about how horrible the country is.

Standing there, trying not to fall asleep, I am hit by the sudden thought that everything they are doing is very, very wrong. Perhaps they don’t realise, but most of the Indians speak English. Surely that means a number of them are listening to the commentary and taking offence to it.

Me, I was embarrassed for them and a little pissed off. What could be more rude then standing in a foreign country, amongst a number of locals (that number being the amount that fills a 747), and decrying their whole population as uncivilized hooligans incapable of anything but the rudest of behaviour? The attacks aimed at the inability of India’s infrastructure to compare favourably to the West, despite them being heralded as an “emerging power” does nothing but make me want to enrol them in a development studies class if only for the day where the definition of “developed” as opposed to “developing” nations is proposed.

The last, and perhaps most preposterous of all utterances made by my four-headed antagonist comes as boarding is nearly ready to begin. They opine on the inability of the locals to form a queue, as, of course, would be done in England. Then the airline staff announces that the rows from 70 upwards will begin boarding first. I barely have time to check my boarding pass and realize that I am in row 72 before the two British women push past me in a scramble to get to the plane. Wait…don’t they queue in Britain?

It is not that difficult to realize the experience you are to have while in another country is going to be different than the one you live daily at home. Should it then be difficult to come to the conclusion that while travelling there are different ways to behave than at home–for instance, not deriding an entire nation full of people whilst standing in the middle of it? Acting this way is not only disrespectful to the people you are directly insulting, but also embarrassing for those sharing your global demographic, whom you are doing your best to stigmatize as imperceptive assholes so isolated in their sense of superiority they are unable to recognize their own malevolent conduct. It is the responsibility of travellers, especially westerners travelling in the developing world, to be respectful of the country they are visiting. Otherwise they should not have the right to be there.

You don’t wear short shorts into the Vatican and you don’t order an Irish Car Bomb at a bar in Dublin. It shouldn’t be any different in developing nations.

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