What do you dread most on your vacation? Exotic bugs? Boredom? A lingering case of traveler’s diarrhea? Well, a lot of Russians, as it turns out, dread other Russians.
I just came back to Moscow from Crete, so I have a fairly good idea of what I’m talking about. People here will ask me, “My, you’re looking slightly tanned! Where did you go?”
When I say, “Crete,” many of them will screw up their faces in mock-horror. “I hear Crete is nice,” they will say. “But I also hear that there are too many Russians!”
These are Russians speaking of their compatriots, mind you, not expats who are trying to get away from the so-called natives on their holiday.
The legend that Russian tourists are The Worst Ever was born back in the 1990’s, I believe, when Russians first began getting foreign visas in large numbers. How alien they must have appeared in foreign lands!
Yet it seems to me that people of all nations dread running into their fellow citizens while venturing far from home. And a lot of this dread is place-specific. A lot of Americans, for example, are particularly displeased whenever they run into other Americans - particularly in Paris, where everyone is busy trying to outdo one another and not end up looking like a clueless tourist. Paris is also the kind of place that so-called ugly Americans are said to flock to in large groups - and the one time I was there, I felt there might be some truth to this stereotype.
Poorly behaved American kids elbowed me out of the way when I went to cast a perfunctory glance at the Mona Lisa (because that’s what you’re supposed to do in Paris! I was sixteen though, so I can be forgiven. Right?) and some old guy who had a t-shirt that read ALABAMA in large letters (in case one mistook him for a godless New Yorker, I guess) loudly called me a “hussy” on a bridge over the Seine. My crime? An over-the-knee skirt had fluttered upward in the breeze, possibly allowing him a glimpse of my days-of-the-week underpants (once again, I was only sixteen!). I came back to North Carolina ranting and raving about “rude Americans in Paris” to anyone who would listen.
American humorist David Sedaris (who currently lives in London, if Wikipedia is to be believed) described this resentment well in “Picka Pocketoni,” an essay that deals with two rude American tourists who mistake him for a thief on the Paris subway and proceed to talk trash about him, completely unaware of the fact that their target speaks English and is a fellow American.
As for rude Russians, the worst, I hear, are actually concentrated in Turkey and Egypt - not in Greece. When I was down in Istanbul for a film festival earlier this month, I ran into a Ukrainian director who told me to “never ever” visit any of the Turkish resorts. “Even the expensive ones!” He said. “They will blast Vladimirsky Central [an anthem of Russia’s old-school criminal underworld] at the bar! It will be awful!” I had no time to test this theory - but neither did I particularly want to.
By contrast, the Russians my husband and I ran into on Crete were mostly young couples with small children who kept to themselves (people much like us basically), or fifty-somethings on package tours, whose worst crime was wearing tacky sailors’ hats on the beach.
At Kazantzakis International Airport in Heraklion, I took notice of the fact that the arrivals area was plastered with posters admonishing people to obey the law - and that all of those posters were targeted at British tourists.
Later, on the beach in the south of Crete, I ran into a chatty British woman and asked her if she had seen the posters and, if yes, what she thought of them. “Oh, it’s awful!” She replied. “This island is absolutely overrun by the worst kind of Brits. There are just too many of them and they don’t know how to behave themselves. The posters probably aren’t enough, they should have a policeman giving them a warning lecture as soon as they land!”
“Just be glad we’re not in Spain, dear,” her elderly mother chimed in. “In Spain - they’re really the worst!”
Ultimately, people go on vacation to foreign lands in order to escape their surroundings. The minute they realize that their fellow Brits, Russians or whoever have flocked to the same place with the same idea in mind, they turn hostile. Sometimes that hostility is justified. Most of the time, it’s rather silly.
In a constantly shrinking world, the very idea of an escape from your compatriots is silly, if you ask me.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.
Natalia Antonova is the deputy editor of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.