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Give Chinese overseas tourists a break

By William Daniel Garst | China Daily | Updated: 2013-08-07 15:22

If China's media is to be believed, Chinese tourists visiting foreign countries have become the new "ugly Americans". Hardly a day goes by without some report of boorish and culturally insensitive behavior on the part of Chinese traveling overseas.

For example, some "rude Chinese tourist" stories published online go straight to most read articles. And this summer, photos of middle-aged Chinese-looking females dipping their feet in the Louvre fountain were splashed all over the Chinese media. Two of the accompanying headlines screamed "Foreigners dumbfounded as Chinese turn Louvre fountain into feet-washing basin" and "Chinese feet-washing army takes over Louvre".

However, bloggers in China noted that the matronly ladies in the Louvre photographs could have been from other Asian countries. And other shots taken that day at Louvre showed many Western visitors dipping their feet into the museum's fountain. Given the terrible heat wave gripping Europe this summer, these people can hardly be blamed for wanting to cool off a bit.

To be sure, many Chinese going overseas do behave as stereotypical "tourons", which stands for "tourist plus moron". They typically take package group tours which are crammed with lightening fast visits in out and of "famous" places, mainly so those making the trip can snap a quick photo and say to friends and family, "I was there."

Moreover, large numbers of the tourists visit foreign countries mainly to shop. According to Jiang Yiyi, a researcher at the Chinese Tourism Academy, cited in an Aug 17, 2012 Guardian article, some Chinese tourists spend 100,000 yuan (about $16,000) on shopping alone. And Global Blue, a shopping tourism company, notes that 20 percent of all duty-free shopping is by Chinese customers.

However, Chinese tourists are hardly unique in being dedicated shopaholics, nor do they have any monopoly when it comes to buying kitsch. In fact, an American friend who worked as New York City tour guide while attending Columbia University - this was before masses of Chinese tourists began visiting the Big Apple - once said he was "appalled at all the kitsch purchased by foreign tourists."

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