3 Apr 2023

Civilised city breaks

Amsterdam has launched a “stay away” campaign, which is aimed at male British tourists aged between 18 and 35. The much-visited tourist destination has been suffering from its reputation as a convenient city break location, with a world-famous nightlife, cannabis cafés and a lurid red-light district. For all these reasons, it has become an extremely popular destination for young men, especially stag parties, and they have been singled out for special opprobrium.

City destinations all over Europe have been bruised by encounters with young British men, whose idea of a good time doesn’t go much further than getting blind drunk and making a lot of noise, preferably late at night. Infectious high spirits and bonhomie, which most local citizens will tolerate, can all too easily turn into raucous and threatening behaviour, which will push many residents over the edge. This is the modern tourist dilemma: the huge boost to the local economy that tourism brings must be offset by the negative impact of visitors and the disruption they bring to local inhabitants.

Why do so many of our countrymen save their worst behaviour for export? Getting away from home is obviously an escape into oblivion, a suspension of normal life, which encourages wild disinhibition and grotesque antics. “What happens in ______stays in ______” seems to be the prevailing attitude. But these tourists are suffering from a disastrous failure of imagination and empathy. The cities of Europe are not theme parks, conveniently laid out for their riotous enjoyment. They are historic centres, filled with intriguing sights and experiences, and populated by ordinary people who are trying to bring up their families and go about their everyday business. If tourists fail to notice, or appreciate, the daily life of the places they visit, then misunderstandings, resentment and conflict are bound to ensue.

Tourism should never be about inflicting yourself and your own limited agenda on the place you are visiting. You should always approach new places with a keen sense of curiosity, a desire to understand how they operate and a willingness to moderate your behaviour if that is appropriate. This means engaging in civil interactions with residents, asking questions, observing and listening. As you acquire a deeper awareness of your destination, you will find much more about it that engages you and your horizons will be broadened, which will enhance your enjoyment. Follow these simple rules:

Responsible City Breaks

• Choose your destination with care. If you are organising a riotous stag party and your expectations are extremely limited and alcohol-orientated, do your research and choose a place where your hosts will encourage pure hedonism, ply you with ridiculously strong drinks, invite you to all-night parties, applaud your drunken antics and even tend your hangover the following morning. These destinations do exist, but do not confuse them with a civilised European city where the residents just want to go peacefully about their business.

• Check local laws and customs before you travel, to ensure that you do not unwittingly transgress local norms. Remember these may cover a wide range, from appropriate dress to table manners and behaviour in places of worship.

• Embrace the host culture by trying local food and drinks. Approach everything with an open-minded and positive spirit, ask for recommendations, and always show your gratitude and appreciation.

• Do not assume everybody can speak English, and always politely ask locals if they speak English before you address them in your own language. Demonstrate your willingness to respect local life and culture by learning a few phrases in the local language – you should certainly learn basics like “Good morning”, “please” and “thank you”.

• Be civil and courteous at all times: that means smiling and greeting locals and remembering to use phrases like “excuse me”, “please” and “thank you” during transactions.

• If you are visiting a city, be very conscious of noise nuisance in quiet residential areas. Remember, behind the historic facades there are apartments and sleeping residents, so don’t come rollicking back to your hotel at 3am shouting and singing. Save that behaviour for bars and clubs and show some consideration.

• Keep a sense of perspective and try and be as flexible and accommodating as possible. Things will inevitably go wrong – there will be cancellations or transport delays, mix-ups over hotel rooms or arguments over bookings. Do your best to maintain a calm and friendly demeanour – you’re a guest in a foreign country, so make sure you’re a good one.


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