Footprints on the Toilet Seat: Guidebooks for Novice Travelers


When a country’s economy booms, its residents start flying hither and yon in ever greater numbers. This is wonderful news for the hoteliers, restaurateurs and refrigerator magnet vendors of Hither and Yon, but maybe not so terrific for those principalities’ civilians, as  novice travelers can often be very obnoxious travelers, as witness to some recent antics by Chinese visitors to the Maldives, North Korea, and Luxor in Egypt can attest.

In several cases, many Chinese traveling abroad for the first time did what you might reasonably expect persons of any nationality to do in similar circumstances — behaved in ways the locals saw as inappropriate.

In response to this, the Chinese National Tourism Administration has made available to inexperienced tourists from its country a 64-page guidebook full of useful tips, such as to show up on time for group tours, and to pull the shower curtains closed before showering, thus avoiding drenching the bathroom floor.

The guidebook also contains a great many suggestions for proper deportment in specific countries. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the traveler is advised not to ask locals if they’ve eaten, although in my own fairly extensive experience (three-quarters of a decade of British residency), “’’Ello, mate. ‘Ad the old feedbag on lately?” is a very popular form of greeting, especially among so-called Sloane Rangers and comparably stylish young people. In France, the Chinese itinerant is warned, giving one’s host yellow flowers is tantamount to saying, “We wish you’d more attentively cleaned behind the jacks in the guest bathroom,” although tying yellow ribbons ‘round the old oak tree is seen as unimpeachably genteel.

In Germany, one can summon dogs by snapping his or her fingers, but not waiters. In India, one mustn’t touch another with his left hand. In Thailand, she mustn’t mention the royal family. And nowhere is leaving footprints, especially muddy ones, on a toilet seat viewed as gracious behavior, except in parts of Arkansas, which attracts few Chinese.

The guidebook is thought by many observers to have been inspired in part by Do You Speak Touriste?, the pamphlet Parisians were given early in 2013 after local authorities noticed that tourism pumps an appreciable chunk of change into the local economy every year. Among other things, the pamphlet urges locals not to kick in the shins persons who may have forgotten nearly all the French they learned in high school, but are nonetheless trying to communicate in it.

As a much-traveled American, I think it might be a good idea for our State Department to leap aboard this particular bandwagon, and to send every American passport holder a brochure urging him or her not, for instance, to loudly demand, “How much is that in real money?” when presented invoices in the rest of the world’s boutiques and bistros.

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Comments (Showing 6 of 6)

  • sriki at 9:00pm October 12, 2013

    really? not touch someone with your left hand? That’s an ignorant statement & completely untrue.

  • flightpath844 at 9:06pm October 12, 2013

    Good idea. To illustrate your point, check this video shot last summer of a Chinese tourist in Rome: (very classy lady you have to admit)

  • relberger at 5:40pm October 13, 2013

    Although just about every news agency has syndicated the announcement, I can’t find the Guide Book anywhere online! Is it in PDF format somewhere — or is it just printed?

  • payam81 at 8:25pm October 13, 2013

    If anyone is interested in the actual guide (In Simplified Chinese of course) it can be found here:

    In fact, it has some funny pictures that could be useful to educate the Non-Chinese as well cause a lot of stuff covered there are pretty much universal stuff that are not specific to the Chinese per se, but to inexperienced and/or ignorant travelers of any Nationality.

  • coinboy66 at 11:34pm October 13, 2013

    Too much flowery language distracts the reader from the important points of this article.

  • payam81 at 5:07pm October 14, 2013

    @flightpath844 and your Youtube link:

    First off the video appears to be shot by hand held so makes you wonder why is someone standing guard with a seemingly hand held device ready to shoot a passerby, maybe some perv type I guess.

    Secondly, are you an expert in identifying Chinese people from a 4 o’clock angel?! How can you tell if the person is Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian or any other half dozen “Asian” nationals?

    That said the behavior by this person is inexcusable no matter where from.

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