Most Obnoxious Tourists? The French

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Henrik Sorensen / getty

A poll reveals that the French are now considered the most obnoxious tourists among Europeans

Remember the tightwad tourist whose baggy shorts, frequent complaining and shouted questions about why none of the locals spoke any English made the ugly American the world's Visitor from Hell? Well, it's time for Archie Bunker to move over and make way for Petulant Pierre. According to a recent international survey, the French are now considered the most obnoxious tourists from European nations, behind only Indians and the last-place Chinese as the worst among countries worldwide. And it's not just the rest of the world that has a gripe with the Gallic attitude: the French also finished second to last among nations ranking the popularity of their own tourists who vacation at home.

But it's the unflattering image being reflected from abroad that may give pause to the millions of French travelers now heading off to summer-vacation destinations across the globe. Will this move them to improve behavior the poll characterized as impolite, prone to loud carping and inattentive to local customs? If so, that's just the start: the study also describes the voyageur français as often unwilling or unable to communicate in foreign languages, and particularly disinclined to spend money when they don't have to — including those non compris tips. Overall, French travelers landed 19th out of 21 nations worldwide, far behind the first-place Japanese, considered the most polite, quiet and tidy. Following the Japanese as most-liked tourists were the Germans, British and Canadians. Americans finished in 11th place alongside the Thais.

The survey was taken by employees in 4,000 hotels in Germany, the U.K., Italy, France, Canada and the U.S. for the French travel website The study asked respondents to rank clients by nationality on criteria of general attitude, politeness, tendency to complain, willingness to speak local languages, interest in sampling local cuisine, readiness to spend money, generosity, cleanliness, discretion and elegance. Many replies simply conformed to long-established reputations: Italians, for example, were described as the best-dressed tourists, with the French not far behind.

American tourists fared well in some surprising ways. Despite being notoriously language-limited, for example, they top the list of tourists credited with trying to speak local languages the most, with the French, Chinese, Japanese, Italians and Russians coming in last in the local-language rankings. Does this mean Americans are the most polyglot tourists on the planet? Maybe not, says Expedia's marketing director for Europe, Timothée de Roux, who says the poll's focus on hotel operators may explain the counterintuitive outcome.

"Most hotel staffs around the world speak English, meaning they'll communicate far more easily with native English-speaking American or British clients than with French or Italians who — it's true — are pretty bad with foreign languages," de Roux says.

De Roux says external factors similarly account for why Americans wound up as the biggest-spending and best-tipping tourists, while Germans and the French were among the worst penny-pinchers. "Our findings show the average French employee will get 37 vacation days spread over seven trips in 2008, versus 14 for an American — who won't even take them all," de Roux says. "That means the French tourist will more tightly budget his or her spending over more trips, while the American spends freely on the one or two vacations taken all year."

By contrast, the poll finds that the French and Americans are similar in being perceived as critical and rude when they travel — though for different reasons. The same attractions that make France the world's top destination for 92 million foreign visitors each year, says de Roux, also explain why more than 85% of French citizens vacation in-country — and wind up spoiled by it when they leave. "When they go abroad, French travelers demand the same quality they'd get at home," de Roux says. "Americans, by contrast, demand the same exceptional service they are used to at home, which is why they rank as the loudest, most inclined to complain and among the least polite."