French Tourists: Still the World's Worst

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Nic Bothma / EPA / Corbis

A Senegalese camel tender leads a group of French tourists across the sand dunes in the Lompoul desert in western Senegal

Given their nation's long reign as the world's most visited country, you'd expect the French to know a thing or two about insufferable tourists. It turns out they do — and are proving it to the rest of the world. In a poll carried out by online travel site Expedia and released on Thursday, July 9, French tourists were viewed as the orneriest for the third year running.

Affirmation-starved France usually loves global titles of any kind (one big reason French competitors tend to outnumber foreign rivals in quixotic contests like reverse round-the-world solo yachting races and France's annual international plumb-spitting tournaments). But the news that les français had kept their crown as the world's most troublesome tourists provoked a collective Gallic shriek. "The French Are the Worst Tourists on Earth," blared the website for Libération above a story on this year's survey. "Do French Tourists Abroad Do Their Country Honor?" radio-news station France Info asked as it invited listeners to debate the survey's findings online. (The consensus? Not really, though despite the poll's contention, forum posters concurred that few tourists of any nationality ever impress locals as model visitors.)

So what specifically are French voyagers faulted for? The Expedia poll says French travelers are the biggest skinflints, the worst tippers and the least able or inclined to speak foreign languages. They also finished next to last in terms of their politeness and behavior. (The worst offenders in both those categories were — wait for it — Americans, who were also designated most likely to complain.)

Even where it did score well in the survey, Team France suffered stinging humiliation. Not only were the French denied the Best Dressed championship by the Italians, for example, but they lost second spot to the Brits — whose fashion sense is usually likened to that of the poll's slob champs, the Yanks. France's fourth-place finish for "Most Quiet" was tarnished by the Wagnerian-lunged Germans' walking off with the bronze.

As the chagrined French reaction (and's coverage of the 2008 poll) shows, the Expedia survey gets a lot of attention. This year's best-ranked tourists — the Japanese were followed by English, Canadian, German and Swiss travelers — are likely to point proudly to the outcome as a paragon of scientific accuracy. But this third annual bruising of French pride should be taken with a pinch of salt. There are several aspects of the survey that make its methodology suspect — and results significantly skewed. The poll ranks 27 nations' travelers over nine behavioral categories. But it questioned just 4,500 respondents, all of whom work in hotels around the world. That probably cuts out people who meet less-refined backpacking hostel denizens, campers and legions of Winnebago warriors.

Moreover, because the lingua franca of international hotel staffs is English, notoriously monolingual Americans, Brits and Australians probably rank higher than they should. The French readily volunteer that their practice of foreign languages leaves much to be desired, but even the harshest Francophobe would mock the poll's finding that the average Yank tourist is the better polyglot. At least that's what French travelers might argue.