Harmony in Phuket: we are all equal in our aggressive occupation of the sunbeds

After leaving the cultural heart of Thailand — Chiang Mai — we devoted four days to an isolated beach resort in Phuket. I was prepared to spend these days swimming with my children and obsessively people-watching the other tourists. What interesting or annoying characters might pop up? Are the stereotypes about which nationalities monopolize the sunbeds true?

Row of "reserved" sun-beds

Row of “reserved” but unused sunbeds

Absorbing stereotypes from the English. During the three years I spent in England, I sometimes listened to a call-in chat show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. It was the kind of local call-in show where folks talked about the weather, local festivals, and loose livestock. One morning, an hour was set aside to moan about summer holidays.

German occupation. A large portion of the moaning was devoted to complaining about Germans on the Mediterranean Coast waking up early and claiming all of the sunbeds with towels, books and hats. After marking their territory, I suppose the Germans wandered off to the breakfast buffet. Indulging in a few more stereotypes, I assume that this chain of events occurred because: (1) the British woke up late because they had to sleep off the previous day’s sunburn and night’s drinking; and (2) their unfailing politeness kept them from removing the items reserving the seats and simply throwing them into the sea.

Enter the Russians. Poking fun at Germans is a favorite English pastime, one fed by Monty Python (see for example either their “Mr. Hilter on Holiday” or “The Funniest Joke in the World” sketches), but the callers that morning were ready to turn their holiday fury on a new group: the Russians. Not only did several callers agree that the Russians hogged up the sunbeds, but also that the Russians were so shockingly impolite (in the English callers’ opinions) that they would remove the Germans’ hats and books and take over their “reserved” sunbeds.

Prelude to sunbed wars? So I was delighted when upon entering the resort I heard English, German, French, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Japanese being spoken by the guests. Would there be a World War III of sunbed occupation? I was further thrilled when I noted that the sunbeds had “polite reminders” in English and Russian that sunbeds should not be reserved:

Sun-bed notice in English Sun-bed notice in Russian

Was this a tip-off that the emerging Russian stereotype was correct?

Our young children rise early, and therefore we were saved from the trauma of sunbed-less holidaying. But, as we sat pool-side slathering on sun block, we watched every morning as: (1) some people “reserved” sunbeds with copies of cheap paperbacks at around 8 am; and (2) some circled the pool in search of empty sunbeds at around 10 am.

I am (almost) sad to report that no one nationality dominated either group.

The Outliers. I did hear about one Chinese woman who went into total meltdown because she couldn’t secure a sunbed, but I didn’t see it with my own eyes (and once the day wore on, sunbed turnover was quite frequent, so I’m sure she swiftly found a pool chair). Also, I saw a pair white hats occupy two well-placed sunbeds for the entirety of one morning. Despite having my own chair, the passive-aggressive, naughty side of me was sorely tempted to remove the hats to the shrubbery, just to see what would happen.

Harmony Reigns. Schadenfreude be damned, the holiday-makers were mostly happy and no one nationality dominated in sunbed occupation. There was only harmonious, multi-cultural holiday-making for all and everyone was equally, but only very mildly, annoying.

Related posts:

Ugly American, Ugly Chinese: the tourist trap

Ten Tiny Tales from Chiang Mai, Thailand

冰水人: The loud American wants ice

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12 responses to “Harmony in Phuket: we are all equal in our aggressive occupation of the sunbeds

    • I was blown away by the large numbers of Russians both in Phuket and in the Bangkok airport. I don’t think I’d ever been around so many Russians. Either they’ve developed a serious taste for Thailand or they all chose this Easter holiday to get warm in SE Asia. But, despite the emerging stereotype, they were not any more sunbed monopolizing than anyone else.

  1. Great post! I always wanted to see a post about comparative cultural differences when it comes to sunbed hogging and now you’ve filled the void. Oh, when are you going back to Hong Kong, Jen? Or have we lost you to Thailand??

    PS: The cherry blossoms have just finished blooming, now it’s the tulips’ turn over here.

    • I’m now hear in HK. I’m here in the cold, dank, rain. Get ready for some inspiring posts about rain, humidity, bird flu, North Korean aggression, mold and more rain. Kidding. Desperately seeking better topics…

      Daffodils follow tulips, right? Lucky lady. Enjoy the spring.

  2. If Reagan were still alive, I’m sure he’d take credit for this peaceful meeting of English-speakers and Russians.

    And I love The Funniest Joke In The World, but I don’t want to live in a universe that doesn’t have Fawlty Towers and “The Germans.”

  3. Haha, too funny! Glad to hear that other nations behave the same way, because, as you said before, we tend to be more annoyed (and ashamed) by our fellow countrymen.
    Btw, in my husband’s hotel, they have the same problem with people occupying sunbeds and just recently, 2 men (1 American, 1 Mexican – no German involved, phew!) got into a really bad fight over it. Sounds like peace can only be maintained by putting up signs…
    Glad you could enjoy your vacation without enduring endless sunbed battles!

    • For some, it seems to be a really touchy subject! The funny thing is that most of these resorts have lovely beaches with acres of sand that anyone could simple put their towel down on, right?

  4. An observant post about strategic sunbed occupation! Glad to hear you and family were spared an ugly international incident on your trip, and that all groups were equally represented and (mostly) well behaved. Signs are always a good idea, though it might be funny to see what might transpire if a pesky tourist were to toss them away as well! 🙂

  5. The outlier would also have a meltdown if she accidentally left one of her four mobile phones in China.

    Have you been to Hainan? Although that island is the source of one of my favorite mainland drinks (椰树; simply put, it’s a coconut milk drink), I can’t say hob-nobbing with
    spoiled Chinese and Russian sunseekers is near the top of my go-to list.

    Rainy HK? A good place to help wait the storm out is Chungking Mansions;)

    • I was in Hainan in 2002 for work, so while I did eat seafood with my Chinese colleague, I didn’t spend any time at the beach with Russians or local tourists…. I’m sure it’s changed a lot since then.

      As for Chungking Mansions, it was on the short list for an outing next week with friends, but I think it’s now lost out to a Peking Duck place in the same area.

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