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?
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:
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.