From Russia with riches - and rudeness

Posted on 11:58 PM by Sameer Shah

See that guy with a gold bracelet propping up the bar, with a blonde on each arm? That’s Ivan. See the guy at the corner table, puffing clouds of smoke while snapping instructions into his mobile phone? That’s Ivan’s mate, Nikolai. See the guy with bulging biceps squiring the blowsy redhead in the see-through shirt? That’s Ivan’s mate Nikolai’s minder, Boris. And, yes, that is a gun in his armpit, just above the tiger tattoo.

First it was Brad from Illinois, with his 20-stone wife, trying to do Europe in a week. Then it was Fritz from Munich, hogging the sunlounger. Then it was Shane from Brisbane, with the accent you could cut with a knife. Every generation of British holidaymakers has its bête noire, its least favourite fellow tourist. And there is no doubt who is filling the bill this summer — Ivan from Moscow, the hotel guest from hell.

Ivan and his entourage seem to be everywhere, from the Aegean to the Canary Islands, and if you go by the anecdotal evidence, they are making more enemies than friends.

When it came to behaving badly abroad, the gold medals used to go to British lager louts, trashing places like Benidorm and Faliraki. We are still a force to be reckoned with — the number of British holidaymakers arrested is up 15 per cent on last year — but we have been knocked off the podium by the Russians.

“The place was crawling with them,” says a friend who has just returned from a week in a five-star hotel in Antalya in Turkey. “Men in hideously tight Speedo trunks, women who looked about 16 and dressed like prostitutes... They were loud, aggressive, smoked incessantly, filled the place with their fumes. As for booze, they outdid the Brits at their own game: got drunk faster, and were more aggressive afterwards.”

I had a similar experience at a Greek beach resort. There was an isolated cove with the words “QUIET BEACH” posted in five different languages. Which accent reverberated across the sand as the rest of us tried to read? You guessed. And who ostentatiously ordered the most expensive bottles of champagne on the wine-list to wash down their lunch? Got it in one.

Partly, of course, we are envious, the way we used to be envious of American tourists when the dollar ruled. For heaven’s sake, we think to ourselves, as the rouble billionaires flash their wads, it is only 20 years ago that these guys were queuing barefoot for bread in the snow.

But there is more to it than envy. There is a clash of cultures: different social attitudes to everything from smoking to mobile phone use and appropriate skirt lengths. It is a toxic combination - and the way modern package tourism works, with 50 Russians suddenly pitching up at the same hotel as 50 Brits or Germans, only makes it more so. National differences get magnified; mutual resentment festers.

Among many “Old Europe” hoteliers, there is a perception, fair or not, that Russians in large numbers are bad news. In 2007, in the upmarket Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel, it was decided to impose a 10 per cent “quota” on Russians: they were felt to lower the tone and put off other guests.

Even the mighty Roman Abramovich is not immune to the backlash against his countrymen. Earlier this month, the multi-billionaire Chelsea owner was refused a table at a restaurant on the Tuscany coast. He was told — and how one envies the man who did the telling — to come back tomorrow as the restaurant was fully booked. “From north to south,” said La Stampa, the Turin daily, “a rebellion is growing against those who show off their wealth and power.”

All over the Mediterranean, there are frictions. Some of them are comically trivial. Non-Russians, for example, are baffled by the way Russians like to reserve seats for evening entertainment by placing pebbles or apples on the chairs — shades of the infamous German towels. But some of them go deeper.

“It is as much a question of decibels as anything else,” says a friend with bad memories of disturbed nights on a holiday on the Croatian coast last summer. “There were only about a dozen Russians in the hotel, but they made enough noise for 50. They didn’t seem to have any conception that other people might want a more low-key kind of holiday. When I tried to complain, that only made things worse.”

In the interests of international harmony, it is fair to say that not all Britons have had bad experiences of Russians on holiday: indeed, it has been said that it is our snobbery, not their rudeness, that is the problem.

“Some of them do make an easy target,” says travel writer Claire Wrathall, who spent time in Russia as a student. “I am thinking of the ones who turn up in the bar wearing silver trainers or an absurd amount of bling. But if you take the trouble to get to know them, particularly the ones travelling on their own rather than in a tour group, they are remarkably sophisticated, the reverse of narrow-minded. Russians tend to be much better at languages than the British and they have a healthy respect for British traditions and culture.”

Hope springs eternal, of course, and when one sees names like Andrei Petrovich or Natalia Godunova in a hotel register in Greece or Italy, one entertains fantasies about meeting characters straight out of Tolstoy or Chekhov: gentle, intelligent, humane; the proud representatives of a great culture.

But why are so many of those fantasies dashed by the sound of a drunken shriek and someone falling off their barstool?

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