Q: I recently went on a work trip to Zurich with a co-worker, and was shocked by his shoddy treatment of the airline crew, hotel staff and waiters. I found it thoroughly embarrassing but didn’t know how to broach the subject. We have a trip to Amsterdam coming up. How can I handle it better?
A: You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you can definitely judge a person by how they treat a waitress. I once dumped a boyfriend outside a McDonald’s because of how mean he was to the server behind the till, and I will be forever grateful to McDonald’s for providing such an effective shortcut out of a bad relationship. I firmly believe that all Tinder profiles should include CCTV footage of potential beaux buying a train ticket or ordering a coffee in Pret A Manger.
Obviously, the sort of men who are rude to service staff are men who feel they have something to prove, and all human ugliness stems from feeling like we have something to prove. Is he on the back foot, somehow, on this trip? Is he trying to impress you in a warped fashion? Or is he just a twit?
Whatever the underlying reasons, you’re right to try to tackle this. When we travel in a group, as far as society is concerned, we’re welded to them socially, complicit in their sins, accountable for their transgressions, shareholders in their shame. This is perhaps why solo travel is gaining such momentum. The only person who can humiliate you is you. Such a relaxing thought.
Although we have the luxury of choosing our friends, and even selecting the family members we will and won’t travel with, we cannot choose the colleagues foisted upon us for work trips. And so you’re off to Amsterdam with him again. If he’s your boss, it’s quite the conundrum.
One strategy is to master the basics of the local language, so you become the default communicator and wrest control of the situation. Language has always been about gaining the upper hand.
Another ploy is to furiously overcompensate for his rudeness with a full-on charm offensive on the hapless flight attendant, subjecting them to an exhausting good cop/bad cop routine. You do this in the hope that he’ll pick up on the gulf between your methods, and reconsider his own. But the only real way to de-twit a twit is to call them a twit. You can try humour: “Nice work, I imagine the waitress is off to spit in our soup.” Or faux-innocent curiosity: “Interesting! Do you always speak to hotel staff like this?” Or simply spit it out: “You were pretty rude to him, mate.”
Being a responsible traveller isn’t just about booking an eco-resort and occasionally taking the train. It’s about making sure that travellers don’t negatively affect their destination. Responsible travel is also about not giving a Dutch waitress the impression that British businessmen are all total buffoons.