A humiliating video clip on Indian tourists’ behaviour overseas went viral on social media last week. It shows the staff of a hotel in Bali rudely opening up and rummaging through the suitcases of an Indian family that had checked out.

The contents that tumble out include a hair dryer, hangers, towels, cookie jars, etc. Surely people who can holiday overseas know that these are not takeaways but to be used only during their stay.

Any Indian watching that clip is bound to get the jitters at the manner in which these Indian travellers’ personal baggage is scrutinised. The first reaction is anger and humiliation, but as the departing guests, who were initially yelling and hostile, start cringing and apologising with multiple ‘sorry, sorry,’ and finally offering to pay for all the goods stolen, it hits the pit of your stomach.

The straw on the camel’s back is a hotel staff saying: “I know you have a lot of money, but show some respect”.

Those of us who travel abroad, have surely, on multiple occasions, cringed and felt embarrassed about how many of our fellow Indians behave at airports, hotels, monuments or museums.

Most often than not, we are loud, rude, overbearing, show no respect for queues, and despite the bulging wallets, stingy when it comes to tipping. Now, this video clip reveals that Indian guests at hotels have to be watched for pilfering hotel property too.

To some of us, this isn’t news. I have known of Indians who, while travelling in large groups, have behaved atrociously. Once, during a large religious congregation in Colombo, for which hotel rooms were booked in bulk at cheap rates at a Taj hotel, some guests literally stripped the rooms, taking away hangers, towels, hair dryers, bedspreads and even curtains while checking out. If this was not atrocious enough, some of the women had to be asked not to use the swimming pool water for washing clothes!

Selectively targeted

In an almost parallel development, industrialist Harsh Goenka tweeted a rather rude and offensive note addressed “to our dear guests from India” from the Swiss Hotel Arc-en-ciel in the skiing paradise Gstaad.

Without mincing words, this note, targeting only Indians, asks them not to pinch food items from the complimentary breakfast buffet and take them away for lunch. If you want lunch, order it and pay for it, it says unequivocally. It also warns against rest of the taboo behaviour we know Indians indulge in, such as shouting in the lobbies and balconies and the like.

Goenka rightly said that while he felt angry, hurt and wanted to protest, realisation dawned on him that “we as tourists are loud, rude and not culturally sensitive”. We need to work to change our image, he adds in the tweet. This just about sums up the entire issue neatly.

When we travel overseas we are not seen as a Hindu, Muslim or Christian, not even as a man or a woman, but as Indian. People who behave so obnoxiously when they travel, and we have to admit many Indians do, are tarring the image of India.

Yes, we have money, and spend a lot of it on foreign travel. And thanks to our movies, we have a fascination for Switzerland; yes, it has stunning natural beauty to offer, but it comes with a huge price tag. Neighbouring Austria and many other Eastern European countries are gorgeous too and offer a great holiday experience at almost half the price.

While not condoning unacceptable behaviour of a section of Indian tourists, one’s anger and resentment of that Swiss hotel is justified. The hospitality industry thrives on courtesy and service, and is this the way to address an issue? And its not only Indians, the Chinese tend to be loud too, often louder, as also some of the other Asian nationals.

And as many responses on twitter have pointed out, I too have seen many white Westerners openly carrying platefuls — not hidden in napkins — of food from the breakfast buffet to their rooms. Apparently the Swiss hotel has apologised, but the harm has been done.

For those in doubt, Goenka has helpfully posted on twitter a video clip of what you can take home from your hotel room and what is taboo. It will remind you of Ross Geller, from Friends , who explains to Chandler in great detail the legitimate takeaways — the tiny shampoo and bath gel bottles, soaps, etc. The salt you can, but not the salt dispenser, he adds seriously!