Skip to content

Postcard from Phuket: when annoyance is entertainment

February 20, 2023

As our latest foreign visit meanders to its end, it’s time for a silly post about things that annoy me on trips during which it’s impossible to avoid other people. That’s most of them, apart from when we scoot off to our place in France, where my wife and I can, should we wish to, lock ourselves away and not see a soul from one week to the next.

Not having people to watch can be boring, depending on where you are. In France, wild boar, deer, hares and relatively exotic (by British standards) birds provide plenty of diversions. But in the Far East, and specifically Thailand, where we are at the moment, there are plenty of opportunities to observe, admire (not very often) and not admire (very often) our fellow guests.

Quiet disapproval is much more fun than admiration, so at the risk of our own disreputable habits being called out as examples of gross hypocrisy by friends and family, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite targets.

Let’s start with pool behaviour. We’re not pool loungers. I can’t think of anything I enjoy less than lying around in the baking heat, sustained by intravenous cocktails, having to listen to noisy neighbours yabbering at each other in Glaswegian, Italian, Spanish, Russian, or some other unidentifiable language. And when they’re not talking, they do what? Lie like basking seals for hours, thinking about nothing (I suspect), reading a murder blockbuster? Give me a break…

For us, the pool is for swimming. Lots of lengths to raise the metabolism so that we can cope with the delights of this culinary paradise. Unfortunately, unless we get our timing right- first thing in the morning and just before dusk – we have to deal with obstacles that make swimming in a straight line impossible. Such as:

Thrashers: I’ve spoken about these enemies of the people before. The Thrasher dives into the pool with a mission: to show off their inefficient crawl, arms flying about, creating massive turbulence in their wake. Worse still is when they try the butterfly, wherein limbs and torso flay the water in an epileptic frenzy, Get within a couple of yards of one of these creatures and you’re likely to sink. Oh, and whereas most of us have a keen sense of direction when we swim, these idiots don’t. They just plough on, paying not the slightest attention to anyone who happens to be in their way. Their only saving grace is that most of them can’t keep this performance going for more than a couple of lengths before they emerge exhausted from the pool. Job done. Attention created.

Splashers: Splashers are different from Thrashers, in that there doesn’t seem too much purpose in their arsing about. To be fair, most of them are kiddies. But that doesn’t excuse the parents from restraining their offspring from dive-bombing other swimmers with the efficiency of a fleet of Stukas. You can’t tell the little buggers off without provoking a row with Mum and Dad, so the best expedient is a rapid course correction. Did we control our kids in the water? I like to think so, but that was a long time ago.

Screamers: what is it about the physiology of three-year-olds that allows them to shriek at an ear-piercing pitch? And why? They’re bad enough in the queue for immigration at the airport, but put one in water with others of the same age, and the pool becomes a nightmare of cacophonous infants trying to outdo each other at the highest possible frequencies. Perhaps that’s God’s way of making them audible in distress. But they’re not in distress, the little sods. Fortunately, I’m beginning to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss, otherwise the screamers would be even more painful, but they’re still bad enough. I guess the parents are so used to living their lives with the soundtrack to Hitchcock’s The Birds ringing in their ears that they don’t notice the racket anymore. Again, there are some aspects of raising children that you tend to forget, until other people’s children remind you of the horror.

Greek Gods: men again, I’m afraid. People who pose ostentatiously around the pool, best exemplified by a guy we saw the other day who spent thirty minutes standing up, in a fixed pose, arms aloft, moving from back to front occasionally and changing the position of his body to catch the rays on every conceivable part of his toned physique. Why the Greek God? Because if you stuck him on the end of some Greek promontory, you might mistake him for the statue of a deity. Apollo perhaps, or Zeus, thunderbolt at the ready. All very stylised and designed to impress. And, truth be told, more ridiculous than annoying.

Moving on from the pool, the restaurant offers plenty of scope for annoyance.

Sneezers: in these plague-stricken times, unrestrained coughing and sneezing is a pain in the backside. Especially when you’re quietly enjoying your dinner and someone on the next table erupts into a spasm of explosive sneezing. No serious attempt to prevent the shower of god-knows-what organisms from settling upon you like the nuclear cloud from Chernobyl. No apologies or quick exits from the populated area. Just a stream of omnidirectional whooomphs that leave you to speculate how many days you have until you end up on a ventilator.

Shouters: the other day we were minding our own business in the quiet corner of a local restaurant when a guy came in and settled into the table next to us, shortly followed by three women. This chap must have been a screamer when young, because he seemed incapable of speaking quietly. In fact his voice was loud enough to have been deployed a weapon for deterring marine pirates. Within minutes, four of his friends arrived at a nearby table, and he started a long-running conversation with them at the top of his voice. His mates responded at a similar volume. Before long both tables were nests of cackling and bawling. And you know what happens next, don’t you? Everybody else tweaks up the volume in order to be heard. Had we not been waiting for our food, we would have baled out immediately. Instead we had to put up with the infernal racket for another twenty minutes. I’ve no idea where this lot were from, but I’ve been around enough to know that in some cultures yelling at the top of your voice is a cultural norm. I curse myself for not finding out their nationality, so that I can avoid their country like the plague.

Food queues. why do people queuing at the breakfast egg-station look so bloody anxious? As if they haven’t eaten for days. The closer they get to ordering their omelettes, the more serious they look. Why? Is breakfast on a tropical island in front of a shimmering sea such a trial? Clearly it is for many, because when I see guests loading their plates with mountains of food, I often wonder why they look so miserable. Perhaps it’s the prospect of spending the remaining days of their holidays with partners they can’t stand and offspring they can’t keep amused. Certainly enough of them sit silently at tables, frequently glued to their phones, presumably in an effort to avoid talking to their companions.

Dancers: forgive my cultural insensitivity here. Thai dancing is a wonder of grace and elegance. Beautiful costumes, swaying bodies and delicate finger movements. Unfortunately, it leaves me cold, just as other forms of dancing do. I have a sneaking feeling that many of the Westerners who watch these performances while dining feel the same as me, but are too polite to admit it. So they enthusiastically applaud each dance until, at the end, they whisper to their companions “thank God that’s over”. But hey, dancing provides plenty of employment, so it isn’t too much to ask to sit through yet another crashingly unexciting routine.

And finally two more pet hates that most of us have surely encountered somewhere in the world:

Aisle-blockers: before you even reach paradise, there’s a species of extremely vexing traveller you will often encounter before you depart the aircraft. These are the people who, before the engines have been shut down, arise from their seats and unload three Louis Vuitton cases directly in front of where you’re sitting. This makes it impossible for you to get your own bags down without contorting your body into a back-crippling shape. Could they not put their bags on their seats? No. And having blocked the entire aisle for five minutes they proceed to shove their way past others on their way to the exit without a please or a thank-you.

Happy Hour drinkers: it’s one of the great fallacies of our consumer society that getting something cheap makes you happy. After spending thousands getting to a holiday destination, does it really make you happy to be able to shove twice the alcohol down your neck for half the normal price? The fact is that people riot over discounts. Look at the scuffles at Macy’s or Harrods in the New Year sales, as people trample over old ladies in a desperate attempt to buy stuff they otherwise wouldn’t dream of acquiring. Likewise, Happy Hours are dominated by the fear of missing out – the dreaded FOMO. You end up drinking four times what you might otherwise, in an atmosphere of increasing anxiety as the clock ticks towards the end of the frenzy. And do you drink any less when the Happy Hour is done, and you’re back to full-price? Unlikely. You just get pissed early, at which point you keep drinking because you don’t know you’re pissed and you don’t care about the price. All of which is a little sad, really.

So what, you might ask, would I have these annoying fellow visitors do differently to escape my baleful gaze? Nothing actually, because the one positive by-product of watching them is that our attention is distracted from our own annoying habits. With so many behaviours to tut-tut about, we don’t have time to focus on ours, which allows for hours of uncensored badness on our part, which in a way is a holiday in itself.

But if you want me to confess our peccadilloes, you’ll have to wait a long time, because our marital non-disclosure agreement mandates the death penalty for any breaches.

Having said all that, I can’t praise our delightful hosts too highly, especially for their patience in putting up with cantankerous old sods like me.

From → Postcards, Social, Travel, UK

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: