Chasing cheap beer and loose women around the European continent has a long and noble tradition stretching back to the 17th century, when young, aristocratic, mostly British men set off in search of refinement, classic antiquity and plenty of drunken sex.

For many Grand Tourists, cultural enlightenment was just a cover. The Grand Tourists were mostly grand shaggers, drinking to excess and treating the trip like a hedonistic gap year. Men arriving in Rome would spend most of their time loitering around the Colosseum — once a popular hangout for prostitutes — before hurriedly hiring a horse and cart and seeing the Eternal City’s major sites in a rush on their final day.

Not much has changed in 350 years.

Young people are still travelling to Europe, drinking too much wine and having too much sex. What is concerning is how Australians are increasingly being linked to the more shocking acts of vandalism, theft and general stupidity that (I hope) would not be considered by their perpetrators back home.

During our travels through Europe, my partner and I have been speaking to locals, hostel owners and tour guides, who all say the same thing. The name of the Australian traveller is being sullied by a small yet growing number of “cashed up bogans” who, in the words of one tour guide, “lose their shit” upon arriving on the continent. It’s not that tour guides encourage this behaviour. On the contrary; many Australians are acting out despite the best efforts of tour leaders to promote acceptable behaviour.

Europeans once considered Australians as friendly, affable, knockabout types. Not anymore. Because of the actions of a minority, many locals are now treating young Australians travellers with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

Here are some examples from this year of why we are getting a bad name.

  • At the San Fermin festival in Spain, an Australian climbed a local water fountain and urinated on the crowd before jumping off. Jumping off the fountain has become somewhat of a traditional during San Fermin, one started by, you guessed it, an Australian
  • At the same festival, an Australian was gored after taunting the bull and running — according to several people who did the run — extremely drunk. The Spanish papers reported his behaviour the next day as idiotic.
  • In Greece, a group of intoxicated Australians girls stole a Greek flag from the yard of a local in Santorini. They were detained overnight by police, but released without charge
  • The next night four Australians were detained by Police after riding their quad bikes drunk and at speed on the wrong side of the road
  • In Munich during Octoberfest, Australians were among those seen in the Hofbrau tent’s “pig pen” tearing off girls’ underwear.
  • In Croatia, tour guides — whose clientele is overwhelmingly Australian — received letters from the Dubrovnik City Council asking them to tell their passengers to treat the city and its citizens with more respect

People who think this behaviour is acceptable are labelled by the people who think is behaviour is unacceptable as “bogans”. Amid recent debate in Australia about class warfare on the rise (which I don’t believe it is) and the increasing demonization of the lower class (it’s always been the case), it’s worth revisiting — and revising — this loaded term.

Elizabeth Humphrys’ recent piece for ABC’s The Drum describes the “demonization” of the working class as “accelerating”, as if the middle and upper class have suddenly flicked the switch from restrained tolerance to outright hostility. I’ve been out of the country for nearly six months, so I can only assume our sudden fascination with class is the result of Australian journalists localising America’s own class wrangles.

Detesting the poor because they are poor is cruel and heartless. But I believe associating “bogans”, as Humphrys does, as “poor” and “working class” is too simple by half when the reality is more complex.

When you hear people overseas moaning about bogans, it has nothing to do with class and everything to do with behaviour. Idiocy spans professions. Could someone from the supposed lower classes afford travel in the first place? By that rationale the only Australians overseas would be similar to the aforementioned well heeled gentry of the 17th century. This clearly is not the case.

Bogan as a term needs a post-modern revision. As a by-word for “lower class”, bogan is a lazy and inaccurate portrayal of what has emerged as a highly complex group. Who is to say a “bogan” on 100k per year working on the mines or as a sparky is any more middle class than a teacher on 50k? Many of the Collingwood AFL supporters we so mercilessly mock are the same white collar workers who man accounting firms and legal departments side-by-side with the “upper class” supporters of teams such as Hawthorn or Melbourne.

Bogans have moved beyond class and it’s this new loud, ignorant and cashed up breed that is giving Australians a bad name. I believe this is happening for two reasons. Firstly, this group have more disposable income than their American, British or Scottish counterparts. Interestingly, as “bogans” have come to earn more and more money, their US and British equivalents (think rednecks and chavs) have not.

Secondly, we live in such a nanny state that the liberalism of Europe seems to strip any sense of decorum or sensibility. Because you can drink on the street in Europe without attracting an on-the-spot fine, suddenly shagging in public, urinating on a police car or showing your genitalia in public is acceptable behaviour.

I have no problem with travellers who choose to spend more time in bars than museums during their Grand Tour. I’ve done more bar hopping than sight-seeing in many cities. In you prefer Bundy over Bordeaux wine, that’s fine. But when excessive drinking leads to vandalism and violence, Australians everywhere — of all “classes” — should be appalled.

Ben Oliver is a freelance journalist and former tour guide taking an extended holiday, or mini retirement if you will, across Europe until the money runs out or his girlfriend gets sick of him. Whichever comes first. He also blogs at Five Travel Rules.

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