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In praise of the holiday villain | #datingscams | #lovescams | #facebookscams | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | #match.com | #dating


The northern hemisphere summer has produced its usual rash of columns about holiday group etiquette. But those who violate those norms play a valuable role.

It’s peak travel season in the Northern Hemisphere, which brings with it a rash of columns explaining travel etiquette for both population-level groups (this quite patronising FT piece) and smaller gatherings (this “avoid friendship disaster” guide from the New York Times). Both are emblematic of a wider column brief which is basically seeking to make you and your type less annoying to one another, and to people who live in the places you’re travelling to.

They set out an ideal travel companion. The FT keeps it contained in advising that you “wear shoes”, and “put your phone on silent”. This sense of wariness is backed by the New York Times. “All your friends are not travel friends,” as travel influencer N’dea Irvin-Choy says.

The whole reason these stories exist is because the inverse also exists. We all have holidays defined by someone who just cannot assemble on time, mysteriously disappears to the bathroom whenever the cheque arrives or has important work to do only during clean up. In fact, this is hardly isolated to holidays – it’s a defining trait within any group, whānau, flatmates, colleagues, reality TV contestants. 

I want to describe the four basic typologies of bad holiday companion, whether within a family or friend group, and define some classic characteristics of their behaviour (note: people may fall into multiple categories – once you are comfortable violating one unspoken law, you’re already on the shitlist and might as well bundle them up for extra value).

The shirker 

It’s typical to split holiday tasks according to some form of formal or informal rotation. The shirker makes sure to avoid the task by any means necessary. The most reliable technique tends to be just disappearing. They sense a cleanup coming and vanish for its duration (typically the messiest guest’s approach), or need to answer some urgent emails (at 11am on a Sunday). Alternatively they just let their task slide until some other group member just picks it up, thus leaving plausible deniability about whether they were just about to do it (they weren’t). There are lots of different ways of shirking, but so long as someone else does the job, the shirker has won.

The cheapskate

This is not the same as not having much money. When part of your group is struggling, there’s a natural way for generosity to surface, through the benevolence of older siblings or friends without children. What we’re discussing here are people who can perfectly well afford the activity or to split the bill, but would simply prefer, on balance, that you pay it.

I had a friend once who, when we were about to go out for breakfast, insisted that we give  him what we intended to spend on our meals, then went to the shop, bought ingredients and cooked for us. Perfectly acceptable, except that he made around a 50% margin on the transaction, and the breakfast was mediocre, as well as late.

If you’re taking turns paying for meals, watch the cheapskate leap to pick up breakfast over dinner, or the first round when half the party has yet to arrive. Others check early whether it’s an item-by-item or evenly split bill, and ratchet up and down their order accordingly. There are dozens of different ways to duck your share – the cheapskate is happy to use them all.

The four basic typologies of bad holiday companion (Image: Supplied)

The complainer

The shirker and the cheapskate have material negative impacts on the time and money available to their companions. But the complainer might be worse, somehow, perhaps because they are never responsible for the thing they’re complaining about. The complainer who fixates on a particular aspect or aspects of a situation and makes it their core content pillar. They direct all conversational traffic back to the lack of air conditioning (guilty!), or the lack of a toaster. 

Invariably this has the effect of making whoever made the booking – never the complainer, who is always a full passenger on the trip – feel bad about their work. The complainer will find fault with the selection at a supermarket, the route taken by a driver, the general vibe of a location, always safe in the knowledge that they had no role in its selection, therefore cannot be held responsible. The corollary being that the person who did the picking got to do all the work of finding the thing, and has to wear the guilt of it being imperfect in the complainer’s eyes.

The footdragger

Perhaps the mildest of all the modes of the holiday villain, they nonetheless play a crucial role in creating the “travel amoeba”. This is defined by the New York Times as “an excruciatingly slow-moving blob of people that doesn’t really get anywhere”. The foot-dragger is never there when the people bus is leaving the station. They arrive ten minutes late, but without their hat, which they only remember as someone is stepping into a taxi.

The footdragger has the role of being the last person to leave, effectively defining the velocity of the whole group. Bookings are missed, venues are full, the heat comes in, all because the footdragger cannot get their shit together. Worse is the impact on parents, who have somehow managed to get three kids ready to leave somewhere on time, but when the footdragger finally appears, one of them invariably is hungry, or needs to go to the bathroom. The footdragger ultimately means you spend approximately 15% of your holiday waiting in a lobby.

How to think about the holiday villain

I’m only listing four types above. Everyone I’ve ever travelled with probably could come up with three more Duncan-specific types on the spot, while also bundling me into multiple categories (I’m definitely a complainer). Basically, tag yourself, you’re in there somewhere – and if you’ve never thought about any of them, surprise: the villain is definitely you.

There’s also the opposite: the holiday hero. They make every booking, are always carrying sunscreen and are forever asking if you want anything from the shop. The thing about the holiday hero, though, is that they make you feel bad. All those good deeds when you’re trying to relax? Just calm down, please! 

The holiday villain, on the other hand, provides perhaps the most essential service of the holiday: a unifying conversation topic for all the rest of the group to vent about. This is actually an incredibly important job unto itself – after the catchups, what is there to talk about? The holiday villain provides a steady stream of petty, low stakes annoyances which others can recap to pass the time. The shirker even gets out of the way, so that those doing the big clean can roll their eyes and really unload, while the shirker is safely out of earshot, hiding from the job.

To be clear, there is a limit to this. Most people are both hero and villain at different times, and anyone who really digs into any of these archetypes is in grave danger of being ejected from future holidays (sadly this is harder to accomplish in family groups, which is why these holidays can really get heated). Additionally, you need a mix of heroes and villains – the unruly tourists were chiefly famous because they were all holiday supervillains, with no redeeming members. Still, to be fair, they gave a whole country something to complain about, so on balance, a win.

The point is that while holidays naturally give rise to a combination of different roles, both assigned and assumed, it’s not fair to discount the role of the villain. So long as they keep their offending at the mild end of the spectrum, what they provide in terms of content is easily the match of what they take away in terms of time, money and effort.

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