Picture this

One of the cultural hypocrisies that always surprises me is the timeworn caricature of Asian tourists ceaselessly taking pictures of everything and everybody.

Timeworn, because it's struck me during my travels that the middle class of every race on earth never stops taking pictures - of the street sign that shares their name, of the hamburger they're about to eat, of themself in the mirror, their dog on the couch - and now posts them online.

But we - ha, ha, chortle, chortle - think "taking picture, please" is an Asian thing?

A buddy of mine was holidaying on the Gold Coast recently when a group of visiting Chinese politely asked whether they could squeeze off some photos of his gorgeous four-year-old daughter, who has alabaster white skin, cherry-red hair and big blue eyes.

"Basically the opposite of a Chinese child. They'd never seen anything like her," he said.

As the tourists snapped away, he was set upon by a group of Australian mothers pointing out the strangers "shooting" his child. The intimation was the middle-aged Chinese men and their wives were somehow gonna get their rocks off on the pictures of his fully clothed daughter.

This is a very Australian double standard, considering the millions of photographs of charming "Third World" children that reside in the photo albums and hard-drives of our country's travellers.

When my friend replied he was not at all worried, one of the women changed gear and expressed annoyance at the way the "Japanese always have to take so many pictures".

"They're Chinese," he replied.

"How can you tell?"

"By the language they're speaking," he said.

They looked at him like he'd just translated the Dead Sea Scrolls, so alien a concept was it that you might be able to differentiate between the sounds of Mandarin and Japanese, let alone tell the speakers apart physically.

I reckon, however, they're valuable skills we all might consider learning, seeing as our landmass is kinda stuck in this neighbourhood.

Last month, the federal government launched the next phase of its "There's nothing like Australia" tourism campaign in Shanghai, China.

It's part of a $250 million push to seduce some of the estimated 100 million Chinese tourists who'll be travelling the world by 2020 and to get them to visit us here.

One of the keys to our country attracting more Asian visitors will be word of mouth - ie what tourists say when they get home and are asked "So, how was Australia?"

I don't know how many times I've seen an Aussie roll their eyes about ignorant foreigners asking if we're from "Austria" and "Do you really have kangaroos as pets" but I'm pretty sure the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Thais, Vietnamese, Filipinos and Taiwanese feel the same when we voice similar ignorance about their countries.

Asian tourists are not part of some homogenous, almond-eyed mass who take heaps of pictures, but members of disparate, ancient cultures that look, sound and act in surprisingly different ways if we care to notice.

Imagine for a moment how many visitors we'd get from China in 2014, if every one who came here in 2013 was greeted with a "ni hao" instead of "wot?"

It's not that hard to learn, especially considering there's a whole generation of Aussies who can tell you the symbol on their shoulder or bikini line means "freedom" or "brave" (but probably says "chicken chow mein").

In short, Tourism Australia could do far worse than running a few ads right here teaching us all how to say "g'day" in a language our visitors will understand ... and appreciate.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.