THE BOOR IS IN DA HOUSE

It was raining but I had my umbrella unlike the man beside me.  He was getting drenched as we waited for the light to turn green so I asked him to get under my umbrella. What he said that afternoon years ago never left me.

“You’re not from here, are you?” he asked amidst the assault of rain on the umbrella.

“No. Why?” I answered, perplexity crossing my face.

“You’re very nice,” he said, his eyes not daring to look at me for fear of discovering the panic in him for committing blasphemy.

We spent the next few minutes in silence even as we crossed over to Wheelock Place. With a thank you we went opposite directions.

That was the first incident. The second one was with a former security guard from an old workplace.

“Ah, I know it’s you! I never forget you! You always smile!” he shouted ecstatically, waving at me furiously from a distance. Then he walked away. Ignore the lack of a proper by-your-leave because such behaviour was completely against the grain: he was jovial, not grouchy; forthcoming, not standoffish; warm, not brusque. This was no rude Singaporean

Nice and smiling were how people described me through my years in Singapore. But then that’s how people generally describe Filipinos. Add happy because a survey I read some years ago judged Filipinos as one of the happiest people in Asia alongside the Indonesians and Thais. The automatic correlation drawn between nice and rude (and all its synonyms) is you’re certainly not a boor if you’re warm and ebullient as the Filipinos, Indonesians and Thais, and definitely one vice-versa.

Local citizens of Hong Kong were at the bottom of the list, but the world has changed their view of them as being downright discourteous. Most believe that it was due to SARS, which quickly pared down their boorish disregard for others.  It dawned on them that they needed to be more affable if they wanted their tourism industry to not collapse at the onslaught of SARS. As for the Singaporeans who never lost composure even when people across the ocean were screaming murder about Michael Fay’s caning back then, they weren’t rankled with the list until an article on the Sydney Morning Herald website labelled them as rude.

I watched some Singaporeans go into a swivet through the days that followed the publication of the report. Is rudeness country or race specific or is it country/race blind? Experiences and stories point to the latter. The whole world, for example, at one point, handed a verdict of rude to the French who, with characteristic nonchalance, didn’t move a muscle.  Was there something to justify? There are, admittedly, some discourteous French and pleasant French like my friend’s husband and family.  I am reminded of the story of two Frenchmen who were new arrivals to Singapore then and, in the spirit of camaraderie, befriended their all-time rivals by joining their dragon boat team. The English were welcoming, but one could feel the sarcasm and annoyance bubbling beneath the veneer of hospitality. Who’s rude now?

Still on the English, a former dragon boat team mate gave the cold shoulder treatment to Asians in and out of the boat. One team mate confessed to being ignored when they were seated together in the boat – he had his back to her all the time. And this is a young Singaporean student who was quite pleasant! I chanced upon the same limey at Marché, then at Heeren on Orchard, and I greeted him. He just stared, his eyes showing annoyance at being accosted. I related it to another Briton who downplayed the incident by saying he’s a nice bloke. Indeed – he was.

Indonesians are also a blend of pleasant and not-so pleasant people. The Balinese are truthfully amiable but the Bataks, on the other hand, are a force to reckon with.

That all Filipinos are sugar and spice and everything nice is a sweeping generalization. I’ve encountered Filipinos whose niceness is a serpiginous river of toxicity. Rip the mask of affability and you’re faced with a malicious yob!  Similarly, it’s a fallacious statement to say that all Singaporeans are boors. I’ve worked with both louts and professionals. The image of Singaporeans wasn’t enhanced when a Star Blogger – an ESPN Star Sports presenter – in the Singapore tabloid mypaper wrote eristic arguments about the Singaporeans’ rudeness. She said they were as such because they have to put up with the humidity; inane local TV shows and many more. A French take would have been better than a tongue-in-cheek attitude.  

Rudeness elides country and race. It recognises social classes solely– the higher up one is in the social strata, the more exaggerated one’s sense of being is.  Rudeness thrives in an atmosphere of immense self-importance, eliminating any traces of humility, courtesy and selflessness.  It carries with it vestiges of prejudices that go way back to when, say, segregation was in place and women couldn’t vote. It’s a cycle that will never be broken unless there’s a radical shift in paradigm so until then, the boor will always be in da house.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Fistri on July 24, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    this is one of those days when i wished there’s that ubiquitous Like button and realised its not Youtube or Facebook..in short I just wanted to say i love this article. Generalization is poison!

    Reply

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