Friday, March 26, 2010

For God's Sake!!! When in Singapore, do as the Singaporeans do!!!

Hey all,

I haven't had a rant lately, so I'm due. LOL

As I've lived my life I've learned to let a lot of things go and only save the fighting for the things that are truly important and I feel need to be said. Most of those have to do with someone else. Jonathon says I'm all about causes. If I believe in something, God help anyone who gets in my way. If it's important enough to me I'll just mow you over to get there. LOL

But at the same time, I'll do everything on the planet to make sure you have the right to choose your own destiny. Even if I think that destiny is the most ridiculous one on the planet!

So, as you can imagine, it really upsets and frustrates me when I see others not giving people the same courtesy.

Take living here in Singapore for instance. Now, I've been fortunate in that in my life I've traveled a great deal. I've met a lot of people, both American and foreign, so maybe my outlook is a little different than someone who hasn't traveled as much. But for God's sake...why do tourists act like the country they are in should adapt to them instead of the other way around???

This is a huge pet peeve of mine.

I see it all the time and it drives me nuts. For example, Jonathon and I were at the Singapore Zoo the other day. (More on that wonderful day in my series starting next week.) We are in line at the food court to get something to eat. In front of us are these two men. I think they were German, but it was hard to tell. They were European for sure. Anyway, this one guy is trying to order something but he and the gal behind the counter just aren't communicating. As we listened we discovered it wasn't the gal, but the dude who wasn't getting it right.

See, over here at a lot of restaurants, they have what are called "set meals". That means you order a #1 and you get a #1. This isn't Burger King...you can't have it your way. If you tell them something different, which is what this guy was doing, it just confuses them because it's NOT THE WAY ITS DONE HERE!!! So, after several long minutes of trying to change the menu, the dude finally let's out a few swear words and ungraciously takes what he should have be given in the first place. And he's complaining and swearing about how stupid these people are and why can't they do things the right way.

That's when I lost my temper.

Seriously? The right way? Dude! Who the hell gave you the right to change an entire culture's way of doing things. You're a tourist in a zoo cafe, for pity sakes! It's just a meal. It's one thing to be irritated because it's not the way it's done back home, but to pitch a fit and yell at the person because you don't get the exact piece of chicken you wanted?

After I gave him what-for and Jonathon had dragged me away to eat our own meals--which we did NOT ask to have changed, even though I hate curry--we talked about the ridiculousness of tourists who come to experience another country and it's culture, then insist that the people of that country change to meet their needs.

We spent the next half hour sharing sharing what we'd seen tourists do over the years we've been traveling. It was fun and made most of my mad go away. LOL

So here are in order the ten most ridiculous things we've seen and heard during our stay here in Singapore.

10. "For God's Sakes...Why don't they talk English?" One of the things I hear most and I just shake my head. Here in Singapore most people DO speak a smattering of English at the shops and restaurants. It's part of the job, but regular people, those who don't deal with foreigners on a daily basis may not know more than a few basic English words. Why should they? This is their country. For God's sake...Why don't you speak Mandarin or Malay?

9. "This bathroom is disgusting. Why don't they have toilet paper in it?" Now, I have to admit, this is one I THOUGHT to myself when I first got here. But after being in Singapore for a while, I realized that not having paper in the toilets is just part of the culture. And most of them in malls, MRTs and places that cater to foreigners, do. But for those that don't, it's really very simple and I've thought of two reasons why they don't. a) they clean a lot of the toilets by hosing them out frequently. Paper in the stalls would get wet. And I have to tell you, most of the bathrooms cleaned that way here are a lot cleaner than the one at Ghirardelli Disney World where I used to work! b) Older Singaporeans and the disabled make their living selling tiny packages of tissues. If the toilets all had paper, they'd be out of work!

8. What do you mean, there aren't any napkins?!!!!" Another one easily solved and one I've seen elsewhere, not just Asia. Serviettes or napkins aren't used in other countries like we use them in America. Right or wrong aside, that's just the way it is. And since I doubt bitching about it will change an entire country's way of thinking, why not just keep some napkins in a little bag along with TP in your purse? Problem dealt with!

7. "I'm so thirsty. Why don't they have any damn water fountains?" Why? Because they just don't. While I don't understand it either--you'd think a hot and humid country like this would have a plethora of the things--you get used to carrying a bottle of water or buying it cheap at a food stall. You can whine or you can hydrate. Deal.

6. "Get out of the way, you doby!!!! Why aren't you driving on the correct side of the road?" Seriously? And just what is the correct side? Doesn't it depend on what country you're in? Australia and England drive on the same side as Singaporeans, but Americans, the French and Germans drive on the right. So yes...it may be a bit weird at first, but get used to it. Or please...don't drive!!! And for God's sake, look the correct way BEFORE you cross the street!!!

5. "But that's not football!!! You said we'd be watching football. Turn the channel!!!!" Okay, this is more aimed at American's, but still holds true. Here, football is what we call soccer and they are rabid for it. Every Friday and Saturday night in the courtyard below great crowds of people come to watch the games. They shout, they boo and they cheer! So don't diss their game, please. You can either turn off the TV or do what we did. Reluctantly become involved with the game. LOL

4. "Bloody Hell! Get out of the ^$% way!!!" A common cry heard from tourists, it usually follows when said tourist is queuing up on the right side of the platform or on the escalators. Since the rule is to ride on the left side or move to the left on a platform, it's easy to spot the new people to the country who are fighting it out for space where they shouldn't be. Just learn the pattern and adapt. Unless you're a real idiot, it isn't that hard.

3. "Whadda ya mean you don' t have _____? (insert food stuff here)" For me it was my coffee chocolate from International Foods. I just can't enjoy a coffee without it. But it was too heavy to carry so I did without. But you can't believe how many times I've heard a tourist snarl at a clerk because they didn't have the exact thing they wanted. Part of the fun is figuring out what you can have instead. Make it a game, people, and don't get cranky that they don't have Wisconsin cheese here just for you.

2. "Leave me the #%$% alone, I don't want to sit down and eat. No, I don't need a tailor! And no, I sure don't want to come in and buy something!!!" Now this one is one I struggled with a lot. Here in Singapore when you walk by a restaurant or shop they have greeters out there who try their best to get you into their establishment. They have no personal space bubble as we American's do and will literally attack when you walk by. I feel like a gazelle down by a waterhole! There are days I just want to stand and scream...LEAVE ME ALONE OR I WILL HURT YOU!!!!

But, as I said, this is the way they do it here so it's my place to let it go. It's not easy and I do avoid the streets that are really bad, but once I was able to deal with the personal space issue--just ease them back, they don't take it as hostile--I can at least shop without feeling like a slug for saying no thank you a hundred times! But this one, of all the weirdnesses, is one I have the hardest time with.

1. "Oh my God, John! That man just touched me/looked at me/gave me the finger/said something nasty! Do something!!!" Well, John, if you do do something you just might be doing it for the wrong reasons.

Let's start with touching. Believe me, I have a VERY big personal space zone and as I mentioned before, getting past this was difficult. But most people (cretins not withstanding) don't understand that touching you is a violation of that PSZ. A lot of people here touch each other socially. Girls and guys both. In fact its been one of the hardest places to tell straights vs gays unless I really watch them close. I've been bumped, pushed, stroked and even had one old Chinese dude feel me up as he walked by. (It wasn't personal. My boob was in the way of his hand.) So if they don't mean anything by it, why let it bother you so much?

Now the looking part. Here in Singapore we have many different cultures and beliefs. And each has their own way of dealing with things. An older Chinese man rarely meets my gaze, but an Indian man not only will meet it, some of them have a leer down pretty damn well. I have to be careful in Little India because my natural gregariousness plus blonde hair makes for some pretty interesting visits. I've had whole groups of men stop dead and stare at me. If I wasn't so creeped out, I'd be flattered. But when I asked about it, I was told that it was just the way they showed their appreciation, and that it was normal as long as they didn't touch. So I guess I'm pleased???

Hand motions. We all know how easily misleading a hand gesture can be. The wrong movement can a war start. In this country if someone is using their hand to show they want three bowls of rice, or three smelly durians, they use a single middle finger. And we all know what that means back home. But remember...this isn't home. That gesture you think is so horrible and insulting just means he wants to charge you three dollars for a rickshaw bike ride. Don't get your knickers in a twist.

And finally speech. This one actually makes me laugh a lot. Since I don't speak any Malay or Mandarin other than Thank you, Toilet and How Much? when someone says something to me, it's pretty much guess work as I figure it out. But I've had some comments tossed my way that I KNOW were insulting by the tone, just as I've had other comments that were obviously flattering. But the one that sticks in my mind most was when a man growled at me.

I'm still not sure what he meant. (I picked a bird's nest off the ground. No birdies...just the nest) When I saw him watching, I showed him the nest and he nodded, then growled. I kid you not. Growled. I have no idea why. And I was actually afraid to ask. LOL

Another time I was in a cafe and the clerk asked the customer (European) if she wanted Coke or Coke Light. The customer frowned and said neither, she wanted a diet Coke. The clerk nodded and said Coke Light. And again, the customer--a little more irritated this time--refused it, saying she wanted diet Coke. I stepped in at that time to explain they were the same. The clerk looked relieved, the European still irritated. She looked down her nose at me and said, "Why don't they just call it by the real name? How silly!" To which I responded, "How silly to expect them to rename it just for you!"

She left with her nose still up in the air. I got a free Coke Light from the clerk.

So, there you have it. Ten of the things I'd dearly love to strangle stupid tourists for. Not the mistake or the thought, mind you. But how they handle it. We are in someone else's country. Not our own. So rather than spend your time moaning about how it should be like home, embrace the differences and enjoy.

Or stay home!!!

Do you have a story you can share? Either something you've done or something you saw another tourist do? Share it below and give us all a laugh.

And by the way...since I'm not able to be here in person (I'm still in the little fishing village) please join me in saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Sara J., who is one of my favorite fans and blog follower!!! Wish her well when you make your comments below!!!

I hope to be back in time to put up next weeks blogs, but if you don't see them, you'll know I'm still off fishing and writing...and writing and fishing! *grin*

Hugs to all,
CJ England
http://www.cjengland.com/home/Do%20Me%20A%20Favor100x154.jpg
Follow Your Dreams

4 comments:

Connie Northrop said...

LOL CJ I'm with you and I've never left the continental US. I did, however, live in an international dorm in college and met many people from all over the world. It was very educational. Very few of them expected us to change how we do things.

I have heard stories, many from the people who didn't realized they were being idiots because they were acting like the people you've seen.

Reality is every country has different ways of doing things and different doesn't mean wrong or bad, it's just different. Congrats on having the courage to tell people off!! I would probably do the same thing. I have a very low BS tolerance level...GRIN

Trish Ratna said...

As a local Singaporean I'm tickled by your entry this time CJ. Us locals do speak English, it is the national language here. However, most of the service staff are from other nationalities like China and their grasp of English is really not very good.

Singaporeans are labeled as bad travelers. Sometimes it is very embarrassing to see my countrymen antics when we're abroad. My husband who are so used to Singapore's efficiency would rant and nag whenever we go on vacation to other countries. I kept having to remind him that he's a tourist and when in Rome do as Romans do. Thankfully he's better now *LOL*

I've had friends who insisted on eating just Singapore food (like roti prata, mee siam, nasi lemak) when they travel. For crying out loud if that's the only food you eat then just stay home.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. You might like to try Sungei Buloh next time for some nature walk, that is if you don't mind creepy crawlies!

Buzz me should you need local insights...

Trish
trishratna@gmail.com
Facebook: Trish Ratna Asmahaney

Anonymous said...

Hey CJ,
I’m with you all the way ~ from being more mellow than before, through ‘disagree but would fight for a person’s right’, to having my share of ‘pet peeves’ buttons people can push.
I wish I could have been there when you straightened out that ignorant yahoo. Too cool!
I don’t think it has to do necessarily with traveling per se. Either a person sees others as deserving of respect or they do not wherever they are.
It’s no excuse but sometimes people who are feeling threatened or inferior, lash out and/or have a need to put others down to shore themselves up.
When I was young [and knew everything, of course], I used to think I had a responsibility to speak up whenever I encountered anyone who’s behavior I thought ‘wrong’. Usually, it related to bad manners. My sister said I was going to get myself killed if I didn’t stop chastising groups of loud teenagers on the train!
One pet peeve is people cutting in a line. Often I challenge them and in an argument with one I finally told the woman ‘don’t talk to me ~ you’re “dirty” in my fractured Spanish no less ~ ”Sucia” or "dirty" is culturally an insult. To a surly grocery cashier [or other ‘service’ personnel], I said “You need to get a job that you’re good at.” For those righteous strangers who accost me on the street to lecture me about my smoking, I say, “You need to get over yourself.” and “If you want fresh air move to Kansas.” [I live in NYC, can you say ‘air pollution’?].
Thank you so much for your birthday wishes ‘shout-out’, CJ. I told my family all about it, including “My name in print on the internet”! LOL
Hugs,
Sara J. ~ : - ]
sjr1groups@yahoo.com

Phylis said...

I think some of it also is the world revolves around me syndrome, thus everyone and anything should be done to my specifics. I mean it happens here all the time. They just take it with them when they travel. lol Good for you on speaking up. That would be my biggest fear though. To not understand and upset someone because I wanted something done different than the way it is usually done. When I visited Germany, I had to get used to Coke being warm. *shudder* lol
Happy Birthday Sara!