Rudeness reconsidered

A while back I considered the topic of rudeness in Hong Kong culture. One suggestion I made was that things on this front were likely to get better since, in an unexpected turnabout, it's typically the older generation here who's far ruder than younger people.

The Talls were out shopping the other night, and had a couple of picture-perfect confirmations of this unlikely fact.

Since Toddler Tall is just 16 months old, we still take her out in a stroller on most outings. When we take the MTR, we therefore try to use those extra-wide turnstiles. The problem is, these turnstiles serve both those getting on the train, and those getting off. This means it's easy to get stuck behind a long line of people going through from the other direction, one after another, before the electronic controls on the turnstile make it possible for someone on the 'wrong' side to use it. Lots of Hong Kong people who aren't carrying large packages or pushing baby strollers, or wheelchairs, or whatever, use these turnstiles in order to save the couple of steps it would take to get to one of the regular ones.

This is just what happened the other night: as I was approaching the wide turnstile with Toddler Tall to get to the trains, a young man on the other side of it, who could have used any of the ordinary turnstiles, rushed to beat us -- successfully. TT and I had to stand back and wait for him. But as he passed through, we could see him having a minor epiphany: 'I am a jerk', he was thinking, 'I shouldn't have jumped ahead of a baby. I am bad, and must get better'. He grinned sheepishly at me as he passed by, and I took this as a good sign.

Then, as we were waiting for the next train, a middle-aged woman and her twenty-something daughter got in line behind us. Actually, they got in line next to us, and the elder lady (I toss the word out far too casually) decided the Family Tall looked like easy marks. She turned on the Hong Kong see lai shuffle, edging her butt in front of us. Ironically, since we were at a terminus, and as it was fairly late, there were going to be plenty of seats on the train. It was really just the principle of thing for her, you see -- if advantage could be taken, then it should be taken for its own sweet sake.

But then another good thing happened: her daughter saw what Mom was getting up to, blushed, and issued a sharp remonstration. A hissed exchange spiced with dark glares followed, but Daughter won out: they stepped back, got in line behind us, and boarded the train in a nice orderly fashion.

In other words, there's hope.


Amused by Mr Tall

Dear Mr Tall,

I've been reading a few of your articles, namely the ones on HK rudeness. Just wanted to comment on what a lively and engaging writer you are! I especially was amused by your term, the "See Lai Shuffle". I actually live in Vancouver now, on the brink of moving to HK. I live in an area quite highly populated with HK and China immigrants, so terms like "see lai shuffle" already do strike a few chords with me. I also hear lots of stories about HK people letting doors slam closed on the person behind them... haha.. lots to look forward to I guess!

Anyhow, in your article you mentioned hope of improvement of the rudeness situation...and I think there is a small glimmer of hope. I think if each of us visiting or living in HK sort of do our part to make other people feel sheepish about their ways (like budging in front of a baby in a lineup), eventually, someday, HK's reputation will take a turn for the better. In my young optimistism, or perhaps naiveity , I will make it one of my personal mandates while in HK to personally give dirty looks to the next person I see trying to cut in line.

Sorting out rudeness

I am a big believer in meeting rudeness head on. Dirty looks won't do the trick, you have to say something -- not to be overly confrontational -- no bus uncle, but clear that something was not acceptable.

Last week I was walking into Pacific Place and in the reflection of the door I noticed a pregnant woman behind me so when I opened the door I held it so she could go first. She thanked me, took one step forward and some guy cut her off to get in the door, while I am holding it! I took one look at him and loudly said "no way". He was shocked, then embarrassed, and after the woman went he cowardly mumbled a curse at me in Cantonese and let me walk in. I let him know I understood what he said and that was the end of it.

Anti-social behavior persists and worsens because no one speaks - it's not the weather people you can do something about it.