EXPERIENCES WITH COCKY BRITISH EXPATS

He pulled my sleeve and told me to boldly cross the busy street when we were Hong Kong, telling me that he is "Kwai Lo" (Hong Kong term for expat) and nobody will dare run him down. And he was right. The van screeched to a halt and we made it across the street safely. I turned to apologize to the driver but he just waddled off. I was shocked that he was so confident that he would get the same treatment in any Asian country, since he has worked in Hong Kong, Manila and Singapore. For the first time, I regretted employing him as our CFO.

That evening, we had dinner and I apologized that he waited for five minutes and mentioned it was bad manners. He told me he expected no manners or etiquette from Chinese, since we spit into the bowls we eat out of. Though I was angry, I just smiled politely. And that is the problem. Because we choose to be polite, people like him think we are stupid. Because we are not confrontational, we are weak. That was the last C-level Brit I have ever employed when I was running my companies.

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At our annual meeting a few years back, our outgoing President made a remark that set everyone in the room laughing. His remark was, "Singaporeans can't write." I wasn't sure if that was a joke or a criticism. And when he said that, I looked around the room to search for some kind of reaction, since it was a room full of academics who depended on their writing to make a living. But they just laughed, as politely as I did when I was told I had no table etiquette even before I started sat at the table.

I think SOME (not all) people who are not familiar with our culture have clearly misunderstood us. Singaporeans and Asians in general are polite and non-confrontational people, even in the face of insults. While MOST westerners are polite and know their limits, SOME think that we agree with them simply because we do not violently disagree. I see this at the work place, in the university, and in my own companies.

I believe if one wants to work or live in a foreign land, he needs to learn to respect the people of the land, and not categorize people or things according to his standards. So what if our food requires us to take bones out in the middle of a meal? So what if we use our cutlery differently? So what if we dress in our smartest office wear and eat humbly with anyone in a hawker center? So what if our kids do not get to play outside? So what if our accent sounds wrong? So what if we like our coffee in a plastic bag? So what if our secretaries in the office are obliging and willing to make your coffee? So what if we write differently? So what if we have less opportunities in our education because our country was poor when we were young? So what if we like to dress simply and take our public transport?

If you are a foreigner in Singapore, here's a little tip: you have no right to mindlessly throw insults just because we are too polite to tell you off. You shouldn't think that you can fool us with lies, excuses and half-truths, since we can see through these, and just don't want to make you to look bad. You shouldn't measure us with your yardsticks because if we measure them against ours, you will fail badly as well.

If any foreigner can make an attempt to blend in, we will receive him with open arms. But if he cannot respect our people, our culture and our habits, please go home. We bear no grudges. Hopefully a better place with better opportunities awaits him.

Pamela Lim

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3 Comments

Some things never change,

Some things never change, look at the headlines below
The Telegraph: British businessman receives death threats in Singapore over Facebook comments
The Guardian: British banker receives death threats for anti-Singapore diatribe

It must be the same type of assholes like Casey who wrote this, downplaying the insult and highlighting the threats. The fact remains that the death threats are a claim made by Casey and not a fact but his insults are facts.

It's quite clear Casey and

It's quite clear Casey and his ilk has no intention of blending in, and are here to stay. Be clear that social interactions is a two-way street. If you're offended by another's behavior, it's YOUR personal responsibility to make it known/resolve it. By choosing not to react on the pretext of "being polite and non-confrontational", you're essentially giving the green light for anyone to mess around with you.

I know it's the Asian way to be passive aggressive (choosing not to deal with it from the get go then going online to rant about it), but these are not the days of isolationist China anymore. Gone are the days where we have mostly locals here who "understand the code". These days we rub shoulders with so many foreigners it's become expat land. Until you understand that you can never fully impose your cultural expectations on visitors, you will never be happy. So react away, sound him out, flip him off, whatever- like a responsible global citizen

The Thai equivalent of "SPG"s

The Thai equivalent of "SPG"s greatly outnumber ours. People in Thailand go wow when a friend or relative is dating a Farang (White foreigner). It's really something to crow about over there. Ironically, there is a tendency for some White supremacists to show greater "respect" for Asians whom they can talk down to than for Asians who are almost on par with them. Perhaps Asians who revere them boost their egos and superiority complex while those who speak their language almost as well as they do may sound a little threatening. Perhaps that is why they are so rude towards us and so kind to those in need of their support.

Dewddrop Notes
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