Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Golden Rule vs The Ugly Americans (And Others)

Planning a strategy is often better than going off half-cocked
One of the more valuable lessons I learned early in this life is how “The Golden Rule” gives far better returns than most any other investment of time and energy. Talking with my imaginary friend this morning I was reminded of the saying “You reap what you sow” also, but I really think “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” says it best. You’re free to consider either or neither, and I run into plenty who consider neither on a daily basis here stateside!

Not that I’m never guilty of transgressions in this area, but as the years go by I’ve found that the energy it takes to be civil is really less than is needed to go about furthering ill will. There’s plenty enough of that in the world already, and frankly I have better things to do. We all have better things to do, but some just can’t seem to break free of the selfish and irrational bonds that keep them wallowing in their own quagmire of unpleasantness.

ALWAYS keep your cool
with a police officer
As we’ve covered in a couple of previous posts the Thai overall tend to be far more easy-going than most Westerners. It’s not that they don’t have goals and a desire to further themselves, and not that they don’t have emotions, dislikes and passions that fuel their lives, but they seem to be able to find a gentler way of getting where they’re going. I think it’s all a part of the “mai pen rai” mentality; what some might sum up as “don’t sweat the small stuff - and it’s all small stuff, really”. Especially while on vacation.

I tend to walk around with a smile on my face as much as possible and nod my head in recognition to anyone who makes eye contact with me. When I don't - and I've done some informal and completely unscientific experiments on this - I don't get the same treatment on several levels. The suggestion from here is to consider trying the pleasant manner route.

It's freely acknowledged here that combining a strange place in climates we're not accustomed to with traveler's fatigue while working through frustrations of written and verbal language barriers and you've got almost everything needed for a recipe for Impatience Casserole (not forgetting the garnish of "travel tummy") but it's all part of the adventure. People seem to think that going to a foreign country is like a visit to Disneyland, and I've heard people out of control there, too.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard some English-speaking person going off the deep end while in conversation with a tuk-tuk driver, hotel registration employee, airline worker, Jatujak shop owner or someone on the street I could pay for a first class ticket back there this very morning. Some of these people are under the false impression that just because they verbally pummel someone they'll win the battle, but I've also seen street justice meted out, too. The Thai are polite, but they're human - and everyone has a breaking point.

I'm not a voyeur to the extent that I'd look into someone's window or hotel door when I'm passing by, but a boisterous argument is like free radio to me, and I've surreptitiously listened in on any and all of those whenever the opportunity arises. Taxi drivers arguing with a tourist over a non-metered fare, club owners going ballistic while providing what they consider to be customer service to a patron, people repeating the same irrational demands over and over at the ticketing counter (as if their outrage will change policy) and far more examples than you'd want to read here today.

There's something in some parts of the Asian culture itself that includes a rule that whoever shouts the loudest and most incessantly in an argument wins, but I can't quite quantify that theory just yet. It's a work in progress. Maybe it's a variation on the theorem that repeating a lie often enough will make it true, I don't know. Goodness knows politicians in the US subscribe to that en mass during election season.

Are there tuk-tuk drivers who will try to take advantage of you in Bangkok? Yup - no question. Are there people selling all sorts of goods and services that are not what they're represented to be? Right again. If you're not willing to roll with the punches and take the chance of being put into an uncomfortable situation, do some homework on travel advisory sites, forums and boards before you go. Actually, that's sound advice even if you are a little more adventurous, even if I do say so myself. It's payed off well for me, anyway.

This doesn't mean it's not wise to stand up for yourself and try to resolve any and all matters in a calm and reasonable fashion; nobody needs to be a door mat - but it's usually best to not allow things to escalate to a hostile level in a strange place, surrounded by strangers. In such situations I make use of whatever damage control is within reach, end the interaction and leave. Sometimes that means getting short shrift, but it beats a fight (or worse).

The point here today is simple. If you want to be treated in a civil manner, don't walk into a situation acting like a self-appointed deity. My guess is that it irks you when it happens wherever home is for you, and that's understandable... you're human.

 They're human, too.


christianpfc said...

There is a proverb in Thailand (and probably in many other countries/languages as well): "He who shouts is wrong". Long ago I found out that getting annoyed at something you can't change is pointless.

khunbaobao said...

I'd agree to an extent, but until you've made an honest effort to change something that's inherently wrong (and I mean in a calm, rational manner) you don't really know. To paraphrase another old line:

"If at first you don't succeed, try again. After that, give up - no use making a damned fool of yourself!"

Thanks for the comment!