Monday, 1 October 2012

From Charlene Fernandez Bobis: Rude, Crude, and Vile (with apologies to Weird Al Yankovic)

First of all, this story is one told by my former university professor turned friend, Charlene Fernandez Bobis (shameless plug on her behalf, she is the author of Misadventures of a Disorganized Young Woman--go read it if you haven't yet!). She wrote this about two months ago but I've only managed to get around to sharing it now. I'm re-blogging it as a copy-pasted article as I don't believe it can be linked to.

At a supermarket earlier, a family lined up behind us at the cashier. A female member pushing a stroller hit my foot with the stroller, then bumped into my right side and stayed standing that way, her body touching mine, as she chatted away with another family member. Annoyed, I moved away in a pointed manner; she glared back and pushed the stroller so that it was blocking my access to the passage beside the cashier’s conveyor belt. I figured it was futile to argue so I moved to my left. A little later, a young woman from the same family stood next to me, pushing me when she made gestures and standing so close, she was pressed into my back. Having had enough, I snapped, “Back off!”

Let me explain why I am intolerant of people who invade my personal space. I don't believe anyone has the right to violate my personal space. So long as I am not obstructing your progress, and I am not in any way hampering you from doing what you want, I believe I have the right to remain unmolested. Had I been in a Western country, this incident would have led to a lawsuit. Being Filipino, I understand that a lot of Pinoys have no concept whatsoever of personal space. But doesn’t our oh-so-cherished notion of Pinoy friendliness include respect for others?

Anyway, the girl reacted badly, raising her voice and yelling, “Ano problema mo (What’s your problem)?” over and over, then repeating my statement to her large family (about 8 members). “Anong (what) back off? Ha? Ha? Ano ibig sabihin nun (What does that mean)?” At this point the grandmother stepped in, asked for her story. The girl’s version was that I had shoved her aside and yelled, “Back off!” In her version, I had reacted without any provocation and was being an unreasonable bitch.

Naturally, no Filipino grandma of the traditional kind is going to let this offense pass, and so began a torrent of abuse along the lines of me being a fat pig, a conceited person who thought I was “untouchable,” and so on.

My husband, normally a patient man, said, “Your relative bumped into my wife repeatedly, and she shouldn’t do that,” in a reasonable tone. Granny drew herself up, offended that he had used English to talk to her, spitting, “May pa-Inggles pa (He’s using English)!” The girl started yelling again, “Sorry, ha? I’m sorry! O di I’m sorry!” in a tone which made it clear she was not sorry in any way and was in fact using the phrase to be rude.

I note at this point that my husband was about to lose his temper, draw his weapons, and start bloodshed but then thought better of it and got himself under control. (Incidentally, behavior-wise, he’s a throwback to Viking berserkers; that’s why he dislikes losing his temper.)

Seeing that there was no reasoning with these people, my husband turns away, which prompts Granny to turn up the abuse and look around to see who was listening. Among her best lines were, “Sino akala nyo sa sarili nyo? Maglabasan tayo ng pera at paramihan tayo (Who do you think you are? Bring out your money and let’s see who has more)!” There was also, “Chinese ba yan? Bakit ang selan (Are they Chinese? Why are they so touchy?)” “Pa-Inggles-inggles pa, akala mo kung sino (They’re using English, who do they think they are)?” And of course she repeated the whole they’re-fat-pigs refrain, and she encouraged everyone in their entourage to repeat, “Back off!” in a pidgin accent meant to mock us.

No, I did not take the abuse like a humble sheep, and I don’t believe in turning the other cheek. (PS: I dislike sanctimonious people who lecture others to make them feel good about themselves.) I glared back at Grandma and rolled my eyes openly. And when we finally left I placed my hand in front of my mouth and moved it like a sock puppet, going, “Bwabwabwabwabwa.” Of course this infuriated Grandma to the point where her husband said, “Tama na, baka tumaas nanaman blood pressure mo (That’s enough, your blood pressure might rise).”

A while ago I was angry, but now I’m just sad. Grandma was teaching her grandchildren to mock and attack instead of ascertaining fault. She tolerated the name-calling and mockery, and even encouraged it. She applauded the false apology, and decided to make a spectacle of herself so long as she could “win” the argument that way. Worst of all was her ignorant raving; what was the point? While I understand that the default Filipino response to being shamed or proven wrong is to attack in anger, this was simply appalling.

I don’t think we should be solely blaming the youths of today for being crass, uncouth, and inconsiderate. Rather, look at those who raise them, who set an example for them. The blame should lie there, and adults should stop washing their hands and pretending that all the fault lies with the young ones.

Not all Filipinos are like this; there are good Pinoys in all social classes. I only wonder what would have happened had they pulled the same stunt on, say, an American, or a foreigner who has been molested. I bet that, given their white skin, Family Uncouth would have been more apologetic and less abusive. Heaven help an Indian or a black person though—but then again Filipinos can be absolutely rude to blacks and Indians, moving away in a very obvious manner because they automatically assume that those people are “smelly.”

Perhaps the biggest victim here is the small child with Family Uncouth. He is going to grow up in this kind of a family, after all. And that, I think, is one of the worst forms of child abuse: to raise your child to be like yourself when you are ignorant, rude, and vile.
All cultures have people who are like this, I bet. I doubt if this is something that Filipinos can claim--or would even want to claim--to have a monopoly on this type of behaviour.

An article in the September 2012 issue of Smart Parenting cites some "Discipline mistakes all moms make," and this situation reminds me of the third scenario on the list: modelling inappropriate behaviour. In monosyllables, "do as I say and not as I do." I don't believe that family would have condoned similar behaviour if their teens and younger did that to their peers. And yet, there they were.

Equally appalling is this increasing rift between fluent English-speakers and those who are not. There is nothing wrong with being fluent in just one or the other but given this scenario and at the risk of sounding judgmental, my guess is that family falls under the category of those not fluent in English who feel threatened by those who are. Actually, they displayed qualities of several stereotypes of people who, when faced with individuals who appear to be of higher education, use mockery as self-defense for their own shortcoming.

There are many possible reasons for why this family behaved the way they did, nor does it justify the author's reaction either--and she admits to that in her original post. Even though there may appear to be bias on my part for one side of the story, I still see this as a valuable lesson in behaviour that contributes to the deterioration of society and civilization.

Something to think about once the actual parenting (i.e. upon the arrival of our little one) begins.

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