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Saturday, November 17, 2012

What happens in Shanghai


View of Shanghai from breakfast window

A calm lunch spot

Not everything is modern



On my recent trip to Shanghai I felt we were all in a dance. Every conversation was circular. Formal. Oh oh so polite. Meals had a protocol, not always visible but revealed like the lace beneath the skirt, slowly and carefully, if you were paying attention. (I admit at times to being too distracted by my inability to keep the slippery food, including cow's stomach, on my chopsticks to pay full attention at all times.)


Rush hour on the metro, where people might display their worst manners, was quite pleasant. Yes one must move quickly to avoid being run over, but there was no pushing and shoving like we often see here in Paris. When the metro was comfortably full the remaining people waited for the next one. No one held the doors open in order to squeeze into an impossible space.
Night view before they turn off the office buildings at 8PM

In the midst of such politeness however I did see some rather unpleasant behaviour. While having a nightcap in the hotel lobby bar one evening, I could not help but notice (i.e. hear) the group of American men at the next table. They managed to insult each of the beautiful servers in turn, apparently believing it was within their rights to do so. They propositioned each without grace (or effect). Their approach included asking where they could obtain a massage "with a happy ending". And following their lack of success with such classy moves, they expressed their disappointment in Shanghai's level of entertainment.

Impressive.

So I wonder: is this the typical behaviour of these men at home in the US? Or is this behaviour reserved for Asia, and based on some opinion about Asian women? Is it possible that the manners of this trio adjust as they travel throughout the world, and if so, how do they choose the behaviour best suited to that place? 

What a shame if the actions of this small group reflect more generally on a larger population. Although unrealistic as an expectation, it would have pleased me greatly to see the other men in the bar speak up, even if just to distance themselves from such inappropriate talk. Perhaps the lack of success with these tactics will be enough to change future interactions for the trio, but I would have been more reassured if they were set right by their peers.

This post is not intended to be a comment on American men. I am sure that many of us manage to insult others during our travels, hopefully without bad intentions. I wonder too if we have lost our ability to enforce good manners, now that we are so separated from others in our daily lives.

What do you think?



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Airport Express

While wandering through Paris this weekend my friend and I discussed the pros and cons of making eye contact. Because she does not generally make eye contact with strangers, she rarely has to refuse the street vendors and shysters pretending to conduct polls for a good cause. On the other hand; I believe I have a more rich experience by connecting with people throughout the day, sometimes being rewarded with a spontaneous conversation or something else unexpected.
Today she may have scored a point.
While standing in a long line for passport control, surrounded by a tour bus full of people, I made eye contact with a security person. He invited me to leave the line and join him in a non-line, so I did.
At this point one point is scored for making eye contact.
He then asked me to place my carry on bags in the measuring device, and made a face because I had one bag plus my computer bag. I reminded him that I am allowed to do so on international flights.
So far, everything is okay, kind of. But I was considering giving a point to my friend's side of the debate.
He then weighed my two bags together and told me I was 4kg over the limit. Would I consider lightening the load a bit?  Well I could not think of any way to do so, since I was headed to Shanghai for 4 days and was quite proud of bringing only carry on.
He checked me over carefully, I suppose wondering what of the articles of clothing I was wearing I would be willing to leave behind. Okay I thought this but laughed at myself for my belief that this young whippersnapper had any such interest in me.
He then  told me I would almost certainly need to check my bag. Okay point for non-eye contact moving forward.
Then he asked when I was returning.
Thursday.
You arrive Thursday?
Yes.
Okay have dinner with me Friday and I will let you pass.
Seriously? This works?
I politely declined, laughed a bit to show there were no hard feelings on my part for being pulled out of line unnecessarily, and proceeded through passport control as if this were all a little joke.
So, will I stop making eye contact?
No.
In fact I had a nice chat with the officer at passport control and received a warm smile, almost unheard of from these guys, and won back at least a point for my side.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

One smart cow

Today I am not writing about Paris or Rome; I am writing about a  much more rural setting in central France.

We have all heard stories or had experiences with very clever pets. Just think of "Lassie", or the animals in "The Incredible Journey".  We marvel at the smarts and skills.

Which brings me to a story recently told to me by my friend. He comes from a family of cattle farmers, in a community of cattle farmers, in a region of cattle farmers since way back in history. In this part of France you say his last name and people say, "I once bought a cow from him". This family knows cows.

One day my friend's father, Gabriel, bought a cow from his brother, He kept her for a few years and all was well. The day came when he decided to sell her, to none other than the original owner, Jean. Yep  sold and repurchased by the same man.

Jean showed up on the appointed day to escort said cow back to his farm, a journey of 16 kilometres he (they) would cover by foot. Mid journey he stopped for a rest, (aka lunch and an adult beverage)  and left the cow grazing contentedly outside the local establishment. When he got ready to leave (and there is no clear answer on how much later this actually was), the cow was gone.

Jean was not particularly worried. He set off for home as planned. Upon arriving at the farm he discovered the cow, waiting in her original stall from 5 years before, just as if she knew where she was going all along. 8 kilometres she walked by herself that day. Along the way she would have crossed multiple intersections, making a choice at each whether to turn right or left. It seems she never faltered, always picking the road that would take her home.

Based on this story alone, I think I may have underestimated the intelligence of cows. Or is the urge to be home so strong that she was driven by a greater need even than Jean's?