02 August 2012

Who's Uncivilized?

Last night, as a I was walking off the ferry on Lamma Island, some dude hit me in the back of the leg with his bike, twice.  The second time was hard, and certainly felt intentional.  I looked back and saw a gweilo with a Scottish flag on his hat giving me a dirty look.  I said, "could you please not do that?"  His dirty look got dirtier, but I ignored him and walked off.  A minute later, I heard him arguing with a Chinese couple; he was yelling at them and they're yelling at him.  I heard the Chinese woman say "you hit me with your bike!"  And he yelled at her, saying "you bumped into me!"  At this point, I couldn't resist saying something.  I said, "dude, you hit me with your bike too, what's your problem?"  He said, "you walked in front of me!" as if that were some kind of crime.

At this point, he was pretty outnumbered.  Not only was it three-to-one with me and the Chinese couple all on the same side, but other people joined in too, telling him to calm down and go home before he made enemies with the whole village.  He maintained that the three of us were in the wrong, and he was right to hit us with his bike, which he admitted he did intentionally.  I said, "right, the whole world is wrong, and you're right, whatever."  And he sarcastically replied "oh, so I'm an asshole."  I replied, "so we agree, you're an asshole," and walked into a store.

In these situations, I often think of stuff I wish I had said only when it's too late.  What I wished I had said was, "Look, I may have walked in front of you, and they may have accidentally bumped into you, and those things might be minor breaches of etiquette in the UK, but we're not in the UK.  In Hong Kong, the population density is a bit higher than it is in Scotland, and people walk in front of each other and bump into each other all the time.  It's normal, it's not considered rude, and nobody gets upset about it.  What is considered extremely rude in Hong Kong is verbal and physical aggression, so you're clearly the one breaking etiquette rules.  It's been 15 years since Hong Kong was a British colony, and the days of you guys imposing your etiquette rules on people here are over.  Get over it.  And if you don't like the way things work here, you can go home."

To me, Hong Kong etiquette is a very nice mix of Western and Chinese values.  The way people walk can be annoying, but I'm mostly over it at this point.  And the lack of aggression and violence is a big improvement over the violent cultures of the US and UK.

But I've observed that Hong Kong people constantly look down on Mainland Chinese people for being "uncivilized."  The idea that one of the oldest, most sophisticated cultures on Earth can be uncivilized is preposterous to me.  In many cases, Hong Kong people look down on Mainlanders not because they have no etiquette, but because they don't have British etiquette.  In Hong Kong, that may be fine.  When in Rome, do as the Romans.  So when Mainlanders break the rules here, they are no better than the guy who rammed my leg with his bike.  But when in China, Hong Kong people and Westerners have no right to look down on Mainlanders just because they have different standards of etiquette.  If they do, they are just as culturally imperialist as the self-proclaimed asshole ramming people with his bike.