Friday, 28 March 2008

Manners Squad

Stereotypes about Japan are many, just look at their trains; guards wear white gloves, platform "packers" push you onto crowded carriages and then etiquette squads patrol the cars to shame fit, seated people to stand up for the infirm. It's all true, although the last one about good manners patrols is new.

Of course, declining social graces are not confined to Japan, they just take it more seriously; a respect agenda is a verb, not a slogan. In Singapore, mobile phones, iPods and PSPs (PlayStation Portable game consoles) are the self-absorption tools of choice for the determined sitter. Newspapers like the Today freebie are handy last-minute substitutes. Snoozing is good but heads lolling over onto your neighbour is extremely bad here, whereas in Japan it would be understood and tolerated more. So remember: "fake sleep good, real sleep bad".

Singapore has had a seemingly endless stream of public education schemes. In 1969 they launched the "Queue up at the bus stops" campaign and there is an official Singapore Kindness charity that does school events and posters in libraries I think. In 2001 they subsumed the National Courtesy Campaign that launched in 1979. MRT trains have advertising on the outsides and a couple have the current slogan "Practise courtesy for a pleasant journey" down the sides.

So would Smile-Manner squads work in Singapore? No. The Japanese system is voluntary and requires the seated target to have a sense of shame that can be tapped. There are MRT seats designated for the infirm (called Silver Seats in Japan) but the few people who do stand up do so out of empathy such as a woman standing for a mother and baby. There might be a racial bias as well - Chinese making way for a Chinese. Getting a seat is a prize to be fought for and congratulates the occupant on their good fortune and guile.

No, I watch as self-absorbed people heedlessly push onto trains, past those alighting and rush for seats & I laugh. My style now is to wait until everyone else gets on then saunter on last and stand the whole way. Better for the leg muscles & karmic balance.


OLED said...
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