Thursday, November 23, 2006

Learning in a Taxi

Because my Koriyama City Board of Education is concerned about my safety to a degree that surpasses all reason and logic, they send us to school in taxis as opposed to letting us drive ourselves or take the bus. If the school is close to our houses (as it most often was last year), we were expected to bike to school or walk. But if its too far, they send us in taxis.

While I have a number of problems with this practice (It often spotlights an otherwise hidden proclivity towards a paternalistic and patronizing treatment of foreigners), I usually don't mind taking the taxi so much. We often share a taxi with people traveling to a nearby school, and can chat during our commute.

I don't recall specifically what we were talking about beforehand, but it must have related to tourism or traveling somehow. I only recall her doing most of the talking. So she mentions that she has no interest or desire to ever see the United States, and says that this is because Americans are percieved to be incredibly rude. Now she had my attention.

I listened to her as well as I could and promted her to clarify and provide details. She immediately said that American border Protection guards were widely regarded as the rudest and most intimidating folks anywhere. I can personally attest to this. She goes on to cite some article she read where an American hospitality industry association was conducting a market research survey outside the USA to promote tourism and discovered that most foreign tourists who traveled to the USA found everyone in my country extremely rude and ill mannered. Moreover, they were so intimidated by customs officials that they were paralized with fear and "afraid of saying the wrong thing."

While I think there might be some truth to what she was saying (especially about Customs and Border Inspection), I have to say I was a little put off. Here was somebody, who had never traveled to America, lecturing me about the manners of my country. While I must concede that US Customs inspectors could be a little (a lot) more courteous and professional, she didn't cite one instance of rudeness within American borders. This woman demonstrated very little knowledge of my country or any understanding of my culture and told me to my face that America is filled with boorish cantankerous louts.

Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking. But I can honestly say I practiced everything I learned from Dale Carnegie and Cathy Hanson. I did my best to be a good listener and ask questions. Considering this woman's incessant motor-mouth, I found listening quite easy.

I'm writing this because I honestly do think Americans need to be more aware of how they are percieved abroad (and at home apparently). But yesterday, this American certainly learned a lot about rude and crass behavior from a woman who spent 10 minutes spouting imbecilic blather about my nationality (she wasn't very fair to the French either). I suppose we aren't so different after all!

1 comment:

azk8 said...

You showed admirable restraint in listening to the "politeness policewoman."
Dale Carnegie would be proud!
(and I'm delighted to make an "honorable mention.")