Random Drivel from your Average Tosser

...with your host, Binty McShae - whether you like it or not!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Question: When a cultural form is imported (on both sides willingly) into another culture should the 'adopting' culture adapt itself to the etiquette of said form or should the form and its producers / promoters expect and accept behaviour which they might ordinarily find offensive or distracting?

Anyone who has read back far enough on this blog knows my feelings regarding cinema-heathens. Well, a heated discussion with Indian friends the other night led me to realise that there are cultural issues at play here... They understood the etiquette of not talking on the'phone and turning off the ringtone but the fact that I could get annoyed at people texting in a cinema caused them much mirth.

The way I look at it is simple - cinema is a visual medium. If someone flashed torches or turned on the lights it would be very distracting and piss most people off. When someone uses their 'phone to sms, or even just to look at the time, the light caused by their tiny screen is actually very noticeable in a darkened cinema. To me it would be like trying to listen to a string quartet with some arseholes watch alarm going of intermittently.

But then I forget that - aside from certain screenings of films like Rocky Horror or The Sound of Music - western audiences are very much brought up to silently immerse themselves in films whereas many other cultures, especially in the Bollywood sphere of influence, see films as a release, an arena to "let go" of themselves in. Whereas the social interaction of a film in the west tends to be in dissecting the film in the pub after the credits, in the east the social interaction seems to actually be the film itself.

And so I am brought back to my original question... as someone who can happily watch - nay, embrace - a piece of performance art (be it celluloid or whatever) in the environment and atmosphere it belongs, do I then have a right to expect to be able to watch films from my own cultural background in the manner that I would be able to were I back home? Likewise, should those enjoying their own eastern cultures in the west be made to conform to viewing them in a manner which follows western etiquette?

There is something akin to this in sport... very recently Sinless City hosted a Pro Golf tournament and today the papers were full of the western players who had complained that spectators were using flash-photography as they were taking their swings and that children too young to exercise noise discipline at crucial times had been allowed in. Was that a case of the stuffy colonial sportsmen being *ahem* bad sports? Or should the local populus, in their eagerness to embrace the international competition, have exercised more care in learning the etiquette of being a golf spectator? One local who attended commented that the players shouldn't have come if they didn't want to be photographed, but I think he misses the point here (there were countless photo opportunities that did not have the potential to upset the outcome of the game) and the attitude does smack of cutting off ones own nose to spite the face - what incentive is there for these sportsmen to come back and provide further entertainment or photo opportunities if that's how you feel?

But is this a cultural thing or is it just a selfishness? "I want it, so I will take it, etiquette be damned". That is an aspect of life in Sinless City I see every day, on public transport, in queues at foodstalls, on the street hailing cabs, on the escalators... there are a lot of people here who seem to exist in the 'bubble-of-one' (please note that I am not accusing my Indian friends of this - far from it!). The truth is that in this country there is an underlying sense of individual self-importance and self-righteousness and one way in which this could be seen to manifest itself is in the way people act in the cinema.

The worst examples of this behaviour, the most selfish that I have seen on a mass scale, were at the Night Safari. This is a one-of-a-kind zoo experience where you get to see nocturnal and semi-nocturnal animals in the near-wild, pretty much under natural moon-light with very little artificial lighting used. Everywhere you go there are signs pleading with people not to use flash photography as it can blind (or in extreme cases even kill) the animals concerned. Yet on my three visits to the Night Safari I saw flash after flash as the modern 'big-game hunters' regarded their trophy-photographs of higher value than animal welfare.

Okay, it seems like I am stretching my point a little - cinema irritation to maiming animals in two easy steps - and the Night Safari experience cannot really be equated with my original question. But, despite cultural differences undoubtedly playing a part in so many upsets and misunderstandings in this diverse country, I firmly believe that the root of all these problems is a lack of respect. Let me watch these films how I am meant to watch them. And I will happily watch films from other cultures the way that they are supposed to be watched as well. Let the sportsmen get on with what they are supposed to do without getting unnecessarily parochial about it (I am just imagining a Formula 1 car at next years Sinless City Grand Prix being confronted by a local cyclist going against the traffic flow...). And for fucks sake - let those animals keep their corneas.

Cheers m'dears!

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At Wednesday, November 07, 2007 12:48:00 am, Anonymous Shebah said...

I am totally with you on this. At the moment I am working with Chinese people. Highly educated graduates. Yet many of them are rude, coarse, illmannered and lacking in the most basic social graces in Western terms. I simply can't believe its Ok for them to be like that in their home country, especially in crowded cities where you need to respect others to just have a civil life. Some of the guys cough up phlegm and spit it out on the pavement - in London! Gawd, I ask ya! Lessons in cultural differences should be mandatory before people travel!

At Wednesday, November 07, 2007 2:15:00 am, Blogger Binty McShae said...

The question is, then... if it is okay to (as you suggest) spit phlegm on the pavement in other countries should WE not also take "spitting lessons" in order to do just that too before we visit said countries, ensuring that we are not simply imposing our own ideals of the acceptable on others?

At Thursday, November 08, 2007 12:45:00 am, Anonymous Shebah said...

I don't think our conditioning would allow us to, we would feel it wrong. I think they have "no spitting" signs on public transport in some parts of China. They think our habit of using a handkerchief to blow our nose is totally disgusting! And some countries find our custom of using loo paper to clean our bums instead of washing first is vile, when even their public loos have a little shower attachment next to the loo for that purpose! Har! And I heard Africans think we all smell of milk!

At Thursday, November 08, 2007 12:46:00 am, Anonymous Shebah said...

I meant our conditioning would NOT allow us to!

At Thursday, November 08, 2007 11:32:00 am, Blogger Binty McShae said...

My Indian friends told me that their parents firmly believe that the British don't bathe every day... I laughed so loud, because I remember my bigotted grandfather saying the same about all the "pakis and darkies" living down his street!

We do smell bad to Asians (I don't know about Africans), largely because of the amount of dairy in our diet. It's the same basic principal as us thinking that all Indians and Pakistanis smell... it's simply their pores letting out the smell of a different diet!

Since I have been in Sinless City I have noticed it to some extent... visitors from the UK who have stayed with me have always had a musty aura about them, especially if you go into the room they slept in!!! My diet has changed dramatically here - the milk is bloody awful, and I am not a huge cheese eater anyway - so next time I visit the UK I will probably get people turning their noses up at me!

At Thursday, November 08, 2007 11:34:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree wit u. i hate the fukin lites from phones at the movies. couldnt have said it better!

At Thursday, November 08, 2007 8:08:00 pm, Anonymous Shebah said...

you'll be Ok if you visit London, Binty. We are now a truly international city, and the national dish is now Chicken Tikka Massala. If I look in my food cupboards, they contain quantities of ginger, chilli, coriander, garlic, harissa, jerk seasoning, fish sauce etc. so the UK diet is now a mixture of English, Italian, Indian, French, Thai, Polish and the current big fad is for Lebanese food. Lovely! So I guess we all smell the same now!

At Friday, November 09, 2007 12:31:00 pm, Anonymous Binty McShae said...

Not at all Shebah, because it's the level of intake that counts... and also the ingredients used. Most Indian cooking in the UK will replace ghee with margerine or suchlike because it's easier to get hold of. That's why Indian food in the UK never tastes the same (or as good) as that you get in Asia.

And I hate London. Always have. Sorry!

At Friday, November 09, 2007 11:36:00 pm, Anonymous Shebah said...

Ah Binty - remember Oscar Wilde " A man who is tired of London is tired of life!" London rocks! Best place in the world! BTW you can get ghee in London, and many restaurants still use it, but vegetable oil is lighter and now more popular - and easier on the heart. (The Indian population here have problems with their hearts and very high cholestrol because of their fat laden diet).

P.S. I am going to Southall (London's Calcutta) tonight for a curry with some Indian friends - and to enjoy the Diwali fireworks!

At Saturday, November 10, 2007 12:20:00 am, Blogger T&A said...

Wow, American style rudeness in Sin City!
With the exceptions of flash photography at a golf tourniment. Everything you brought up is common here in the states.

I really think that this has become a global problem. A few years back, my wife and I were touring the Vatican Museum, and when we arrived at the entrance of the Sistine Chapel there were signs posted stating: NO PHOTOGRAPHY, QUIET PLEASE, in several languages. Once inside I was appauled by the behavior of people inside. Flash photography left and right. And all the while the rectors were shushing the crowd. I heard ,spanish, german, italian, french, and a host of asian languages. Although I'm a non believer, I still had respect for where I was, and what I was looking at. Most of these people acted as if they were at Euro Disney!

When we left the room, I turned to my wife and said. "I thought only Americans were rude and self centered, guess I was wrong!"

At Sunday, November 18, 2007 11:32:00 pm, Blogger SafeTinspector said...

Sometimes it seems unfair to judge someone else on the basis of standards their culture does not hold. But other times it is deliciously exquisite to engulf oneself in self-righteous disdain for the uncivilized.
But one time I was informed that a habit I have is deeply repugnant to a Pakistani acquaintance of mine. I'll elaborate no further.


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