R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Respect (just a little bit)September 7, 2009
I haven’t had a good rant for a while, and it’s time. Maybe I’ve gone native, but some of my fellow bules, here in Bali for their 10 day jaunts, are starting to bug me. What is it about visiting Bali that makes some people believe that ‘respect’ is a concept that is voluntarily surrendered somewhere just past the Denpasar Visa-on-Arrival counter and reclaimed once they have passed through Immigration back in their home country?
It’s certainly not the Balinese people, who are amongst the most respectful, beautiful, tolerant and patient people on this earth. It’s not the hotels and villas that provide a warm and welcoming environment for their visitors. No, it’s not Bali itself that is to blame – it’s the visitors themselves.
It’s an age-old problem – for some visitors, geographical and cultural displacement seems to trigger behaviour patterns which are inappropriate, unseemly and downright insensitive. Much of this behaviour seems to flow from a belief that local cultural and social norms (and even laws) are irrelevant. At the same time, there seems to be a parallel conviction that the mores and laws of the visitors’ home country should apply to the locals while the visitors are here. The paradox is that the worst offenders also believe that they are exempt from the social conventions of their home country during their stay.
When we have visitors who reject both the local customs and their own, yet demand total conformance to their own (albeit temporarily shelved) cultural values, we have a recipe for misunderstandings at best and social disasters at worst.
A young lady, amply proportioned, wearing a tiny bikini top (which was a structural engineering marvel in itself), G-string and a transparent and very short sarong loudly berating a local who was reluctant to admit her to a temple in which people were praying. Now that may be decorative on the beach – if exaggerated gender markers are your thing – but totally inappropriate for a temple. Required reading: Temple Customs 101; Choosing the Right Clothes for You 101; Respect 101.
Then there was the overbearing ‘helpful’ visitor who barged in on two strangers who had just concluded a T-shirt purchase and dragged them away shouting “What? You just paid 90,000 for that?! Come with me and I’ll show you where you can get it for 30,000!”. The understandably upset vendor was summarily dismissed with a few choice Anglo-Saxon expletives, but still had the grace to keep his “Bloody bugil” response to a mutter. Required reading: Caveat Emptor 101; Bali Verbal Contracts 101; Keeping Your Nose Out of Other Peoples’ Business 101; Respect 101.
And of course, night-time brings out the the absolute gems. At a nice restaurant, the large, drunk, barefooted, sweaty, dirty-haired, singlet-over-huge-beer gut-clad lothario attempts to summon a waitress. As she tentatively steps forward, he raises his hairy leg to point past her with the sole of his foot, bellowing “Tee-Dack – not you fatso, the cute chick behind you …!” When the aforementioned cute one reluctantly comes over, he pats her on the head with one hand, on the bum with the other and loudly propositions her, taking offence when his romatic advances are rejected. Being of a somewhat decorous nature, your observer manages to prevent himself from vomiting in his scotch. Required reading: Hygiene 101; Balinese Taboos 101; Sensitivity 101; Travel Brochures to Anywhere but Bali; Respect 101.
I could go on; many of you will be pleased that I choose not to. Why do these eruptions of bad taste and cultural insensitivity happen? Is it that some people don’t see it as important to find out more about their destination before they leave home? Is it that they don’t care? Is it that the Westernised enclave of Greater Kuta promotes a form of tacky blindness that transforms normal people into cultural buffoons?
I don’t profess to know. But what I do know is that even if the perpertators of these disasters ignore all the required readings above, they should at least try to develop the most important quality one needs to survive and flourish in any culture – respect.
Then, and only then, in accordance with the best karmic traditions of this beautiful island’s culture, will I afford them respect in return.