Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tolerating intolerance

It's important to be respectful of other cultures when travelling or living abroad. At least, that's the sort of obvious and patronising platitude that normally opens a rant like this to soften the blow and cast the writer in a desperately positive glow from the onset. I'm not racist but... You only have to look at the statistics... You know the sort of thing.

I've been happy enough spending a long period time far away from the bit of ground above sea level I happened to plop out on, and I like to think I'm not bogged down with too many preconceived notions making me UK- or Western-Supremacist apart from a shamefully disproportionate infatuation with British entertainment media that I'll never shake off. I'm not 'proud' to be British or anything, even if I miss some of the birds.

While I have absolutely no interest in watching your subtitled telenovelas or heading to your local cultural centre to watch colour-coded kids perform a traditional dance performance, I'm happy to coexist as we let each other go about our lives and avoid getting up in each other's grills. Until you voice your casual, culturally sanctioned prejudices that violate what my biased upbringing has informed me should be universal human rights, anyway. Then your backwards 'culture' can sod off back to the 16th century where we found you.

In this week's self-righteous opinion piece: how the obviously wrong attitudes of foreigners can put a strain on your relationships.

1. Poofs

Homophobia has hardly been eradicated in the First World (if I'm going to elevate predominantly white, Western countries to bastions of civilisation, I might as well have free reign to dally with outmoded terminology like 'First World'), but I was repeatedly shocked whenever the issue was brought up in Asia - usually apropos of homo.

I think the first time someone told me how much they hate homosexuals when we weren't even on the subject was when I met up with a Malaysian girl I'd been talking to earlier on a travel forum as a potential day trip partner. It might have been a date, it didn't last long enough to find out before the bombshell was dropped. Things were going fine until she started talking about a recent trip she'd taken to Phuket and the 'disgusting' spectacle of men dancing with other men that her eyes had been forced to endure.

I was put in the position many lonely, hopeful men have doubtless been in - whether to tacitly agree with something offensive to keep the peace - and to my shame, my silence might have lasted a full five seconds before the lecture on fairness and nature came out. She apologised, but it's not like being criticised by a foreigner she doesn't really know was going to change her obviously fervent opinion, and let's assume that was the only reason things didn't work out and we never got in touch again.

At least that got it out of the way right at the beginning, as when I did eventually snag a foreign lady fair and square - from South Korea this time - there was no sign of lurking prejudice until we were a few weeks in, when we shared a cabin on the Singapore Flyer ferris wheel with a cuddling couple that didn't include any males. Later, she shared her view of this 'disgusting' obscenity and was (again) surprised that I didn't automatically hold the same view, and apologetic when it became clear that I was actually pretty strongly in the other camp.

The matter was dropped for the time being, but it didn't take long for the relationship to collapse anyway, when other evidence piled up that she was basically awful. In a strange post-parting development a few months later, she confided that she'd started to have feelings for one of her female friends and to question her 'sexual identify,' which for the record is the third time a girl I've gone out with has subsequently decided to abandon the prospect of men altogether. There's an extremely positive or extremely negative way to take that, but either way, I'm doing my bit to promote homosexuality in a prejudiced world, so it must be for the best. Definitely.

For a staunchly straight nation, Korea is fairly obsessed with cocks

Outside of these specific types of conversations, it's been hard to gauge the general attitudes of people I've met to same-sex relationships (mostly because, you know, it isn't relevant to anyone but the people involved in them), especially when English isn't their first language and their word choices are suspect. When a guy in South Korea told me that the BBC's Sherlock was bizarrely marketed there as a 'queer show' (check it out, it's a strange and amusing focus for such a conservative society), I couldn't tell if he was using that word in the reappropriated sense or the original, less positive way.

I've even had to reprimand my non-awful, definitely-permanent Filipino girlfriend when she makes a distinction between the behaviour of gay men and 'real men' (!), though despite being a complete religious nut (love you) we had that conversation ages ago and she's fine with all that stuff. Still, despite having the token gay friends - and the Philippines being one of Asia's most open and accepting societies in general - she does have the habit of really focusing on the Otherness of those not-real-men, and if I point out a weird news story about one of her wacky countrymen who had cosmetic surgery to look like Superman, for example, her first response is to point out that he looks gay. Like that's the main issue there. Those gays, what are they like!

The freakish Japanese erotic spectrum is liberal enough
for male-male pairings not to be an issue

Maybe exposure is the key. Back at school, I was as casually homophobic as the next man (they were all men at the suspiciously same sex school, or all boys at least), because we genuinely didn't know any better. If one of the kids who - looking back - were obviously gay, knew they were gay and told me they were gay, I would have been shocked that that was actually a real thing, realised it didn't matter and got on with my life. As it turned out, it took until the more cosmopolitan environment of university for me to realise I was talking to out and proud gay people, and by the time I moved to Edinburgh the disproportionate majority of my friends were gay. Maybe I only didn't join in because of my desire to be unconventional. If only you culturally blinkered fools had the same opportunities to discover gays are actually the best!

2. Bitches

Alright, so the Japanese haven't advanced in every way

That was an obscene number of paragraphs to make a glib point, so I'll try to keep this section shorter. The attitude towards women in many countries is famously terrible, and it really harmed my initially open-minded impression of the Egyptian people when 100% of the two girls I took day trips with in Cairo and Luxor shared stories of being groped and kissed by elderly hotel owners who had four wives chained up back home already.

Skipping ahead to the present day, the Philippines is once again ahead of the game when it comes to treating people relatively equally (if you ignore things like the staggering wealth gap, obviously), with one of the highest proportions of women in executive roles in the world and women doing well in employment generally. Those are great statistics, but they don't seem to match the reality of most households where it's the wife or mother doing all the chores and child rearing, while being statistically more likely than her husband or lazy sons to also be holding down a full-time job.

In this conservative-minded country, the unfairly burdened women are as vocal as the contented men in supporting this imbalance as merely 'culture' and 'tradition,' like those things prevented the feminist revolution in other parts of the world. Depressingly, my university-educated girlfriend, whose call-centre-refined English is top-notch, had never heard of 'feminism' before, or even its concept.

When her mother came round one time, she was surprised to see me doing the cooking and washing up (I try to make us stick to a 50/50 schedule as rigidly as possible, as I have to practice the equality I preach!), and Jackie regularly gets called on to drop what she's doing and dash across town to look after her nephew and niece when their mother needs to go out and their live-in uncles are let off the hook by virtue of that not being man's work. I wouldn't mind if they actually had some man's work to be getting on with, but I learned after the first few justified criticisms that accusing any of her less industrious family members of imperfection is a bad idea. I hope she doesn't read this. Love you.

Sometimes I even wore pants

As a free man in an interracial relationship in the modern world, I shouldn't have to explain that my choice of foreign partner is absolutely nothing to do with those perceived notions of mindless, unquestioning obedience that some people have. But I'll do that anyway, just in case you've had some uncomfortable ideas lingering all this time. We've struggled through mutual politeness and deference when it's got in the way of making bloody decisions ('What do you want to do?' 'What do you want to do?' 'Oh, for fu-'). And on occasions when hotel or restaurant staff have basically ignored her as the secondary character to the walking dollar bill, I've been proud when she asserts her existence to the sheepish waiter. I know that's patronising, but on the spectrum of behaviour it's at least better than being a bastard.

My choice of 'Asian' girlfriend is about the exotic attraction to an extent, but to be honest, it's mostly just wherever I've happened to be passing through at the time rather than a case of 'yellow fever' (have you ever seen a yellow human being anyway?) I was through pursuing women across the world a long time ago. I want a companion, not a maid, and I'll keep beating these notions of subjugated housewifery out of her (metaphorically, of course) even at the cost of getting more time to put my feet up and taking full advantage of undeserved genetic privilege.

I don't imagine too many of the retired expats with their young, servile wives feel similarly burdened - they've already served their time in a 'modern' relationship before that bitch took everything in the divorce, give 'em a break, right?

3. Nignogs and other human beings

Moving down the list of prejudices that don't apply to me personally but that I'm offended by on behalf of other people anyway (you're welcome! Oh, it wasn't required), I've already spewed spiteful spittle on the subject of Asia's whitening obsession, but their aesthetic dislike of dark skin is just one shade of the racism palette.

You don't have to look far on the internet to find racial hatred towards Filipino immigrants, and they're naturally upset and insulted when they hear about it. Still, that doesn't stop them throwing it back out into the world when incited by sporting pride or international incidents, almost like they learned nothing from Bible school about what the good book supposedly says on the subject of forgiveness. Then again, you don't have to look far in this Catholic enclave to see these faithful devotees flagrantly breaking other commandments and absolving themselves with a small donation to the collection plate on Sunday... I'll leave the Philippines alone now, they're dealing with enough.

Immigration is always a sore point, and even some of the countries you associate with being where the immigrants come from have similar prejudices about people from over there going over there too. I've had to stick up for the Indians and the Chinese more times than I can count, on virtue of them being other humans and having nice food and temples and things, and I'm through with having to explain to someone with slightly brown skin that their arms going slightly darker in the sun is not an apocalyptic tragedy and doesn't mean we have to cancel day trips and can't go swimming any more.

It seems racist vocabulary forms a part of ambient English teaching too, as I found out when a girl I knew in Taiwan, whose English wasn't very good at all, wanted to say something impartial about a black person and the only vocabulary she had available was the N-word. It was quite sad. Let's just stop this now, alright? Oh great, he's got one more:

4. Mongoloids

People with disabilities are basically invisible in the Third World. I have no doubt that a caring Filipino family would do everything they could to help a child with special needs enjoy a happy, healthy life, but in an overpopulated, over-competitive job market saturated with graduates, where a degree is mandatory to fry patties in Jollibee and even janitors need a full high school education, people with disabilities can only get left behind.

Honestly, it's something I've barely seen in the last four years. I haven't dealt with a single situation, like I sometimes would back home, of going into a local shop, noticing that a staff member has mobility or speech issues, worrying that I won't be able to make myself understood and that it'll make an awkward atmosphere, observing that the staff can still carry out their duties proficiently because of course they fucking can you absolute dick, paying for my goods and leaving feeling ashamed of myself. It's been great for my self-esteem in that regard, but it points to a depressing reality that I'm not going to research because that would only make me want to kill myself.

I especially don't want to research what potentially happens to foetuses showing signs of disability in parts of China and Vietnam that already have suspiciously and disproportionately male populations in the post-ultrasound generations. I'm not going to do that. I'll just go to YouTube and watch some old Bottom clips or something, why bother thinking about stuff? Oh - ha ha! - Richie poked Eddie in the eye and it made a cartoon 'squelch' sound! Classic clip.

Let's all just get along.


  1. If there's one thing I hate, it's spasticated, black lesbians who won't do what they're told. Where do they get off? Clearly I don't hate anything.

    I smiled when my spellchecker (or is it yours?) told me 'spasticated' wasn't a word and maybe I meant 'sophisticated'? It changes the sentence a little bit, huh?

    1. The spasticated black lesbians are the only ones who society looks out for nowadays, aren't they? I haven't done any research, but I have misplaced bile.

      I was actually worried there was a class of minority I hadn't 'ironically' offended. Maybe the poor? Though that would be the majority here. There's a massive wealth gap, obviously, and some people mouth off (using their keyboards rather than their mouths) about a lot of this country's problems being the poor's fault, rather than the people who actually have any influence. Those people are cunts.