Real courtesy

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  • Monday, 29 Sep 2014


I don’t know about the rest of you but personally, I think we’ve become a nation of whiners. All this while, Malaysians used to just whine about the traffic jams, the heat and the rising cost of living.

I’m pretty much used to that.

But now, it seems that the prevailing sense of entitlement afflicting most urban Malaysians has reached a crescendo of ridiculous proportions. Just last week, I was annoyed to read a Facebook rant by one of my more accomplished friends from Sabah. He was apparently peeved at the supposed “lack of courtesy” displayed by Immigration officials and airport security staff in Kuching.

No, this gentleman is not a Datuk or Tan Sri, or some snooty businessman who might expect the whole world to be in awe of his very presence. He was at best, an ordinary Joe (just like me) who shouldn’t be needing too much respect from strangers – or at least, shouldn’t be grappling with such issues at his age!

But then again, people can be funny sometimes.

Okay, so his beef with Immigration and airport security was that they didn’t return his goodwill greeting or winning smile, if what he alleged was true to begin with.

In a passionate and lengthy Facebook discourse (which surprisingly garnered 50 “Likes” from other angry Malaysians), he argued that each and every Immigration official must smile and make small talk with every last one of the thousands of people who arrive at their counters every day.

Now being in the airline business who sees these things daily, I had a personal duty to explain why he shouldn’t be offended at such petty things. Now if a certain officer was expressly rude, then that would be totally different.

But for merely returning a smile with a nod, or acknowledging a thank you with a grunt should not make people pull out their Kleenex tissues just yet.

So I explained to him about border security issues, operating procedures and so on. For the benefit of readers, a person who appears too friendly in an airport is usually up to no good.

Try saying “G-day mate in Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport and you”ll probably get a “What’s so good about it?” retort from an unsmiling Immigration officer.

I know because I did!

For people who’ve really travelled (and I mean, really, really travelled), they’d find that the Malaysian Immigration Department and airport security is perhaps one of the friendliest and most efficient in the world.

Don’t believe me – try applying for an Indian visa if you need a barometer for efficiency.

Or try making small talk to a cigar-chomping security officer in Jeddah, right after he kicks a slow-moving passenger’s bag off his table, emptying the contents all over the floor.

Or witness a whole set of airline crew looking forlorn and foolish at an unmanned counter in London Heathrow, completely ignored by immigration for a good 25 minutes – all for queueing along a wrong line!

Now you can appreciate our country better, right?

Personally, if I had flown 14 hours non-stop and spent another hour queueing up to get my passport stamped, the last thing I’d want to do is ask what the Immigration guy had for breakfast.

Or flash a broad smile at the security guard right after he patted my bum.

So, unless you were carrying something illegal and wanted to deflect attention, you shouldn’t need someone to flash a toothy grin or engage in small talk just to feel appreciated. As long as he or she is professional and delivers prompt, efficient service, that’s about all the courtesy you deserve.

Now let me prove to you that not everyone who smiles and chats is courteous either.

Last week, my family decided to sample some of the famed Kuching seafood in a rather large restaurant located on top of a jetty on the way back from the Damai/Santubong area.

Man, the way my wife and I were greeted and whisked right into the restaurant made us feel like we were Posh and Becks.

Then came another nice cheerful lady (whom I presume to be the owner) who chatted us up before fishing out the seafood menu and personally taking out our orders.

The meal and overall experience wasn’t too bad, save for the minor cardiac arrest I had when I saw the bill.

For your general information, the price of a seafood meal consisting a single fish, 8 prawns, 5 pieces of Japanese tofu and a rather pathetic-looking assortment of cauliflower and carrot (passed off as “mixed vegetables”) was – get ready for this – RM216.30!

No kidding folks. And that’s for just two adults and a child (my other two kids usually eat before 7pm).

The sum was so outrageous that I actually laughed when I anteed up. Apparently, that measly-looking garoupa fish steamed in soy sauce and ginger (yes, that’s how it was spelled) costs RM132.

Talk about landing a whopper!

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those people who’d make a scene in restaurants when the bill arrives. Even if I got suckered out of my life savings, I’d pay first and only later meet the restaurant owner to rob him back.

And in case you’re wondering, it wasn’t empurau, or some 200kg sized grouper caught in an angling competition, enough to feed a whole village.

My wife told me that based on the price, the fish was probably the last of a species that was about to go extinct. We wanted to ta pau the bone as well, just in case Sarawak Museum could help establish some paleontological connection to it and make us all feel better.

Anyway, as a public service message, I might as well advise you good people to stay away from that restaurant. While I cannot mention the name of the restaurant here, I can tell you that it’s a pretty big one, sits on a jetty and located on the right side of the road if you are driving from Kuching towards Damai/Santubong.

So patronise the place at your own peril. Remember, you have been warned!

Okay back to the real moral of the story here. The point is this: Courtesy is more than just being nice to people.

Things like a pleasant disposition, a pretty smile or an ability to engage in PR chat sessions are all nice, well and good but in the end, real courtesy must always be viewed from a moral angle.

Because in the end, it is morality that determines the intention behind every courteous act and subsequently, the action that came from it.

If a person’s level of morality does not require him or her to be ethical, then it makes a mockery of that courtesy, as in the case of the restaurant owner who intended to cheat me and my wife by literally laughing and giggling all the way to the bank.

Conversely, if an airport security officer or Immigration official appears stern and stony-faced, but correctly identified you as the bearer of the passport, adjudged your stated purpose of visit consistent with your real intention and returned your passport in less than a minute, then that is courtesy.

Unfortunately, it takes a ridiculously over-priced fish to help me make that comparison to assist others in making that distinction.

Chew on that.

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