Monday, 8 June 2015

Gender politics (Taipei and London)

Came across this excerpt in Anne of Windy Willows (by L.M. Montgomery) (Book 4 of the Anne of Green Gables series [of 6]):

It was not, perhaps, quite so pleasant to call at the houses themselves and ask for subscriptions for the benefit of the Dramatic Club, but Anne and Lewis took turns in doing the talking.  ‘Take the men if you’re going in that dress and hat,’ Rebecca Dew had advised.  ‘I’ve had a good bit of experience in canvassing in my day, and it all went to show that the better-dressed and better-looking you are the more money — or promise of it — you’ll get if it’s the men you have to tackle.  But if it’s the women put on the oldest and ugliest things you have.’

This reminds me of the advice I was given by the accountant at Conoco Taiwan at the end of my two-year stint, when I had to go to the tax office to get a certificate  proving I’d paid all the taxes required, in order to get an exit permit from the country.  He said something that had never occurred to me before, even at age 22:  “When you go to the tax office, if you have a choice of windows, go to the one served by a man, even if the queue is longer.”  

“Why?  What’s the relevance?”  I asked.

“People are usually nicer to members of the opposite sex,” he said.

I did as he’d advised, standing in the longer queue served by a man, and watched the body language in the meantime.  Sure enough, the manner of the man, and the woman at the other window, varied depending on the sex of the customer.  The accountant was right.  Since then, I’ve tried to put his advice into practice wherever possible, even if it means being stuck in a longer queue.

Some seven years later, I noticed that a female Cantonese-speaking colleague in the film company in London seemed initially a bit “threatened” by me professionally, as she wanted to go on the shoots in China and was worried she might be displaced on account of my being able to speak Mandarin.  When she discovered that there was no danger of that, she started to relax towards me, and then went over to the friendly side socially, singling me out for lunching out, just the two of us — no, she is most certainly not gay!  My interpretation is:  not being one to dress up in a feminine and “sexy” way, I posed no challenge to her where men are concerned.  It’s what I call “sibling rivalry”, which generally works between members of the same sex, people in the same ability group, people in countries geographically close to each other — seemingly “racist” jokes are usually about their neighbouring countries, e.g., the Brits with their Irish jokes, the Swiss with their Austrian jokes, the French with their Belgian jokes. 

(Taipei 1976 and London 1982–4)

Monday, 1 June 2015

Simplistic but effective communication (Singapore)

An ex-student, Sheila, British, was teaching English at a secondary school in Singapore.  One day, she walked into a clothes shop.  This was the conversation between Sheila and the shop assistant:

Sheila:  (pointing at one of the dresses on the clothes rack)  Can?  (for trying on)
Shop Assistant:  Can!

Sheila went off to the changing room, and upon emerging,

Shop Assistant:  Can?
Sheila:  Can!

Sheila paid and left.

(Singapore, 1980s)