Tag Archives: Beijing

Rudeness with a smile on its face

I’ve said before that New Yorkers have a reputation for being rude and surly. The idea is not without some small justification. After all, in just 17 months of living here, I’ve been bashed out of the way with an umbrella, been screamed at in a supermarketgrocery store by an old lady, and been given death stares by everyone from ten year old kids to grumpy old waiters.

In reality, most locals are actually no more rude than the residents of any other city. And indeed, many are among the most friendly people you could hope to meet. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the man ranting at staff in the coffee shop for using whole milk instead of skim milk. 

After last night though, I’m wondering if this general air of new-found politeness could actually just be part of an elaborate sham. A plot, if you will, to lull me into thinking that New York is a blissful Disney-style paradise where everybody is kind to each other.

Having walked up the steps from the L train to the N train platform, the scene at the top suggested that Manhattan was under attack and everybody was being evacuated to Bay Ridge. People thronged everywhere as they attempted to get off or on trains coming into the station, and the ten yard walk to the N train that had just pulled into the platform seemed to take forever.

All of this posed a problem for the middle-aged mustachioed man on the far side of the platform. Of course, he desperately wanted to get on the train, but at the same time, he needed to adhere to New York’s nascent “let’s be polite” policy. But the two things were mutually exclusive – honorably edge his way through pedestrian traffic and he’d miss the train.

His solution was breathtaking, and I swear that however long I stay in New York, I will never see this again. First he put his arms in the air and clasped his hands together. An unusual move in rush hour, I think you’ll appreciate, and one that didn’t go unnoticed by fellow travellers. Then swiftly he brought down his still clasped arms/hands at 90 degrees to the rest of his body, taking a pose last seen on the starting blocks for the 50 metresmeters men’s freestyle final at the Olympic swimming pool in Beijing. Having got everybody’s attention, he simply jet propelled himself through the crowd to the door of the train, using his arms to part the Red Sea of people ahead of him.

So far, so rude. Or at least, it would have been had he not been shouting at the top of his voice as he did it, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am trying to get on this train, thank you very much.” He may have skittled all commuters in his path, but at least he did it politely, right?

Sadly for him, the doors weren’t open when he got to the train, and he had to spend a good thirty seconds staring into space and trying to ignore the looks of the astonished fellow passengers that he’d belted out of the way. I’m guessing that the anger they vented in his general direction wasn’t quite so well-mannered…

I’d like to apologise unreservedly

It’s wryly amusing seeing that the Evening Standard has been forced to apologise to Prince Philip for wrongly claiming that he was fighting prostate cancer. Not because of the nature of the illness that the Queen’s husband absolutely and categorically does not have, but just because it’s rare to hear a story that’s not about Philip himself having to say sorry for something he’s said.

Let’s face it, Philip only ever opens his mouth to insert his foot in it. From asking a Scottish driving instructor how he managed to keep locals off the booze long enough to get them to pass their test, to asking a Cayman Islander whether they were all descended from pirates, Prince Philip is the king of the inappropriate comment. After all, who can forget his 1986 comment on a state trip to China, when he told a group of British students that “if you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty eyed.” Or congratulating a native from Papua New Guinea on managing to not get eaten?

He’s an embarrassment to his country. Fortunately his country is Greece, but the British are all guilty by association.

The terrible irony, of course, is that the American equivalent of Prince Philip is the president of the entire country. Given that George Bush is in Beijing at the moment for the opening of the 2008 Olympics, here’s hoping the American embassy has got its crisis management team on 24 hour standby.