Race is One Thing, Good Manners Quite Another

I suppose a country that has always depended on immigration, and more recently has developed to an astonishing degree an unseemly pride in the great number of cultures, colours and races in its population mix, would enthusiastically embrace political correctness in defence of its misplaced policy of multiculturalism. Hence it is not merely difficult, but verboten to question or comment on the habits, behaviour, attitudes or peccadillos of any of the peoples that make up the aforementioned mix.

These thoughts came to me today as I was quietly reading my daily newspaper on my tablet in a busy shopping centre at Chatswood, on Sydney’s North Shore. I was filling in time while my wife underwent a minor surgical procedure. For those not familiar with the area, I should explain that the suburb’s name derives not from an English estate (as it may seem) but from a typical Australian habit of familiarising personal names. Charlotte Harnett was the wife of Richard Harnett, mayor of the encompassing Willoughby Shire in 1870, and know to her intimates as “Chattie”. The large area of timbered country on the northern slopes of the shire became known as “Chattie’s Wood”.

In recent years Chatswood has exploded from a quiet residential suburb with a central spine of shops intersected by the North Shore electric rail line to a mini-metropolis of vast malls, office buildings and towering apartment blocks. As a result, the Vanderfield & Reid timber yard, which was conveniently close to every Chatwood DIY-er’s home, had been banished by  developers and rising land values. The little shed where I used to leave my bicycle to catch the train to work was swept away by the construction of a bus interchange. So passed an era.

The new Chatswood is now Sydney’s Chinatown North. As the emigration flow moved from Europe to Asia, canny Chinese arrivisti assessed the location, only seven stops from the CBD and its stock of cheap Federation houses as ripe for massive development. In time many shops, and the inventories of the major stores changed to accommodate the tastes and needs of the growing Chinese population.

Today I was sharing my bench peacefully with an elderly Chinese couple — one reading his Mandarin newspaper on a tablet while his wife sent texts from her phone – when a burly young man plonked himself down beside me. I took no notice until he started talking loudly on his mobile phone.  I shrugged and tried to concentrate on my reading, when suddenly a he let out a great shout and yelled down the phone in Chinese. This was too much. I turned to him, put my finger to my lips, and said “Shush!”   Obviously taken aback at his rudeness being highlighted, he got up and left.

In all the PC-type talk of diversity and respect due in Australia today, there is little or no discussion of the cultural norms migrants bring with them, and the friction due to variances from Australian norms of politeness, courtesy and deference to age or infirmity. With the high proportion of Chinese residents concentrated in Chatswood, and spilling into adjacent suburbs, permit me to make some generalised observations about national characteristics. The rudeness of the young man, barking into his phone without consideration for others close by, was typical. In the street, Chinese men and women of all ages push and shove, demanding right of way as if combatting the hordes in Beijing. On the roads of the North Shore, Chinese drivers barrel down the middle of the street because, or so I deduce, they have no feel for the width of their vehicles. Women seem particularly prone to this vehicular vice.

Muslims make up a much smaller proportion of the local population, but are more obvious in their separateness. Their rudeness takes different forms. We have seen an Arab  woman in a hijab arrogantly refuse to take her change from a young girl at the counter, indicating peremptorily that it be put on the counter so their hands need not touch.

Now these comments are “racist”, at least as Tim Soutphommasane would define them, because they directly criticise the behaviours of people of a certain race. Be that as it may, but the fact remains that such behaviours are incompatible with the expectations of other citizens who take the trouble to adapt and conform to societal standards — the sort of standarrds we once saw automatically observed. It’s not good enough for officialdom to simply preach tolerance, non-discrimination, respect and equality. ‘Manners Makyth Man’; where we encounter bad manners, or anti-social behaviour, we should call it out. And not be afraid of the ‘racist’ tag.

Les Murray saw multiculturalism as a ‘system of official racism’ with a distinction between Australian citizens from a British background and those from the dozens of ethnic groups that now make up the population.  Marlene Goldsmith in her book Political In-Correctness: Defying the Thought Police believed the issue was not racism but ethnicism. Whatever, debate and criticism should not be avoided or prevented just because issues touch on differences of origin, colour or language.

Political correctness has become a political anaesthetic, to prevent society waking up to the distortions to our way of life imposed by subservience to multiculturalism. As Roger Scruton observed in his biting article Bring Back Stigma:

Political correctness is not a morality in the traditional sense: it does not require you to change your life, to make sacrifices, or to live by an exacting code of conduct. It tells you to watch your language, so as to avoid the only prevalent adverse judgment, which is judgment of the adverse judge. It tells you to speak inclusively of other cultures, other life-styles, other values: never take a disapproving stance or use words that might imply one. Hence the extreme volatility of the new speech codes. Any phrase or idiom that seems to imply judgment of another category or class of people can become, almost overnight, an object of stigma.

14 thoughts on “Race is One Thing, Good Manners Quite Another

  • Wayne says:

    Many many many years ago when Japan was our major trading party business people were offered courses in how to deal with their Japanese’s counterparts without committing a cultural faux pas.

    I asked if the Japanese were undertaking similar courses in dealing with Australian cultural differences but apparently not.

    We don’t stand up for ourselves and apparently in multi cultural terms our culture doesn’t warrant any merit.

  • Tony Tea says:

    Chatswood in Sydney, Box Hill – or Woks Hill, as I call it – in Melbourne. Taking a punt, I’d guess Chatswood, like Woks Hill and its surrounding suburbs, is where the drop in house prices is most pronounced.

  • Geoffrey Luck says:

    Tony, not so! The Federation house we bought in Chatswood (from a widow and in very poor repair) for $15,000 in 1966, we sold for $172,000 in 1980. Three years ago it sold for $2.3 million. It was still a 3-bedroom 1-bathroom house on a 50ft wide block.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    Is it too late to learn Mandarin?

    Permit me to make some precise observations about demography:

    China: 1, 400 million (rank: 1st, 2019)
    (18.4% of world population, 7,700 million)
    Australia (2019): 25 million (rank: 55th, 2019)
    Global population currently increasing by 82 million people a year.

    One solution might be to make Robert Treborlang’s books: “How to survive Australia” (1985) and “How to be Normal in Australia” (1987) mandatory reading for each of our annual 200,000 (+) new immigrants.

    They would learn, inter alia, “how not to worry”, “how to be (always) be sorry”, “how to become a true Australian overnight”, and “how to survive a Fair Go”, “how (legally) to bowl a maiden over”, “how to field at silly mid-on”, how to be Low Key, how to avoid being pilloried as a Climate Change Denier, and so on.

    Perhaps they do today. Is there not a cultural examination of some kind?

  • ianl says:

    > “Now these comments are “racist”, at least as Tim Soutphommasane would define them, because they directly criticise the behaviours of people of a certain race”

    Sorry Geoffrey, but you have misused the word “race”, just as the Southpossumarse’s of the PC world wish you to.

    The poor manners you correctly decry are a product of culture, not the trivia of skin colour. Using “race” when you mean culture is exactly the thoughtcrime the propagandising PC police will attach real penalties to.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    It’s only last week (or so it seems to us auld phartz) that the anthropologists were insisting that there is no such thing as race, just as certain segments of what passes for academia these days insist that “gender” is just a social contrast. Next week it will be the present “propagandising PC police” who will be up against the proverbial wall. Can’t wait!

  • Peter Smith says:

    I’ve just popped across the road for a paper to a small shop close to Liverpool FC’s ground in the suburb of Anfield in Liverpool, where I grew up. Two women were running the shop both dressed completely in black, though their faces were uncovered. They were speaking Arabic when I entered. Now nothing was amiss in the sense that I said good morning and the woman directly behind the counter responded and served me politely enough using English. I think she also handed me my change. So, nothing in my experience this morning corresponds with the two instances recorded by Geoffrey. Yet, I felt discomforted, nonetheless, I can’t square my original home town being populated by women walking around in what Bill Maher called beehive suits. And of course behind my particular discomfort is the threatening pall of Islam, which this covering of women represents. Am I terribly racist? Do I need counselling by Tim whatisname?

  • Julian says:

    Exactly – brilliant article. And extremely pertinent.

    Are there problems, with Chinese, Arabs, Latin Americans etc per se, often not.
    However, when people come from dog-eat-dog societies often the things we consider to be acts of common decency and politeness (e.g. waiting for people to exit lifts, trains etc) are taken by them to be acts of weakness, naivety and gullibility, thus there is obviously a problem. And alas, when you go to places like Chatswood and Box Hill etc then the demographic weight unfortunately show that the well mannered and cultured are in the minority.

    If only such things were taken into account in Treasury’s modelling on the impact of immigration to a society 🙁

  • padraic says:

    Good article Geoffrey. This “self-loathing” by some Australians about their culture and the despising of our culture by some (certainly not all) newcomers makes you wonder why some want to come here in the first place. Australians have to display and rediscover their identity which I know we have and be proud of it. I also know that the external trappings (food, clothing etc) of such an identity changes over time with new migrant influences but its core values should not change and its history and traditions should be respected. Les Murray was spot on when he “saw multiculturalism as a ‘system of official racism’”. An Australian saying used to be “Take people as you find them”, which loosely translated means if a person (irrespective of skin colour, religion etc) is a so and so by normal standards then he (or she) is a no- hoper, to be avoided at all costs, but if a person displays normal universal human decency and behavior then they are a good person. Why should you have to put up with bad behavior out of fear of Tim? Chatswood has changed – I have had some interesting experiences there trying to pay restaurant bills with a credit or eftpos card instead of cash on one hand and on the other hand pleased to see how the Chinese patrons enjoy visiting an Aussie icon – the RSL club.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    “Why should you have to put up with bad behavior out of fear?”

    I asked myself the same question for many months as the large khat tree in my front garden was subject to nocturnal raids by the local Somali community salivating for its leaves, which contain a natural amphetamine. Neither barbed wire, nor clumps of feathers/chicken bones prescribed and blessed by a local witch doctor, managed to keep them out. There were a few arrests for trespass.

    Cultural differences are indeed amazing.

    They were from camps in Kenya, selected by DFAT as suitable refugees. One told me he had been a child soldier.

    I suggested in writing to the state government department of multi-cultural affairs that it should give them a grant/land to grow khat crops here for export to Somilia and Ethiopia. No go.

    Such is the melting pot in which we now find ourselves.

  • Trevor Bailey says:

    I left Sydney to emigrate to Australia in January last year. If you city dwellers wonder what became of the idiom we grew up with let me tell you it rolled its swag and downsized inland. Bloody glad to have it back & neighbouring me in the next paddock.

  • whitelaughter says:

    Rather than “how to survive Australia” I’d recommend “they’re a weird mob”.

  • Jody says:

    Just like trying to catch the train in Wynyard to Hornsby for the drive back to the Hunter. Arrive exhausted on Platform 3 at Wynyard, spy a seat and 2 Asian women see it and me too – then rush to take it up. My elderly years meant nothing; this is all about self-preservation and appalling lack of manners.

    Sorry, but you people can have Sydney. I regard it as little more than an open drain these days.

  • padraic says:

    I have to say, Jodie, that not all are like that. I have been surprised on occasions after getting on a bus near Queen Victoria Building to go along Parramatta Road to Missenden Road past the university for Asian university students of both sexes courteously to offer me a seat. Sorry for your experience, but Sydney is getting a bit like that these days.

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