I Blogged Myself

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

I'm Not Racist, But ...

My family and I spent a lovely Easter Sunday enjoying a BBQ lunch on the side of the Yarra River. It really was a delightful time - Wifey, Sweetums, my parents down from Sydney, and an older couple who are close family friends.

We arrived at 10:30am and set up on a vacant table-and-chair setting, five metres from two of the communal BBQs.

A group of Japanese people were just setting up on the BBQ when we got there, so we settled back to wait until they were finished. We were in no rush.

Cut to three hours later, and we were starting to get hungry. But the group of Japanese people had grown from six to twenty-six, and they were still using both BBQs to cook their food.

There was no regard for anybody else using the BBQs, and no concept of “communal sharing”. It was getting a bit ridiculous.

When my Dad went over and asked them how much longer they’d be using the BBQs that are meant for everyone, he was told to get here earlier next time.

Nice.

But, you see, it’s a culture thing. It’s “our” culture to cook the food, then bring it back to the table and eat it together. It’s “their” culture to stand around the BBQ cooking their food, and picking it off a bit at a time, eating it as they stand there talking.

There were no intentions of sharing the community BBQ at all. They’d claimed it for the day, and hang anyone else who had food waiting to be cooked. Three other groups of people asked them for one of the two BBQs as well, and were promptly told to nick off (my wording, not theirs), and the whole thing really put a dampener on the day.

It wasn’t their BBQ to commandeer for all of Easter Sunday – in fact, it was their responsibility to share the BBQs provided by the council with other community members.

We found it quite annoying (even without the level of disrespect paid to my always-charming father) that they had a total disregard for anyone else’s cooking requirements.

By 1pm, we’d worked our way into a cooking queue on a BBQ further down the river, and we were happily sitting down to eat by 1:30pm.

When we packed up and moved on at 3:30pm, the group of Japanese people were just starting to pack up and leave as well. No one else had been able to use either of the two BBQs they’d been hogging since 10:30am.

What a charming attitude.


Not me and not my food.
But that's the BBQ in question.
(And my hat, strangely enough.)


But it got us thinking; we understood the difference in culture on display here, but the whole “when in Rome” approach made us think that they should either have brought along a portable BBQ if they intended to be using it non-stop all day, or perhaps hold such a picnic at someone’s home. Alternatively, they should have restricted their use of the hotplates to just one of the two BBQs.

At the very least, they shouldn’t have been so snappy and rude to my Dad, who really is a very nice and polite guy. Much more so than me.

Is it insensitive of me to think along these lines? It really doesn’t matter that they were Japanese (except that I was able to concede it was a cultural thing). If “typical Aussies” (to really generalise the matter) had done the same thing, we’d have been even angrier about it – the Japanese context at least meant we understood the reasoning behind the apparently BBQ selfishness.

Perhaps they were simply ignorant of the inconvenience they were causing other picnickers, but more likely is that they just didn’t care. Maybe they weren’t aware that the rest of us only needed 20 – 30 minutes on the BBQ to prepare our entire meal, but I think if they’d been more thoughtful and considerate of others, they wouldn’t have had their car tyres let down as we left.

How rude!


.

11 Comments:

At Thursday, April 12, 2007 4:13:00 pm, Blogger Kris said...

I work with students from many different cultures, and part of respecting diversity in all aspects of life also comes with knowing some common courtesy and respect. I believe the hogging of the BBQ had to do more with a lack of decent manners and respect for others, than a real cultural difference. Rudeness translates pretty well in any language or culture.

Btw...the guy in the picture has nice arms. I always like arm candy.

 
At Thursday, April 12, 2007 5:46:00 pm, Anonymous Mick said...

You know how when international tourists come to Australia they always say, "You Aussies are all so nice".

Well it's bloody true, mainly because everyone else in the world is a rude bastich.

If that was a group of 26 Australians, they would have either..

a) let you share even some of one of the BBQ's
b) halted cooking everything at once to let you have your turn before they continued
c) started a game of cricket with you and then shared their food as well.

Australians are used to common courtesy and friendliness. A trait that many other culture seem to lack

 
At Thursday, April 12, 2007 6:33:00 pm, Blogger The Man at the Pub said...

You're right, our culture is sooo superior. I suggest you stay in Australia.

And do two wrongs make a right?

 
At Thursday, April 12, 2007 9:10:00 pm, Blogger GoAwayPlease said...

I'm batting for Bevis in this match.
They were 'just horrible'though, not 'just japanese'.

an you do loan your hat to good looking guys.

 
At Saturday, April 14, 2007 12:21:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

not racist, much.
the tone of this post was dripping with white privilege.
some critical reflection's not a bad idea.

 
At Saturday, April 14, 2007 12:57:00 pm, Blogger BEVIS said...

Oh, what utter drivel, Anonymous. This post was anything BUT racist. You're a complete moron.

They were being rude. It's as simple as that. I extended them a courtesy they didn't deserve by acknowledging that they were working by a different set of cultural parameters to us. It's called grace. I didn't judge them; I let them be.

(The tyre thing was a joke, FYI.)

If you're reading racism into such a level-headed and politely-written post, then YOU'RE the one with the severe problem.

 
At Tuesday, April 17, 2007 11:59:00 am, Blogger MelbourneGirl said...

let me wade in here.

i agree with kris, firstly. possibly lack of manners rather than anything else. and also possibly lack of communication from your side? when we are dealing with "others" we find it harder to communicate effectively. i'm not saying your dad isn't everything you say he is, i'm just saying we (especially people of older generations) can find it hard to know how to approach "the other". because basically we fear "others".

secondly, bevis, can i ask how you know they were japanese?

also, i found this difficult to read. i wonder why you posted about it, when really it wasn't that important. (other than spoiling your day). you must have known people might respond in a defensive manner, ie. my feelings, when i was reading it, was not to agree with you, and to madly be thinking of reasons why the other group behaved rudely as they seem to have done.

i guess we're only getting your side here, and also having worked with people from other cultures and races, and lived overseas INCLUDING japan, i'm wondering what really happened, and really how important it was.

i think writing about it, and getting your back up about it says more that what actually might or mightn't have happened.

and yes, mighty nice arms. and hat.

 
At Tuesday, April 17, 2007 10:48:00 pm, Anonymous Jen said...

I think perhaps the 'racist' part may have begun with the title 'I'm not racist, but'. I agree with other commenters that what you experienced was just plain rudeness and disrespect, and I understand your ire, but I personally found it on the racist side (even if it was unintentional) because the post was quite fixated on their ethnicity. I'd also like to say that I'm Asian and have enjoyed many bbq's- but Asian's in general don't act like the asswipes you unfortunately had to encounter- hogging the bbq is not to my knowledge a cultural thing!

 
At Wednesday, April 18, 2007 9:31:00 am, Blogger BEVIS said...

I didn't actually want to talk any more about this post, considering how some people have chosen to 'read' my 'voice' in this piece and how I'd be pushing it uphill to convince those individuals that that's not who I am (if those who are now angry with me refuse to believe my intentions, there's nothing I can do about that and it's not worth my efforts trying to convince them otherwise), but I do want to acknowledge that my mistake was, indeed, titling my post "I'm Not Racist, But ..."

I wrote this post because it was what happened to me last weekend, and it was an incident that annoyed me and my family. The point was that the people involved were being rude - that's all I ever claimed.

What has been misinterpreted as some kind of racist menacing or preconceived judgement on the 26 Easter Sunday revellers was purely me BEING CONSIDERATE about their different culture (part of which includes eating straight from the hot plate). I was only endeavouring to illustrate the breakdown in understanding between people of two different cultures sharing the same communal BBQ space. I have no problem with Japanese people. If you knew where I worked and who I deal with in my workplace, you'd realise how far from the truth some of the above accusations actually are. But you don't know those things about me (how could you? I don't plan to share that information about myself), so I hold no grudges for the way the post has been misinterpreted. It's just a bit of a spiralling, snowballing, crazy situation.

I can tell the difference between Japanese people and Chinese, Malaysian, Korean, Karen, Thai (and so on) people because I work closely with them on a daily basis. (I was going to initially answer this question by saying, "Because they were wearing their 'I'm Japanese' T-shirts" to indicate my light-hearted approach to this whole post and the ensuing incident, but that would have only further infuriated the misunderstanding.)

So here's what happened:

I initially wrote the above post WITHOUT WRITING A TITLE, talking about how the people who were being rude (which is the first point) would also have been further misunderstood if we hadn't appreciated that they weren't simply trying to hog the BBQ, but were in fact eating their meal in a way attributed to their culture (which is the second, very separate point). So although it was frustrating not be able to cook our meal for so long, we didn't kick up a stink with them because we understood and were patient about the fact that the Japanese culture is to cook food at the table and eat it as you go.

THEN, just before posting it, I went back and named the thing, opting for the 'cute saying' that was meant as a tongue-in-cheek, satirical title. One of my normal, subversive and misleading titles - JUST LIKE I OFTEN DO - but which in this case I concede coloured people's view of the post before they went on to read it.

Jen is right when she says that that's where the problem was. I'd already determined this for myself a few days ago, but I really just wanted to leave it alone ... however, two more readers have since chimed in with their thoughts, so I figured I should state my point of view and resolve the matter before it goes any further.

If you'd read this post without that title at the start to put you off-side and foster feelings in your mind of "a racist git having a whinge about Japanese BBQers", then I really don't think you'd have read the same kind of issues into the subtext. For starters, there IS no subtext – but isn’t it funny how people can create something out of nothing if they have the right (wrong) mindset when they begin. I admit that the wrong mindset was imposed by myself when I attached that title to the post. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, and my poor choice of post title has got a few people angry with me. My apologies for that.

Where the readings of ‘cultural superiority’ and so on came from still astound me, but that's just what you get when people get emotional about what they think is a racist tirade, I suppose. If I’d read something racist on someone else’s blog, I’d be the first to jump in and give the author a piece of my mind, so I certainly appreciate the heated beliefs of those who’ve spoken out here. But the anger is misplaced, because I’m extremely anti-racism myself. (Some of you should have known that about me by now.)

The post was only 'focussed on their ethnicity' to show that my family and I understood what was happening (as opposed to some of the others waiting for the BBQ who were just angry - which we weren't).

They could have been a bunch of Swedes or Germans or New Zealanders or Americans, except then we wouldn't have given them any benefit of the doubt based on their ethnicity, and the situation would have turned into an all-out argument / brawl / yelling match concerning their rudeness. I simply pointed out their Japanese heritage to explain, rather than complain about, the poor understanding they had about what they were doing to other BBQers on the day.

I even used inverted commas around the words "our" and "their" to indicate my discomfort with these stereotypical terms of exclusion ... but obviously by that point in the post some readers had already made up their minds about my ‘leanings’, and weren't about to see such subtleties for what they were. That's a shame. I was taking quite the opposite view to what some have clearly read it as.

Now I hope we can just all move on and leave this matter alone. It was a small thing and didn't deserve this kind of scrutiny or upheaval.

It's so interesting to see how a misunderstood, surreal title can completely change the tone of a post in the reader's mind. A lesson for everyone.

 
At Wednesday, April 18, 2007 4:55:00 pm, Blogger MelbourneGirl said...

sorry bevis, to chime in again (perhaps turn off comments if you don't want them in future) but i don't think it was just the title that had me offside. and i wasn't angry when i wrote my comment, just putting my opinion. which you have always welcomed in the past. and i think which you need to be open to when you write posts like this one. that's all.

or was it the bit about the "nice arms" that annoyed you?



all right then. i'll say it:






you have nice arms too. for a little frog.


feeling better?

 
At Wednesday, April 18, 2007 5:53:00 pm, Anonymous Jen said...

Not to continue your pain or anything... I didn't mean to suggest that you were in any way racist, more that talking about race in general is always a fraught area, that seems to perpetuate its own 'racist' language, kind of like how multiculturalism is treated as a dirty word in academic circles. So in a sentence, I've been far too brainwashed by my arts degree. Mainly I think- 'what fucktards' about the bbqers, and also, nice blog.

 

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