lundi 1 juin 2015

TRANSACTIONS OF SYMBOLS: A FREQUENT FLIER STORY

TRANSACTIONS OF SYMBOLS: A FREQUENT FLIER STORY


I just had a wonderful trip on Etihad Airways, very content, despite it being 15 hours in length.
It was good to observe that a good percentage of passengers were Asians, Chinese and Indians. The pilot had the expected Australian accent, the purser was from South Africa and the crew was a mélange; Korea, Portugal to give two examples, equally divided between the east and the west.

Only recently had I begun to fly Etihad Airways, I have been and still am partial to Qatar Airways. The service on the USA based airlines have deteriorated to such a degree, add to that their insipid food offerings, I had to find an alternative. The three Gulf Airlines, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, offer good connections ( Miami to Cochin with one stop in Doha, for example) and a variety of destinations ( on a recent trip, I could include Johannesburg in South Africa, Abu Dhabi in the Gulf as well as Sao Paulo in Bresil!) and most importantly the friendliness of the staff and particularly the crew. These long flights afford time and a chance to get to know some of them well, I love to hear their stories. Qatar Cabin Attendants are mostly Filipinas and from the Subcontinent, whereas at Etihad there is much more of a cultural and racial spread. I have to be honest, I have never heard any one complaint about the working conditions, whether at Etihad or Qatar, most of them are excited about the possibility of seeing the world, and take advantage of their free time and chance to fly to go to various countries which they otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to visit.

On one such a flight, I had a chance to explain to a lovely lady from Seoul, about transactions of symbols, an anthropological method of looking at social interactions.
She asked me, how to deal with the problem when you see Asians treating each other badly?
I asked her
What are you?
Korean, she answered
Are you proud of being Korean?
Yes, of course, she said with a smile.
Then don’t worry, what others think of you, associate some characteristic to being a Korean. But in this world of socially stratified visions, we can help foster communication by keeping an open mind ourselves.
I gave her a recent example in my travels.
I arrived at the reception desk at Aloft hotel in Abu Dhabi. Balas from Trivandrum was manning the desk and he offered a warm welcome.
Even before he could begin, I asked him where he was from and we talked pleasantly about the land of his origin. There was no room for grittiness, he was happy we talked about Kerala his land and so was I. This reaffirmed to me that I do like Malayalees.
He was surprised to realize that I was not from Cochin even though I showed an interest in Cochin. What he thinks of me, whether he presumed me to be from Cochin or assigned some characteristic to me, based on my appearance is of no concern to me. It is I who has to make sure that the social interaction, between a guest and a receptionist in this case, but this could well have one of the many short interactions we have in our lives. It is our responsibility to make sure that in the short time allotted to us, we don’t make the other person uncomfortable.
In Asia, I am always asked, are you from..?
India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka? In Malaysia, Singapore and Myanmar I am mistaken for a local, at times even in Cambodia. In Latin America, I am thought of as  Brazilian, so I have to put the other person at ease long before he has a chance to find out that I am not from Bresil!
Koreans, like the Japanese, have a great burden of history to bear. Their reputations (which they do not deserve) goes back to the memory of other Asians from the period of World War II.
So, to avoid any bad interaction, especially in brief encounters learn to transact the symbolism. Compliment the other person about something they deeply care about. (Whenever I meet a Filipino, I say Selamat which brings a smile to their faces)
Why do we say Omanis are the best people in the Gulf region? They have a long history, millennial, of contact with foreigners; they have mixed with foreigners, literally for centuries. This has had an effect on THEIR personalities and YOUR perception of them.
It is YOUR perception that has to be modified, not THEIR characteristic.
Asians have a  very short history of contact with each other and other foreigners, with the exceptions of pockets of people, such as Malayalees of Malabar Coast who have contact with foreigners for thousands of years, and it shows in their character of tolerance and acceptance and friendliness.
Fifty years ago Korea was not a rich country, poorer than Philippines and now of course they have become an awesome economic powerhouse. This was not achieved easily, a lot of sacrifice was necessary, not only in the perception of themselves, and how others saw them.
We have to be proud of our cultural identities and sometimes carry the burden of caricature the world burdens you with. But we get our revenge by doing well- in our chosen fields of study or endeavor, be it science or hospitality or social discourse.

I am a Jew and yo comprendo…
 (greenery of Cochin)
 (tolerance of Cochin: the wood for this mosque was donated by a local Jew)
(sweetness beyond belief: lunch at Koder House in Fort Cochin)