I’m in Thailand this week. The other day, my American friend and I were boarding a plane here. My friend said, “Most Asians seem so polite and reserved until you see them boarding a bus or plane. They never defer to someone else to go ahead of them.”
Whenever I’m in Asia, I almost always hear a Westerner make a comment like this. And there have been plenty of times when being shoved out of the way by a sweet old Chinese woman leaves me just a little miffed myself.
But pushing is often a necessity in this part of the world. 6 out of 10 people in the world live in Asia, almost half in India and China alone. You can’t survive here using the schoolteacher’s mantra, “Everyone will get a turn. Just wait in line.” Everyone won’t get a turn. Some are going to get left behind and a certain level of aggressiveness becomes a means to survival.
Gregory David Roberts, in his phenomenal novel, Shantaram refers to this as the doctrine of necessity. He suggests that the amount of force and violence necessary to board a train in India is no less and no more than the amount of politeness and consideration necessary to ensure that the cramped journey is as pleasant as is possible.
Roberts goes on to write, “If there were a billion Frenchmen or Australians or Americans living in such a small space, the fighting to board the train would be much more, and the courtesy afterward much less.“
Granted, the people boarding the plane with my friend and me earlier this week already had a “guaranteed” seat. But we don’t unlearn our survival strategies quickly, even if they don’t apply at the moment.
Truth be told, the reason I remembered my friend’s comment earlier this week is I just had four people “budge” ahead of me at 7/11 a few minutes ago. I decided to channel my seething frustration toward blogging about why it is that pushing and cutting in line is a way of life for many people around the world. Their lives often depend upon it.