I have been told that habits and manners vary from country to country so there cannot be any universal rule for good or bad habits and manners because they are closely related to the culture of each country.
Try to criticize the culture of any country and you will be immediately branded as biased, prejudiced or worse. It reminds me of a cartoon drawn by Sempe who is famous in France.
It shows a man throws a banana peel on the road on which steps a hapless unsuspecting man and falls that makes the thrower laugh. Then he goes to a movie and cries when someone gets beaten.
Now here is something to ponder on. Someone laughs at the real life misery of another person but cries at the movies that are fake. It really happens so Sempe did not make it up.
It is true that people behave according to their culture because the behavior is usually a learned experience that people learn by watching others from their childhood so later it becomes a habit and is very hard to quit. The manners good or bad are also learned this way. The manners are an expression of one’s behavior.
Once I was in a hospital in India that is run by the religious people. It is a very big hospital where the doctors and other staff are professionals and take great care of their patients. But in one side of the hospital I saw a whole wall from the second floor down covered with spits and was shocked because it was inside the hospital.
People in India have bad habits and chew pan and then spit the saliva out anywhere even inside a hospital so I told the head administrator to do something about it because it was so unhygienic and utterly unbelievably dirty. He promised to do something about it but the point is that people have bad habits and are not going to change unless they are compelled to.
How does anyone compel to change the bad habits of people? You have to visit Singapore to believe how strict the government is on people who litter, spit anywhere and throw wrappers or bubble gums on the road. They are given a hefty fine and a stern warning that they should leave their bad habits behind and keep Singapore clean.
The prime minister of India recently started a program to clean the country and took a broom himself to clean the garbage. May be it was for the TV and the press because people do not change their dirty habits so easily and keep on throwing banana peels on the road not caring if someone falls and breaks his legs.
Indians call Ganga their mother and venerate it but Ganga is polluted and people keep throwing garbage in it, the chemical companies and tanneries throw their effluents in it and often one can see dead bodies floating by not too far from the ghats where people bathe.
These people adamantly believe that Ganga water is pure so nothing can pollute it but the river is polluted. The government then tried another tactic by saying that if Ganga is your mother, do you keep her clean or make her dirty? Can you tolerate that your holy mother is dirty and do nothing about it ? I don’t know if it worked.
Now I will tell you about Japan. I stayed in Kyoto once and was amazed to see that every morning women and men came out of their houses with buckets of soapy water and brushes with long handles and scrubbed the side walk in front of their houses and shops. In no time the whole lane was scrubbed clean by the people who live there.
No one throws anything on the road and they keep things in their pockets until they find a garbage bin somewhere. In Europe you see clean cities and picturesque clean villages.
In Paris the dog owners who walk their dogs in parks or other public places pick up dog poop wearing plastic gloves and put it in a bin strategically placed everywhere. Switzerland is known for its pristine lakes, parks, villages and cities and very rightfully the Swiss take great pride in their clean habits.
But in Asia the story is very different. In India the pigs and dogs scavenge through the piles of garbage dumped on the roadside that the municipal workers fail to collect regularly. The gutters overflow with sewage because the drains are clogged with garbage. Some manholes have no cover that is dangerous for anyone.
In Manila more than two million poor people squat near the river banks and live in temporary shelters made of cardboard, plastic or whatever material they can scavenge and you can guess where they do their toilet. All the garbage and offal floats on the river and stinks up to high heaven eventually ending up in the ocean but the ocean sends it back to the shore relentlessly.
There have been many attempts made by the government to clean up the river and take all the garbage away but the squatters keep the abundant supply up because they have nowhere to throw their garbage since no one collects their garbage so the problem remains. They do not have toilets so where they will go?
The politicians always make promises to resettle the squatters away from the city but do not have the money to build millions of homes.
One politician’s wife collected millions of pesos that she promised to use for making the river clean and make parks on both sides but no one knows where the money went because no parks were ever built and the river is as full of garbage as ever.
Once my wife and I went to see the famous park in south India called Vrindavan Gardens. It is truly a magnificent park with flowers, fountains and lights but we were shocked to see how people were constantly throwing their garbage on the flower beds that they also trampled while the gardeners looked helplessly. It is because they allow the vendors inside the park so people buy what they sell and throw the garbage right there. This bad habit is tacitly supported by the vendors but I suppose people throw garbage elsewhere as well. There are garbage bins everywhere but people ignore them and trash the place that is so beautiful.
The spitting of pan saliva is more common in North India where chewing pan is a habit with many. There are pan sellers everywhere so it is quite easy to buy it, chew it and spit it out making the road red with saliva. They also talk with pan in their mouth that I find very offensive but is not considered bad manner because everyone does it.
In Delhi the capital, the government office walls are painted red with pan saliva because chewing pan is an Indian habit that is very hard to quit. I will write in a moment about bad manners associated with bad habits in other countries.
In some countries they have zillions of rules and they keep making more rules. There are more rules on what one cannot do than what one can do. The rule breakers are punished with fines which is a good source of income for the police department.
In other countries they announce new rules all the time but fail to implement them. The university here placed a huge signboard on campus saying that now you are entering a smoke belch free campus but the jeepneys continue to use very old smoke belching engines so the sign board finally disappeared.
One can not apply the rules unless the smoke belchers are given an alternative to buy new vehicles financed by the government. One cannot just prohibit the squatters to throw garbage in the river unless they are relocated and given a way to earn some money. People do not want to live as squatters but what choice do they have? So it is easy to make rules but hard to implement unless the rule breakers are given an alternative. If people are fined for urinating in public then there must be free urinals everywhere built by the government.
The poverty does not mean people have to be dirty or have bad habits. We were happy to see how clean the Haitians were even if they were poor. They wore clean clothes and swept their surroundings regularly. They give you a glass of water on a tray with a lace cover on it.
So I come to conclusion that people have bad habits that are linked to their culture so they see nothing wrong with their habits. It has nothing to do with poverty like in India where people throw garbage anywhere and spit anywhere because no one stops them.
The good manners and bad manners:
Now let us examine the reasons why some people develop good manners and others don’t. I think it has a great deal to do with values people hold dear. In the western culture, people are taught to say thank you and please from their childhood. The Christians are taught to be kind and generous to the poor and help find homes for the war refugees and even some furniture because they feel it to be their Christian duty to do so. Germans have accepted millions of refugees and helped them find homes and even jobs. France takes in millions of refugees as immigrants and builds massive tenements to house them.
People are taught to be polite and tolerant of other people who are not like them. They do not have a caste system like in India that discriminates against the untouchables and minorities like the tribals.
But if you grow up believing that you are superior to others then the way you talk to them and treat them will show it. The KKK people in the United States still discriminate against people of color the same way the skinheads in Europe routinely beat up Asians and other immigrants just because they feel superior to them and hate them.
Good and bad manners in other countries
It is a delight to visit Japan. People are so polite and wonderful. I once wandered into a pub for a beer in Kyoto where the Japanese fought over each other to give me beer and paid for it. They always keep their calling cards in their pocket and will give one to you as soon as you meet them and say hello. They have impeccable manners.
But in other countries people fall short of good manners and greet visitors with their feet up on their desks and consider it normal.
This reminds me of a story. Once Pundit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar went to see a British fellow who received him in his office but keeping his feet up on his desk. He did not say anything but when the British fellow one day came to see him in his office, he too put up his feet on his desk. The British was upset and considered it rude so the Pundit said that he learned such good manners from the visitor. He was trying to teach a lesson.
Chewing pan and talking to visitor can be construed as offensive by many but it is condoned because it becomes a part of the culture so it cannot be criticized. People get angry when you point out bad manners.
One woman constantly checks the labels on the clothes of her female visitors to see if she is wearing signature brand or not and then brags about her clothes that are of good brands. This manner is quite offensive to say the least but the woman says it is her force of habit so the habit and manners are closely related.
Now the force of habit can be good or bad. If you develop the habit of saying thank you and please then it is considered good. If you are constantly late for appointment or fail to show up then it is bad. If you greet your visitor by saying welcome and offer him drinks and food then it is good manners but if you do not open your gate and ask what the visitor wants then it is considered bad manners.
If you invite people to your home to have a party and then ask each one to bring his own food then it is considered bad manners. Americans do it all the time and call it potluck party but in other countries it is bad manners. So how people behave is based on the culture they come from. When you repeat a certain behavior, it then becomes the habit. The manners reflect that habit.
We all develop habits. Some have good habits and others do not. Some have good manners and are liked and others do not who are disliked. It all depends on how and where these good or bad habits that lead to good and bad manners are acquired. Good people always teach their children good habits and manners because they too practice them. Bad people teach their children bad habits and manners.
If we strive to live by giving good example to others then people appreciate it and if we say we don’t care what others say about us then we can live an isolated life because people too don’t care about such people.
A good rule of thumb is to put yourself in other’s shoes and see how your habits and manners good or bad affect others and act accordingly.
Do not do to others what you do not like others to do to you.