“They are like animals…”
These were the words I overheard a few feet away from me, as I stood outside the Hulhumale’ ferry terminal. The voice sounded of an elderly foreign woman. I turned my head to see who that was, judging by my initial glance it was an elderly European woman, possibly in her 40’s, and judging by her accent, Dutch. There was an elderly European man and a younger female, possibly their daughter.
As I listened to a few more words from her, I realised they were talking about the encounter they just experienced while boarding the ferry from Male’ to get to Hulhumale’. I was also on the same ferry.
I must admit, somehow, I wasn’t surprised by those remarks. I could relate to exactly what she was talking about. For a moment, as I stood there I had a flashback of having a similar experience, and making similar remarks (of course not out loud).
I had my first experience boarding the ferry to get to Hulhumale’ about two years back. Having been abroad in Europe for quite a few years, I became accustomed to some of their generally accepted social etiquettes and good manners. For example in the UK, they are well known for their orderly queuing, staying in line among other similar social etiquettes to abide by in public situations, which are considered to be in the best interest of all citizens. Breaking a line in queue, raising your voice to be heard while you are being spoken to, pushing another, taking someone’s seat, rushing your way to the counter when there is some else in front etc would be considered a cardinal sin of good social etiquettes and norms.
I tried to recall what actually may have happened about half an hour ago that led her to make this remark. As I entered the Hulhumale’ terminal in Male’, I noticed these three foreign visitors sitting in the back of the seating area inside the terminal. I glanced around and saw an empty seat in the front row. I made my way over to the seat, put the bag of passionfruits and papaya I was carrying with me on the floor and sat down. As I sat and watched the news from the TV in the seating area, I could also see in the reflection from the glass window in front of me, the growing crowd in the seating area. A minutes before 7:30 there were a lot people standing up in the aisle, even when there were enough seats for all the people to sit down.
Just before the terminal attendant could open the door, suddenly, in no particular order, almost everyone rushed towards the door. Since I was in the front seats, I waited until the door was opened. As I walked to board the ferry in the crowd, I was not very gently pushed by a couple of people, perhaps not purposefully. And yet I was mildly irritated by it, but I didn’t allow myself to ponder any feelings of anger, perhaps I was accustomed to such norms after being a regular ferry commuter for nearly two years.
As I found myself a seat on the ferry and sat down, I noticed the three foreigners were almost the last to board the ferry. And as we neared to Hulhumale’ terminal, even before the ferry closed to the harbour, again all of a sudden in no particular order everyone rushed to get off the ferry.
I imagined, perhaps this was their first time boarding the ferry, and as I related to my first experience two years back, I knew exactly what she meant when she made that remark and possibly how she felt. I assume these visitors are not going to stay here for long, but because of that incident, she was quick to make generalisation about Maldivians. Possibly an experience that will stay with her for a while and possibly an experience she will share with her friends.
At this point, I would like to ask you this question: is this sort of image we want portray to the foreign visitors who visit the Maldives? Particularly away from the polished resort life to the everyday unpolished Maldivian city life?
I wonder if there are others like me, who share a similar view; that we have a lot to learn and work on to improve our social etiquettes and good manners. Possibly we could try to emulate and practice some of the good manners and social etiquettes from developed countries.
We can start off with simple social etiquettes. Let me suggest seven simple things to practice for now:
- Always make queues and stand in line, if anyone cuts you off, kindly tell them “Sir/madam, there is a queue here” (moral persuasion is better than pointing fingers)
- For heaven’s sake, SMILE, even just a little bit when someone makes eye contact with you, the last thing you want to do is stare back at them with an evil eye. Guys, smile to others guys as well, it’s completely OK (there is nothing gay about it!).
- Say ‘thank you’ to whoever serves you, where ever that maybe.
- Sit in orderly fashion when there are chairs, if you arrive first to the ferry terminal or board the ferry, sit in front and away from the aisle making it easy for others to find their seats. And when getting off, let the ferry come to a stop at the harbour and let the people in the front seats get off first.
- When the ferry terminal door opens, allow the people in the front seats to board first.
- Raising your voice and breaking the conversation just to be heard, not only makes you sound dumb, it makes you look immature and proves you lack the communication skills to persuade the other person(s) with good reason.
- Even if your relative or close friends say ‘drop in anytime’, don’t take it literally. Let them know in advance you will be coming over and check whether it’s convenient for them. And guys/girls always keep to the time you agree, if you are going to be late or running let give a ring or sms and let them know.
As the overused saying goes: “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Sometimes this might be true. I like to think I am a realist. Some people will just brush it off when they hear about things like what I talked about and just go about their life the usual way.
Since you are still reading this, I know a part of you is saying “Ok, Mr Perfect! This is all very nice, but most of the people are not going to bother practice this anyway, why waste my energy on doing it differently, I’d rather go with the flow.”
I hear you buddy, so let me tell you the rest of the story, how it ended, hopefully you will rethink and take some action. Read on.
After I overhead these remarks and as I turned my head to see them, I made eye contact with her and smiled. There was no reaction from her; perhaps she didn’t see me clearly as it was a bit dark outside the terminal. I took a few steps forward, made eye contact with her again and smiled. There was a partial smile and I said “Hi! You guys waiting for a taxi?” (I took the cue as they were waiting near the taxi stop).
She said “Ya, is this the correct stop?”, I replied “Yes, this is the stop, but there aren’t too many taxis on this island, so it may take a while for one to arrive, but let me help you, I’ve got a taxi number I can try.”
She said “that’s very nice of you, thank you”. I said “sure thing, you are very welcome”. I took my phone dialled and asked if the taxi was available to come over the terminal. In about a minute, the taxi arrived; they thanked me again and left.
My only hope is they would share this story with their friends and loved ones instead of their ferry experience. But, I don’t know if that will happen, maybe they will tell both stories, but even then, it is better than having just a single bad experience. So, it is up to us, you and your friends, to practice good social etiquettes and set an example. If not all, hopefully even a few will recognise and try to emulate you.
Ahmed Lilal is involved in the LAL Consulting Group, established to improve the wellbeing of the Maldivian society through informal education.
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