An interesting thing happens to political correctness (PC) once you step outside of the US: It flies out the window! It is actually fairly freeing to know that people will not take things so seriously and you won’t have to worry about a potential lawsuit. My first PC free experience happened to me while I was working for a financial company in New Zealand. It was my second or third day on the job, and they were having a farewell party for one of the managers (a woman).
As is customary, the whole department was gathered round and the owner/CEO began to give the “heartfelt” speech about how much the leaving manager would be missed, etc. This is how he began: “Many of your thought I hired __y__ because she is hot and I just wanted to get her in bed, well, that is not completely untrue…”, which was followed by howling laughter by all. Okay, can we just take a moment? Here I was, fresh out of college and off an internship in HR, and what appears to be a scene from the countless sexual harassment videos I showed/presented in trainings, is playing out in front of me in real life.
The rest of the speech was pretty standard and when he finished, the the leaving manager took over and said: “Thank you, __x__. I always knew you were a dreamer; I just didn’t know how big of a fantasy you were in when you hired me!” She continued for a few more minutes and after she finished, we cut the cake and got back to work. No one was concerned about this display; everyone was talking about how much they were going to miss the departing manager, etc. but not one person seemed to be put off by this blatant sexual reference. And as time went on, I encountered more examples of jokes, and such, that definitely would not have flown back in the US. Everyone kept telling me to lighten up and have fun and as much as I wanted to, I told them I couldn’t get comfortable doing that because if I said something like this back home, I’d be in a world of trouble! But how liberating it was to be able to laugh at things knowing that everyone else knew it was just a joke!
As I continued to travel to other countries, I continued to encounter this and it was just as refreshing. But as I have gone from Anglo cultures to more Latin, the focus has shifted slightly to where it is now mildly shocking again! Here in Peru, you can call people who are your friends (or not) as “Chino“, and not by their actual name. Basically it equates to calling them Chinese. Take this recent example that a friend of mine actually said this past weekend (translated into English, of course): “Hey Chinese guy, do you know how to get to Pardo street from here?” They guy smiled and gave us directions and we went on our way. They also say it about “white” people, too. Gringo can be used to refer to a foreigner, but they also use it to call Peruvians who are light skinned or girls/women who have died their hair blonde. And they call skinny people “flaco“. I sort of like to translate that one into “Slim!” but I like to imagine it being said from Berta on Two and a Half Men…just seems like something she would say, “Hey Slim! I ain’t cleanin’ that up.”
Anyway, as you might imagine, the civil liberties groups would be all over this back home! There are some English teachers here trying to teach kids/adults that you can’t refer to someone like that when you talk with foreigners. But my friends have told me it is like in one ear and out the other. The students don’t understand why it is bad, because here it is not bad or meant in an ill way.
Okay, I get it. Fine. But what do you think about this: As I was walking to the park the other day I noticed, for the first time, the sign above this laundromat:
I have walked passed this laundromat countless times, but for some reason only saw this now! When could you get away with doing this? I am going to say probably up until the late 80s, if I base my hypothesis off of movies from that decade compared to the 90’s and now. I will just point you towards all the Police Academy movies, Leslie Nielsen stuff, and Rodney Dangerfield. May they rest in (humorous) peace.
So I ask you, what is the point of being PC? Can we not take a lesson from the rest of the world and realize that things are said in jest, and not always be so uptight? Now, I thought I had seen quite a lot, but after seeing this laundromat, I am reminded that my PC-ness is probably never going to go away. While I do think this photo is a bit over-the-top, I do believe that it was not done so with any ill-will. And I will say that all of my Asian Peruvian friends do not have a problem with it. In fact, they think it is amusing.
Who can say, truly, what is right and what is wrong. So much of it is about the culture and can one culture really ever dictate what another should or should not do? I know that there are great many things in the world that I would like to believe have a “global” moral compass that all cultures should follow, but again, who am I to say so? The one thing that I do take away from all of this, though, is that these other cultures really seem to uphold the idea of “free speech” much better than the USA does; they are not worried about every minor little thing, and whether it hurts a few people’s feelings. Although, I guess when you have bigger social issues, maybe other things don’t seem quite as important.