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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Showing off is a no-no

The virtue of appropriate behaviour seems lost today when people think nothing of spending RM20,000 on drinks at a meal, or buying designer bags for a two-year-old.

WHEN I was growing up, one of the things drilled into me was the virtue of appropriate behaviour.

There were some behaviours that were deemed totally inappropriate mostly because they were either ill-mannered or unseemly.

For instance, one’s behaviour in someone else’s house was always strictly delineated because it reflected on how one was brought up. Thus, unlike today, where children are chummy with their friends’ parents,

I had to be extremely polite and even slightly scared of those of my friends.

I recall once being at a birthday party where one boy was so naughty that he earned a scolding from the host’s father. I don’t know what shocked me more, to have misbehaved in your friend’s house or to be scolded by someone else’s dad.

Inappropriate behaviour also covered showing off whatever you had that was expensive, especially to people who may not be able to afford it.

Modesty about one’s own station was taught as a singular virtue. You may be lucky enough to have nice things but you don’t need to tell anyone about them.

Thus I may be considered horribly old-fashioned when I gasp upon reading magazine articles where people happily show off their closets full of clothes, jewellery and fleet of cars.

It’s not that I begrudge them their good fortune, but I wonder why it does not embarrass them to have all these possessions photographed for total strangers to gawk at.

Similarly, I once read a letter in the papers by someone who complained bitterly that her luggage had been trifled with at the airport. Justifiable enough, until I read that the shopping that she lost included designer bags (and she named which designers they were) for her two-year-old daughter.

Rather than focus on her misfortune, what haunted me was the very idea that people would spend money on designer items for a toddler.

To be fair, the high-end designers do give people such inappropriate ideas by actually designing kiddy clothes and toys.

I doubt there would be a demand for them if they didn’t exist. Or would they?

Perhaps it is a sign of prosperity that these days people spend money in inappropriate ways without batting an eyelid.

For instance a restaurant-owner friend once regaled us with the crazy things some of his customers did, like spend RM20,000 just on drinks at one meal.

Then there was the little girl who was blithely waving the credit card her mother gave her in some high-end boutiques, only one of which was sensible enough to decline to accept it.

When 13-year-olds are way too comfortable spending money in such boutiques, you have to wonder what it’s going to take to keep them in comfort as they grow up.

But perhaps I should not complain about the inappropriate behaviour of individuals like these.

My worry however is that other people, including my children, might think that these behaviours are the norm, and then try to emulate them.

It would be a short ride downhill from there, morally speaking.

Sometimes, however, you find inappropriate behaviour at a higher level, where people who deem themselves worthy of our support take unconscionable actions.

For instance, breaking laws put there by the very law-making institution that they are part of.

Is the message “Do as I say, not as I do”? Or are these laws just for the rest of us and not for them?

No wonder they all want to get elected; apparently it gives them a licence to do what they want.

For me, my test of inappropriateness is whether my cheeks go hot and red upon learning about such behaviour.

It burned when a friend talked about a group of people who came into his restaurant every night, ran up a tab and then walked out without paying, telling them to bill their boss.

It didn’t look like their boss knew what they were up to at all, so the bills remained unpaid. I didn’t know these people, but somehow felt embarrassed at their brazenness.

And I must say I flush all the way down to my neck when I see people desperate to be seen as more important than what they are. I’ve been lucky enough to meet real heroes who do their work with no fanfare at all. So to see much lesser beings, important only because of position, being lauded for less substantial work makes me go – and see – red.

But life is short and one needs to make hay, as they say, while the sun shines.


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