Upper middle-class... and lacking in civility
Tue, May 25, 2010
my paper

By Leona Boey

TO FIND out what Singaporeans are really made of, plan a children's party.

That is what I came to realise after an eye-opening experience organising my son's recent birthday celebration.

The little one had innocently decided to hold a party at home for his school friends.

So, with much excitement and a little help with spelling, he carefully wrote out invitation letters and sent them to his intended guests.

Then, the fun began. Of the six invitees, only two of their mothers responded with text messages, confirming that their children would attend.

Another two children replied to my son at school.

The fifth child's father had to be contacted by telephone. He said that he would drop the boy off, before curtly ending the call without a word of thanks.

The last child? Well, suffice to say that, in the end, we lost all hope of getting any kind of reply from him or his parents.

As the day drew near, games were planned, goodie bags were assembled, food was prepared, a super-duper cake was ordered, balloons were blown and banners strung up. But on the night before the party, my mobile phone went mad.

One of the mothers who had replied earlier that her son would attend said that he would turn up late - practically at the end of the party.

She explained that he had an enrichment class to attend - a fact that she should have known when she replied previously.

Another child said that he would not be coming after all because his mother did not know the way.

She presumably could not be bothered to look up directions, despite the fact that a map had been included with the invitation.

Yet another parent messaged to boldly ask me - without even a "please" or "thank you" - to drive across the island to ferry her child to and from the party, because she could not be bothered to do so.

Apparently, I was to find some time in between getting ready for the party and attending to my own children in order to look after her child.

If not for my son, I would have cancelled the party out of frustration at the other parents' lack of consideration.

The big day dawned and the guests started arriving.

Without exception, each parent thrust a child at me and quickly turned to carry out the next item on their agendas, without even greeting us or asking our names, let alone wishing my son a happy birthday.

In one case, I even had to run after a father, shouting for his name and mobile number in case of an emergency.

I could have sold off all their children for all they knew (and I was tempted to do so at one point, when the little darlings were running around and screaming like wild animals).

None of the birthday presents came with a card or even a hastily scribbled message to the birthday boy.

I doubt that the parents who purchased the gifts even knew the recipient's name.

After the party, predictably, not a single parent or child wrote, called or messaged to say "thank you".

My conclusion? Singaporeans are, on the surface, well-trained to survive the rat race at school and in the working world.

But scratch the surface and we may find a nation shockingly deficient in the finer arts of civility, hospitality, social intercourse and politesse.

In case you're thinking that this is a problem of the dialect- speaking, less-educated segment of the population, let me tell you that this is not the case.

These children and their parents are firmly located in the upper middle-class, Lexus-driving, condo-living, "successful" end of the demographic.

Therein, perhaps, lies the problem.

To paraphrase a good teacher, how does it benefit Singaporeans to gain the world if we lose our ability to relate to each other as human beings?

For more my paper stories click here.

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