Be proud to be blunt

SINGAPORE - I'm no stranger to bluntness.

My family took no prisoners when it came to straight-talking and straight-insulting.

When my wife met my mother for the first time, my mother looked her up and down and said: "Well, you're prettier than his old girlfriend. She looked like a horse."

My earlier girlfriend did not resemble a horse. But that rarely stopped my mother from saying: "Hey, you look sad today. Why the long face?"

No one was more delighted than my mother when we inevitably broke up. She even offered a subtle suggestion that future partners had to get their footwear from a shoe shop rather than a blacksmith.

So bluntness and an insistence on telling it how it is remains an integral part of the family household.

But even I was taken aback by an incident last Sunday at Sengkang's Compass Point mall.

After queueing, my daughter eagerly took her shoes off to jump around on the bouncy castle temporarily installed inside the atrium.

But first, the young lad in charge of the bouncy castle gathered the kids round and said: "If you jump and must vomit, get off."

I laughed so loudly I scared the children.

There was no small talk, no chit-chat, just a single sentence and he was straight into the vomit.

My daughter looked up at me, clearly concerned.

"Daddy," she muttered, her lip already wobbling.

"No, no, it's OK," I whispered. "The man isn't saying you're going to vomit on the bouncy castle. No one's going to vomit. Well, that tubby kid eating half a fried chicken might, but that's not the point. No one is going to vomit."

"But why did he talk about vomit?"

"I don't know, mate. Clearly, he was playing truant when they were teaching tact and diplomacy."

My daughter spent 10 minutes on the bouncy castle and I passed the time visualising all kinds of dream jobs for Bouncy Castle Guy.

First, I had him working in a curry house and saying: "If you eat and get diarrhoea, go get extra toilet paper." Then I pictured him as an air steward conducting the safety briefing.

"If the plane drop, the oxygen mask will fall, but forget it. You sure die one. Before we crash, fold your arms and legs. This will not save you, but it will keep your body parts closer together."

Honestly, I love the bluntness.

Tourism campaigns constantly harp on about stuff that's uniquely Singaporean and in truth, there isn't much. (We've got the Merlion, but that's only because other countries aren't really queueing up for a vomiting monster.)

But our bluntness is pretty special. Singapore's tough talking is right up there with the best (or worst) that New Yorkers or Londoners can offer.

A couple of weeks ago, I was inadvertently guilty of doing precisely the kind of irritating, kiasu thing that I usually make fun of. I answered the phone in an unacceptable public place. It wasn't a cinema. It was a roller coaster.

I know, that makes me sound like a moron and a terrible father. But my daughter had already been on the roller coaster half a dozen times, the phone call was important and in my excitement I'd actually forgotten where I was. So the ride operator said: "Cannot use your phone on the roller coaster. You might fall out."

How does holding a mobile phone make you fall out of a roller coaster?

Unless the phone contains a button for an ejector seat, I'm struggling to make the connection.

I can't imagine theme park managers conducting training programmes by saying: "If you get an awkward rider, just tell them to do as they're told or they'll fall out and die."

Still, I found our no-nonsense exchange most entertaining as I always do.

We don't beat around the bush here. We beat the bush with our bluntness. We're straight shooters, no matter where we are or what we do.

­Ordinarily, the customer is always right. In Singapore, this customer is often insulted.

I've lost count of the times I've asked for a shirt only to be told: "Cannot, you're too long lah."

The store doesn't have a shirt that fits and yet, somehow, I end up apologising for having the arms of an outstretched orang utan.

Just this week, I was telling a neighbour about another trip to the physiotherapist for my bad back and he replied: "It's your fault what. Cannot be so tall in Singapore."

I didn't know whether to laugh or chop my legs off at the knee.

But I adore such brutal in-your-face honesty.

It is uniquely Singaporean and I hope it never changes.

The day my daughter gets on a bouncy castle without being warned about vomiting will be a very sad day indeed.

tnp@sph.com.sg


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