Does location shape behaviour?
It was the 24 January 2014 and my fellow passengers were expressing their discontent about news that our flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles was going to be delayed due a "mechanical problem". Some of the LA-bound travellers were not shy about voicing their complaints.
That said, the atmosphere was much less hostile than the tremendous uproar that met the poor service of an aviation company in mainland China a while ago, or when 50 passengers occupied a plane at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport before this year's Lunar New Year.
My flight eventually took off from Hong Kong and we arrived safely in Los Angeles. After alighting, we finally got to customs. Even though it was a long and slow process, everybody queuing up demonstrated a civilised respect for order, and even those in the front of the line hesitated before inching forwards despite the customs officer haranguing us to hurry along. No-one wanted to move out of turn, with even veteran long-haul passengers showing the kind of total obedience more often seen in strict schools.
Perhaps the passengers behaved in such a highly ordered way because the atmosphere at the airport was very solemn, and because we were aware that the law in the US is executed firmly. Whatever the reason, there was a wide disparity between the behaviour of passengers just before boarding this LA-bound plane compared to when they disembarked in the US, as if they had been reborn.
This experience made me recall the 50-cent penalty imposed on anyone caught spitting in public on the mainland in the 1980s during the early days of opening up to the outside world.
A Taiwanese tourist fined 50 cents for breaking the rule spat again, and said, "Make it a dollar!" I have a feeling this Taiwanese tourist would not have behaved in such a reckless way in Taiwan and would have been less shameless when visiting the US or Japan. And yet he turned a blind eye to laws and rules on the mainland, as if he thought he were in a paradise of complete freedom where his behaviour knew no boundaries.
Similarly, I have seen with my own eyes, even today in the 21st century, how some westerners behave imperiously in Hong Kong and Taiwan, considering themselves a cut above others, and beyond rules and regulations. I am sure they would not deport themselves in such a way in other places.
Because environmental conditions shape human thought and behaviour, it should come as no surprise that the actions of visitors and tourists reflect the local environment. "When in Rome, do as Romans do," as the old adage goes. Clean and orderly environments inspire appropriate behaviour among visitors and tourists, whereas disorderly and dirty environments are likely to incite negative elements and even vices, reducing the quality and degree of well-being in a community.
That's why we follow flies if we want to find a restroom or bees if we want to locate flowers. Or to make a million, stick with billionaires; or keep company with beggars if you want to be poor.
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (22 April, 2014).
May 5, 2014