A few times in the last few years I have been shocked by how much of an outcry there seems to be in the media whenever a British person is arrested overseas for something that would not be taken so seriously here. Most recently I watched in disbelief as newscasters appeared to poke fun at the beliefs of some people in Malaysia for thinking that an earthquake had been caused by a group of students, including one from Britain, stripping off at the top of a sacred mountain and upsetting the spirits.
The students were arrested and tried and found guilty, not of any religious or spiritual crimes, but of public obscenity which they pleaded guilty to. So why do we find it so hard to swallow the fact that “one of us” got our wrists slapped by Johnny Foreigner? Personally, I think it is our typical arrogance when globetrotting. Not everyone from Britain is like this but, as a nation, we are known for our brash and imposing style when visiting other countries. The best way to really understand what people think of us when we go to them is to remember what we think of Americans when they come over here. We know they’re not all loud and obnoxious, but it’s easier to assume they are than to actually spend time finding out. And that’s exactly what many nations think of us too.
The attitude of the newscasters in practically ridiculing the beliefs of those Malaysian people is a demonstration of that arrogance. Why do we find it so hard to treat the beliefs of others with respect? And note, I say “treat them with respect”, not “respect them”. The fact is, I don’t agree with the beliefs of those Malaysian people, and I don’t particularly respect them either. But I will always treat them with respect. Similarly, I don’t agree with the laws in many countries (such as women not being allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia), and I have no respect for that law whatsoever. But you can be damn sure that if I ever choose to go there I will treat that law with respect.
It’s really quite simple. If you don’t like a certain culture, you probably shouldn’t go to somewhere that that culture is prevalent. If you don’t want to obey certain laws (such as keeping your clothes on in a very conservative country), then don’t go to a place where that law applies. By all means, if you want to strip off in public, go to one of the many generic places where this seems to be tolerated (like Magaluf or Kavos). But if you insist on travelling the world to see places with real culture, then maybe you should treat those cultures with a bit more respect once you get there.
But what really pissed me off was that when I was watching the news story about the students being arrested in Malaysia on Channel Four news, the advert break came on and the very first advert shown, was one for Hostelworld. You may have seen it but for those of you who haven’t, it features a group of people who appear to be students who trek to the top of a rockface, strip off, and then jump down into a lagoon below where a boy (apparently from Warrington) introduces himself to a girl from Argentina. Hmm. Mere coincidence or very strategic scheduling? But the point is the message it sends. It seemed to be telling viewers that what had happened was totally acceptable, should be encouraged even, and that the Malaysian authorities were both draconian and ridiculous.
I turned over but my anger followed me as I saw a reality program where high street police were being followed by a camera crew (I’m not sure what it was) and an Eastern European man was picked up for pick pocketing. What really got to me was what the arresting officer said to him. “If you can’t obey the laws in Britain, you shouldn’t have come here.”
Shouldn’t that work both ways?