2012-07-23    Please sit next to me!

When someone comes to Hong Kong from another country,
one of the first things you notice is that on the bus and on the MTR,
people often will not sit next to you!
This is quite a shock when you first experience it, and takes a while to get used to. Recently I met a lady from Africa who has been in Hong Kong since the start of this year. She cried when she said how it hurts her that rarely does anyone sit next to her on a bus or on the MTR. 

I've been in Hong Kong 27 years and I've noticed that this problem is not as bad as it used to be. Gradually people are getting used to foreigners, and for young local Hong Kong people this is not a big issue. In fact nowadays many local people, young and old, are extra friendly to foreigners.

Talking to a foreigner used to be a taboo, not the done thing. I remember when I first when to China, I saw a grandmother slap her granddaughter on the hand because the granddaughter smiled at me.
But then as the years went by, grandparents and parents began to encourage children to talk to foreigners, to practise their English. I used to like it when I heard someone say to a child "Say hello to Uncle", although as I got older I would groan as I heard "Say hello to Grandpa"!

Maybe one reason for this problem is language: people are scared that a foreigner might start talking to them in a language other than Chinese. And there's one sure way for foreigners to break down this barrier: learn a little Chinese....and watch local people's faces light up!