Thursday, January 29, 2015


A short business trip to London has provided the opportunity to think about the lack of respect I experience since in Belgium. On the train, I was sitting next to a lady, who for the whole journey (2hrs) has chewed spicy and smelling chicken and did phone calls. She did not care of a possible allergy of her neighbour, of the will to sleep of other passengers (it was after 10 pm), and of the unpleasant smell (that I'd have greatly appreciated in an ethnic restaurant, but not on an evening train). When I boarded the bus at the station, the driver was standing in front of the door, smoking and chatting with a friend. He didn’t notice that the smoke was filling also the bus. There are hundreds of episodes like these ones. I still remember the noisy girls on the airplane to Morocco, who drank champagne, laughed, and flirted with the crew, wearing shorts and tops, not considering the restrictions of the visiting country and the desire of quietness of the other guests. There is also my neighbour, who listens to music in the middle of the night or makes noise when he is back home at 1-2 am in week-days. Obviously he doesn't have to wake up early in the morning for going to work.

Luckily not all Belgians are like that. As well as for Italians. I like the respect showed in Japan. Some friends said that it’s just hypocrisy. Perhaps they are right, I don’t mind. I’m respected, that’s enough. They respect each others, even controlling their natural needs (sneezing requires apology, water-sound is provided in the toilets, etc.). They respect also the environment. In Belgium, I’ve boarded trains and trams as dirty as after a party. I don’t expect someone cleaning everything, I want people learn to hold themselves from throwing garbage in the very spot they are. Very often it is almost impossible getting off the train, because people want to get in or just stand in front of the door. Is this something that has to be taught? It's the common sense. It's just respect!

These are Belgians, but Italians are not much different. Recently a discussion came out about which language is spoken in an international community, such as a shared apartment in town. Many Italians were proud to admit that they speak Italian between them, even if foreigners or locals are present. They said that Belgians do the same with their own languages. This is only partially true, because my Flemish colleagues always speak English, even if I’m the only foreigner joining the group for an evening beer. For French-speaking colleagues this might be more difficult, but at least they try or apologise for talking in French. Speaking a common language is the best way to show respect to the others.

By time to time, STIB/MIVB (local transportation company) promotes “show respect” campaigns, with colourful bracelets or pins and inviting people to greet the bus/tram drivers. Honestly I don’t need this fake attitude. I’m grateful to drivers when they see someone running and wait for him/her, when they inform the passengers about issues or changes, when they help disabled or old people and parents with heavy strollers, etc. On the contrary, I hate them when they keep talking at the phone or listening to the radio (hearable in the whole bus/tram), when they close the doors while people are still getting off, when they stop far from the sidewalk and in front of a puddle, when they pretend to understand only French, etc. Respect should be shown from both sides!

Honestly I must admit I have noticed an overall lack of respect. Everyone thinks to his rights and not what might bother the others. Freedom doesn’t mean “I do whatever I want”, but “I have the possibility to do what I like and that doesn’t bother or hurt anyone else”. The recent attack at the satyrical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris has raised the protest “Je suis Charlie!” in name of the press freedom. NO! Je ne suis pas Charlie. I’m not Charlie. I’m sorry for the killed people and their family, but that magazine has never respected anyone else. That's not a justification for violence. Lack of respect cannot be paid back with even worse lack of respect. However, satire is ridiculing politicians and important contemporary people, for what they do on duty, not for their possible physical deficiency, and not having fun of myths and religions. This is as disrespectful as censorship itself! Will we ever learn to respect our brothers, our Earth, shared places, public transits, etc? It costs almost nothing, just a bit of effort.

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