A little lubrication of some kind is absolutely necessary for a smooth relationship between moving metal parts in any structure. Similarly human relationships need the lubricant of civility, even courtesy, in speech and demeanour. My initial experiences in Australia were not encouraging.
There was no one to help me get off the ship with my heavy luggage. Taxi drivers watched me load and unload my possessions. At the YMCA and elsewhere – for quite a few years – those who were required to deal with, or to serve, me displayed gruff voices. I was often the last to be served in the shops. It took me a long time to realise that they had never related to a ‘black’ (that is, coloured) person. Historically, their antecedents (genetic or otherwise) had killed, poisoned, or driven away the indigenes from lands they took, while availing themselves of their women.
Hence, the appearance of a coloured man, dressed in better clothes than they would ever wear, speaking clear English, displaying courtesy as appropriate, was just too much for many Australians. Yet, when I worked as a factory hand, I was treated as just a fellow worker! It was only in public spaces that overt rudeness was displayed – and with such arrogance.
Today, all that has gone. Equal opportunity at higher levels of employment may yet have a long way to go. But, I am certain that I would never again have to ask, as I once did, this simple question, as a fellow-Asian and I left a bar in some haste, but with quiet dignity: ‘Haven’t you got a mother either?’ Today, Australia is a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic nation, its immigrant communities integrating well into a cohesive polity, except for a handful of new arrivals who seek to transplant a desert society into a suburban egalitarian Western nation.
But what happened to civility? However, we might be too egalitarian. We are all on a first-name basis now. While most grandparents remain addressed as such, all other relationships within family reflect the new national paradigm of nominal equality. And the older Anglo-Australian continues his practice of allocating a name of his choice to the foreigner, ignoring the birth name. I think that my generation has to die too before due courtesy returns.