Incivility, a hallmark of our service industry

ROSEMARY MCLEOD
Last updated 10:31 28/07/2011

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OPINION: Not a lot cheers you up in freezing weather, with icy cold creeping up through floorboards and wriggling through keyholes, and tea going cold in the cup as soon as it's poured – but cyclists are good value.

Debate continues – rages, even – on whether they should have to wear high-visibility clothing as a safety measure.

Cycling Advocates Network spokesman Patrick Morgan told the first day of an inquest into eight cyclists' deaths that having to wear such a kit would make cycling look "dorky or uncool" and send a message that it was more dangerous than it really was.

Here is the truth of the matter: cycling is dorky and uncool. That is precisely its allure. It is also dangerous, hence the eight deaths. That, too, is part of the allure.

It's a way for skinny, overmuscled young men in particular to squeeze into multicoloured Lycra corsets called biking gear, put on wacky helmets, sally forth and dice with death.

But there is more: a bicycle confers on its user a near-sacred status as saver of the environment; licence to abuse and bait drivers of cars, whose responsibility it is to cope with their road rage combined with their eye-rolling ecological piety.

Road rules do not apply to Wellington's pedestrians.

We are thinking of lowering the speed limit in the city to protect them from walking out into the traffic, a thrilling popular sport, though they are often hurt or killed.

Traffic lights mean nothing to pedestrians or cyclists: it's up to drivers to slam on the brakes as best they can. Usually this life-saving action is rewarded with a one-finger salute, a torrent of abuse, a vicious whack on the boot, or all three.

THE message is that we should not have cars, but cycle about on our hilly streets the way they do, smugly holding up traffic as they puff up the steepest gradients, and never pulling over to let faster traffic pass.

I gather this is a protest against our using petrol, but forcing us to crawl in our cars makes us use more of it than is really necessary.

It goes without saying that cyclists resist having decent lights on their bicycles at night-time, prefer to wear dark clothing in the dark, and have the privilege of charging through red lights when everyone else has to stop – all of which is decidedly dorky, and makes you fear that one day you'll hurt somebody and ruin your life as well as theirs.

I gather jaywalking is policed in other countries, but I've never heard of Wellington's mad pedestrians getting ticketed for it, or of cyclists being ticketed for dashing through stop signs and red lights.

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Another key area of incivility in this country is in the poorly paid service industry, where slack, unhelpful attitudes are a given.

New Zealanders are so insecure that whenever we take on work offering the chance to be rude to people, we go for it.

The idea that we'd serve another person, as in looking subservient, is offensive, hence the popular response of: "Not a problem," when thanked. It was a problem actually, manfully overcome just long enough to sell you a sandwich.

This being the case, the Government backed the KiaOraMai training programme two years ago, to the tune of almost $1 million, in hopes that it would raise the skills of 10,000 service workers in time for the Rugby World Cup.

Just 10 per cent of workers completed the programme, we're now told, and I'm surprised it was so many. Why would anyone bother?

Tourists are damn lucky to be allowed to come here in the first place, and having got here, should jolly well be made to know their place.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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