Thursday, October 09, 2008

Messing up

It just won't work. I wish it would and look forward to the day that it becomes a part of our lives. But it wouldn't work in today's Singapore. It could have worked perhaps 20, 30 years ago when social behaviour was highly prescribed, tightly controlled and vigourously enforced. Not today. We are more enlightened, grown up and can make our own decision and choices. Ironically, that also means that we can choose not to return or clear our food utensils and trays after a meal in a cooked food centre, variously referred to also as a Hawker Centre, Eating House and Foodcourt. Fastfood Restaurants such as McDonalds, KFC and Long John Silvers are no exceptions.

But this is exactly what Straits Times editor, Mr Han Fook Kwang, wishes to see - a more gracious Singapore where people clean up after themselves - not just in the loo, though that is something that needs working at - but at the tables in these food centres. Anyone who arrives at these eating establishments hopes to find an empty table which they can plonk down on and start ordering their meals immediately. Nobody wants to have to wait for the tables to be cleared of the debris left over from the last occupier of the table, and less so if the last occupier was a messy diner. Nobody wants to clear the mess themselve either. They simply choose a cleaner table or worse, walk away to another more inviting eating place. Right now, all of these eating places engage cleaners who walk around the place the whole day cleaning up after every diner, and I mean every diner. That is because even if one doesn't mind doing the cleanup, we'd leave it to the cleaners who can do a better job, really.

You see, it has become established practice that tables are to be cleared by paid cleaners, as much as our household trash is to be carted away by the trashman in their trash-trucks. The reasoning is that the cost of the meal already includes this service, so it would be nothing short of moronic to do what you have already paid someone else to do. But removing these cleaners will not do either because the trash on tables will begin piling up and, given the cost of food nowadays, no diner will volunteer their cleaning services. That's why paid cleaners came into the picture in the first place. It has become a circular thing, no?

Some have been inspired to suggest that you should make the students in Primary, Secondary and Tertiary institutions do this first - i.e. clear the tables themselves after a meal. The logic is that once these students have imbibed the habit, they will naturally carry over this habit outside of school. I am not that optimistic about this approach for the reasons already stated earlier. Further, these new adults do not want to appear kiddy to others by bucking the adult practice of returning trays in public eating places. In fact, not returning trays can be seen to be an 'adult' thing. Its just like saying the National Pledge and singing Majulah Singapura. You don't do that everyday after leaving school. Some even do not want to be seen doing that. So it wouldn't work.

Let's have a compromise. The one thing that irritates me more than anything in an eating place is when diners leave behind a table that looks as if a rat has rummaged through the leftover food. It looks like a hell of a mess with fish bones, curry, used tissue paper, etc. lying all over the table. I don't understand how and why people eat like that. Granted you can't ask them to swallow the bones and lick the curry off the tables and pocket their soiled tissue paper for disposal elsewhere, but they could have started by practising considerate clean eating habits. Get an empty bowl/plate to desposit the leftovers, or if non is available, use a tissue paper or two which is always available, if nothing, to 'chop' seats, from your own pocket. If you spill curry on the table, wipe it off with the paper and deposit it in the empty bowl, plate or cup which you have eaten or drank from.

This way, it makes it easy for yourself or anyone who comes after, to clear the table without the help of a professional cleaner. Yes, the cleaner will lose his job, but if this is what we want as a gracious society, then too bad. I did mention that is is a compromise solution, right?

Image source: Author:
Anita Patterson Peppers

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Good table manners or for that matter basic good manners (eg. please, thank you, sorry, etc.) begins at home. If parents or caregivers do not teach or impress basic good manners in their children whether in or outside the home then this is the result. I have no problems reprimanding my nieces & nephews to bus their own empty plates & cups in a self service outlet.