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Good Mannered When Abroad. Bad Mannered in Pakistan

Manners: Out of courtesy

By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

Years ago, I began noticing as a frequent traveller from New York to Karachi the transatlantic transformation of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen as we flew over the Atlantic Ocean. At JFK airport, desis like myself are cheerful and polite, queue up patiently, wait to be checked in with smiles galore and coochie-coo wailing babies of other passengers.

Landing back home, not more than a few minutes will pass and it is like an electrifying moment of realisation has hit them that we are Pakistanis, hence there is no need for courtesy, specially with other Pakistanis!

The concept of queuing up outside washrooms, letting your neighbour get a choice of the last choice of the chicken or mutton meal, saying ‘excuse me’ and politely taking out baggage from the overhead compartment…all become distant past. Flying over Dubai on the way back home, as the oh-so-familiar sights and sounds of good old Karachi, Lahore or Islamabad started appearing in the imagination of everyone on board, things begin to deteriorate. The airhostess, too, becomes impatient, irritated and throws hospitality down the garbage shoot.

When the cabin crew frantically requests the passengers to stay seated till the aircraft comes to a complete stop, instantly a push, shove and get-ahead-of-each-other starts and everyone wants to be the first one to get out of the plane. As soon as we step on the turf of the Jinnah International, everything changes. We simply lose our civil and polite attitude in the blink of an eye.

Why is it so? It’s heartening when people from your own land will give you a warm smile, say “Have a nice day”, and offer you a seat on the subway in NYC. But the same person in Karachi will not care whether you fell off the door of a public bus, or got strangled with the strap of your handbag in the revolving entrance of a supermarket but will push and shove you aside to get in fast and first.

On a trip to Singapore, I was with a relative who is a smoker. He has this irritating habit of smoking in the car and throwing the cigarette butt or cigarette box wrapper outside the car window. Miraculously, the same person in Singapore obediently smoked only where it was allowed, and the wrappers dared not go anywhere except the dustbin. And if there was no dustbin in sight, the wrapper would stay safe in his pocket till he reached back home, walked straight to his kitchen bin and threw it there.

A colleague at work was addicted to paan chewing and would decorate the office stairs with legendary spurts of red gook and no hints or direct requests made any difference to him. Yet, the same colleague confessed after he returned from a trip to London that while he was there, he avoided chewing paan in public places, and if at all he had to, he carried around a stack of tissues to spit in.

Interestingly, similar things happen on the home front. Hubby dearest who takes the trash out to the bins, rakes leaves during fall and does the dinner dishes regularly will refuse to get up and have a glass of water himself, once he is back in Pakistan, even if the wife has a full time job and no help at home.

Speeding on the road, talking on the cell (while the headphone rests idly in the glove compartment) and texting while driving are also things we do back home. Once abroad, our civic sense and obeying the law instinctly come to life. It may be the fear of the consequences of breaking the law or perhaps the courtesy and the general culture of being polite rubs off on us. Also, we may be a teeny weeny bit conscious about the fact that we are Asians from a Muslim country and have to go the extra mile to prove that we are civilised people, not gun-toting militants.

But in reality, this is how our sad mentality works. Once back in Pakistan, we are home. We don’t have to pretend to be someone else. We belong here, and no one can stop us from doing anything. It is a reminder of how people are generally very polite to strangers but throw tantrums and are impatient and annoying with their immediate family because their family has no choice but to bear with them in spite of all.

On a heavier note, it would be wonderful if we brought back social ethics, polite attitude and a civic sense as a gift to our homeland, to make us a more civilised nation than we pretend to be by travelling abroad and carrying branded luggage.

Published in Dawn: 12-12-2010:



About FarahnazZahidi

Journalist, writer, blogger & activist. Currently working for The Express Tribune. Focus on human rights, health, gender, peace & Islam. Idealist. Wannabe photographer. Chaai, traveling, reading, friends and motherhood.

4 responses »

  1. shagufta naaz

    On a flight back from Turkey I actually heard a lady (ok that’s a very polite word for that woman) tell her sons at Karachi airport “push your way in, this is not London where you have to wait in line…”

  2. Amna Randhawa

    sooooo true! just recently was in Karachi walking on zamzama street and took a mint out of its clear wrapper. Wrapper all crumpled stayed in my hand. My husband at times held my hand and was surprised at what I was hanging on to. He laughed pointed at the zamzama street and filth, his eyes as if questioning me, seriously are you for real?? 🙂 At that point we went into one of the shops and I asked the guy behind the reception/cashier desk…you happen to have a dustbin? he nodded and I extended my hand to drop the wrapper in his hand .. loool! out came the clear plastic 1.5in x 1.5in wrapper!!!! The Horror… 🙂
    Look on the guy’s face was definitely a KODAK moment! 😀

  3. I met a young man who had been in Karachi for a long time. I could make out this from his accent. He actually belonged to Wana, South Waziristan. I asked him that he did not look like one from Wana, because there they were fighting and everything. I asked him why is so that you change when in Karachi. He said” Sir when we cross Jandola (A place between Taank and Wana- midway) ‘something’ happens and we change. I wonder what is that something. But I never give up to point out, check, advise. The effort must go on I believe. Good article.

  4. While doing some research on some of the crazy things we do out of courtesy (???) I came across your very entertaining blog! 😀


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