Migrant service workers


I thought this article by Theodore Dalrymple was so good that I would simply to link to it and just add a couple of comments of my own.

The article clarified for me the difference I have noted many times between service in Japan and service in Britain. This is true of delivery services, service in pubs, at the dentist, at the doctors, at the supermarket checkout, when buying tickets, at information desks and pretty much everywhere else. The Japanese view what they do as giving a service and are both proud and happy to do it well. British service workers on the other hand often give the impression they have been unwillingly dragooned into servitude and are slightly inconvenienced by their customers. They hold casual conversations with other staff members while you patiently smile and wait to be served. Dalrymple suggests that this off-hand attitude is perhaps caused by the snobbery of others; he gives Madeleine Bunting, the Guardian writer, as an example of one such snob. Through sneering and snobbery, some condescending people have rendered certain jobs unappealing to the kind of person who might be well-suited for the job and happy to do it. Thus snobbery is what has made it necessary for Britain to import people from poorer countries like Poland to do these jobs.

Dalrymple is also surely right when he says that the care industry is staffed mainly by people from the Third World. This tendency has nothing to do with our snobbery this time, but to psychological, cultural and religious differences between our culture and those of Third World people. There seems to be something in our culture, or in our lack of religion, that leads to a shortage of native carers, forcing us to recruit caregivers from perhaps more caring cultures.

More depressing for me is to recognise myself as one of these westerners who could never become a carer, no matter to whom. And it’s no use telling myself, as Dalrymple tells himself, that I’m just not cut out for that kind of work. That just postpones the question of why others are cut out for caring but you aren’t. Why are you different from them?

Of course, I’m a man and probably most carers are women. Men seem loathe to look after anyone other than themselves, though when push comes to shove they might be able to temporarily take care of a sick wife or their own child.

Women on the other hand have generally been the caregivers at all times and in all places. They seem to be programmed to care for babies and this surely must help in caring for others. It is only in the modern world that progressives have started to say things like, ‘Men are just as capable as women of looking after children, the sick, the elderly or anyone else.’ I agree men are physically capable of doing these jobs, just as they are also physically capable of reading Chick Lit, shopping for clothes with our friends and drinking Babycham. It’s just that we aren’t temperamentally inclined to do so, for well-understood evolutionary reasons.

Another reason I would rather not look after someone is that, like many westerners, I would rather keep dribbling, urinating, defecating, snotty humanity at arm’s length. I just don’t want humanity to get too close to me. Third World people are perhaps less precious about themselves, probably because they can’t afford to be rather than through innate virtue. Since they often live cheek-by-jowl with others they get used to the very close presence of stinking humanity.

People who are good carers by vocation are probably caring people when off duty, too. So what does this say about a person who says he could never be a carer? Nothing good, I fear.

So what lesson I draw from all this? That our society has become less caring and that we have our priorities wrong when we raise diversity consultants above carers in both salary and status. Maybe it would do us all good if we became a little less precious about ourselves and made ourselves suited for caring. Yet I think only necessity, not choice, could drive me to becoming that good, caring, sharing person.


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