One man’s fish is another man’s poisson

I once got a phone call from The South African advertising association.
They wanted to know if I’d fly down there to give a lecture.
The man on the phone was very pleasant.
He said, “We’ll fly you and your wife down here and put you up at the best hotel. You’ll have a great time.”
This was in the days of apartheid.
So I said, “My wife is Chinese, will that be a problem?”
He said, “Ah, hang on a minute.”
He put the phone down.
I could hear him rustling through some papers.
He came back and said, “Well, if she was Japanese she’d count as white, and she could stay in the same hotel as you.”
I waited.
He said, “But as she’s Chinese she counts as non-white. So she couldn’t stay in the same hotel.”
Later that night I told my wife.
She was furious.
But not about what I expected.
Not that South Africans counted her as non-white.
She knew that was stupid.
She’d lived in multi-racial Singapore until she was 17.
She’d lived in London ever since.
She says she’s never encountered racism in either place.
So she considers anyone who’s racist too stupid to be worth bothering with.
She wasn’t upset that we were expected to stay in separate hotels.
She knew we’d never go under those circumstances.
So again, that wasn’t even worth bothering with.
No, what really upset her was that the idea that the Japanese could be considered superior to the Chinese.
That made her furious.
See, people react differently to issues of race.
When we were about to open Gold Greenlees Trott, a German agency called Lurzer Conrad wanted to back us.
I went to Frankfurt to have lunch with them.
It was all very pleasant, everyone smiling.
Then one of them said to me, “By the way, how do you feel about working with a Jew?”
I stopped for a minute because I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.
Who was he talking about?
Then it clicked.
He must mean Goldie: Mike Gold.
Was Mike Jewish?
Well apparently Gold is a Jewish name, so maybe he was.
But he’s not very Jewish.
See, I’m from East London and I was educated in New York.
Both very Jewish places.
You don’t notice who is or isn’t Jewish because it’s everywhere.
In fact, when I went to New York, Americans kept asking me how come I knew so many Jewish words.
But I didn’t know they were Jewish words: schmuck, nosh, klutz, bagel, matzos, schlep, schmatter.
Where I grew up it was just cockney slang.
Then, when I got to New York, there was a whole new bunch of slang: zaftig, tukas, bubala, maven, kibitz, plotz, borscht, chutzpah.
So asking me how I felt about working with a Jew was like asking me how I felt about working with a Pisces, or someone with ginger hair.
Pretty irrelevant, why would you even ask?
If they’re good, they’re good.
Why would anything else count?
But the next thought through my mind was, blimey he means it.
This is Germany.
Germans don’t do jokes.
He’s asking a serious question.
So I went back and told the two Mikes.
And Goldie decided we didn’t need German backing to open the agency after all.

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    I remember some smart alec bemoaning the fact that as a northener I was down in London taking a Londoners job. We were working up in wc1 at the time so I asked him where he exactly he came from. “Bermondsey” came the reply. I told him in know uncertain terms that if he went back to Bermondsey to go and work I would go back to Manchester.

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    A friend of mine is an Electrician. He was working on site one day with two black guys.
    He noticed one kept calling the other “Nxxxxx”. He drew him to one side because he hates bullies. He said to the man: “Will you stop calling your mate “Nxxxxx”. The chap was flabbergasted and said: “Why?” My friend replied: “Well it’s discrimination mate, because if I can’t use that word then neither can you! Racism isn’t really racism at all, it’s just an excuse to find a difference to put someone weaker than ones self down, and we all do it, whether we like it or not. We are all guilty.

    Having said that, I take my hat off to younger generations who have not lived through or seen the change in attitude in the UK, but are a very significant part of that change for a more tolerant society. I was working in Saudi Arabia when the 911 bomb went off. The day before I had gone to the supermarket to do my shopping and everything was peaceful. The day after, people were throwing their half empty coffee cups down in front of my feet and cursing at me as I walked towards the supermarket that evening, so I know what it feels like to be discriminated against. Believe you me, it’s not a nice feeling. You get to know who your REAL friends are pretty quickly.

    Goldie was right. If other people feel they can make money out of you then you can make money out of it for yourselves. We had a similar thing when we started an ad agency back in the 80’s. We nearly tied the knot with Still Price Court. It would have been a great marriage but we would never have had control over our destiny. Companies can channel debt into subsidiaries and close them down overnight in order to survive. It’s not nice, but it is a fact that any start-ups should bear in mind before going into bed with anyone.
    The adworld is so volatile it’s always prone to take-overs and buy-outs. Stability is key.

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    my Dad is Palestinian/Jordanian, lots of his best friends are Jewish.

    one of my best friends is Nigerian, i have seen a side of London life i’ve never seen before when i’m out with him (and i’m not talking nightclubs 🙂

    prejudice is unnecessary and hurts people.

    open minded tolerance is the way to go..

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    where is alf garnett when you need him to make sense of all this stuff.
    what do you mean he was played by a jew, not alf surely…

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    Name, Jesus.

    Main Course:
    Born, Bethlehem.

    Nationality, Palestinian.

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    Dave, you can tell your missus that there is definitely racism in Singapore. Being Chinese she probably wouldn’t have noticed it but ask any Malay or Indian Singaporean and they would give you entirely different feedback. Don’t get me wrong: it’s particularly obvious and everything is well controlled (surprise, surprise) but the underlying tensions are still there.

    As a Caucasian who’s been working in Singapore for the last 16+ years, I would agree with you that you do become oblivious to ‘differences’ when you immerse yourself in a particular culture. People stop being Chinese, Indian, Malay, Caucasian or whatever – they’re just people.

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    yep – the right wing fundamental Christians don’t bang-on so much about that, do they?

    I used to feel uncomfortable about the growing Christian fascism across the water – all guns, jesus and Charlton Heston – and now it seems to be taking hold over here.

    What is it with hard-core religious types – whichever brand of god they subscribe to – why can’t they be accepting of others’ views, opinions and beliefs?

    They’ve been beating each other up in the name of their Gods since they created the deities – and what has it solved or proven.

    How futile – when something to believe in and set moral standards for the masses is used as an excuse to attack perceived enemies.

    Race and religion are instrinsically entwined in this madness – we are one species – different colours, different ideas – but essentially the same – why can’t everyone celebrate and enjoy the differences, instead of using them as excuses to separate off in to little angry mobs of zealots.

    Crumbs – that’s a bit of a departure from gardener’s corner.

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    Hi Conor,
    Personally I felt more racism in Hong Kong than in S’pore.
    There’s a lot of harmless piss-taking in S’pore.
    But I subscride to Dawn French and Lenny Henry’s motto “If it’s funny it’s not bad taste, and if it’s bad taste it’s not funny.”
    I. like you. will always be an Ang Mo to Singaporeans, but it always seems to be said with a laugh.
    Same about Malay, Indian, Hakka, Cantonese, Nonya, underneath they’re all Singaporeans.
    Hi Gotnoteef,
    Fundamentalism feeds fundamentalism.
    Everyone gets polarised and moderates get squeezed out.
    Bin Laden feeds Bush.
    The Mail feeds The Guardian.
    People are forced to take sides because ‘everyone hates a neutral’.
    I agree, we don’t want homogeneity, celebrate the differences.
    At its best that’s what advertising does.

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    Racism, like any form of discrimination, has held the world back far more than most people realise. There are geniuses capable of the most amazing advances in technology, science etc, etc, that come from all races. When these people are discriminated against they’re talents are lost or restricted, potentially forever. In the end everyone in the world suffers from discrimination.

  • Thank you for article i like some articles very interesting i will share my friends.

    Good luck

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    Here’s a funny one:

    I’m talking to an Indian chap the other day who tells me he is worried about Tibet.
    Why? “Because it was very safe under Indian rule, when Indian Troops were there, but now it’s dangerous because Chinese troops are mustering at the Indian border and they’re not going back, but increasing in number”. Apparently they know this because when the weather gets bad only the monks can hack it up in the Mountains. All the Chinese troops come down from the mountainside into the lowlands, but they are coming down in ever-increasing numbers. Of course there is another racism going on here. The racism of ideaology.

  • Good article. Interesting words discussed here. Look forward for latest articles.

  • so nice to know. i would do the same thing as you did. haha

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