No bow, just a hi for greeting

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 30, 2013

Singapore Polytechnic engineering student Aloysius Chan greets his mother with a "Hi, mum" when she returns home from the market.

He also makes it a point to accompany his 53-year-old mother so that she does not dine alone at home in their Hillview Avenue apartment, even if he has already eaten.

When his parents, who run their own businesses and are often away on work trips, step into their apartment, Mr Chan, 21, interrupts his phone calls with friends to greet them.

"I'll yell out to them, say, 'Hi, dad. I'm here'," says the youngest of three children. His father is 56.

When he is leaving the apartment for his part-time job as a waiter, he also lets them know.

"Some people think it's cheesy to acknowledge one's parents like this. I may be 21, an adult, but I still have to account to them," he says.

"Besides, once they are gone, there's no more mum or dad to say hi to."

Certainly, he would not be chided by the likes of MediaCorp actors Chen Hanwei and Zoe Tay for not acknowledging his elders.

Recent media reports quoted Chen, 43, as singling out a younger colleague who did greet veteran actors such as himself and Tay. He did not name the person, whom he called rude.

But is it rudeness or a consequence of changing mores? National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan says norms change over time.

While older Asian folks might have expected their offspring to bow to them when they entered a room, today's adults do not do so with their parents - much less their own kids, who may merely say, "Oh, hi!" to their grandparents.

Says Associate Professor Straughan: "Formalities, which served as barriers between generations, are broken down as parents initiate more casual forms of greeting or address, in the hopes of fostering closer relationships with their children."

The bottom line of what is acceptable or not depends on each family's "threshold", she adds.

She says: "In some families, children are encouraged to challenge their parents as a way of encouraging intellectual discourse.

"In some families or cultures, pointing to something with one's foot is considered very rude."

Ms Yeo Miu Ean says calling out to parents before leaving home has become impractical.

"As parents are often out working and not at home, children have gotten used to leaving their homes without updating their elders," says Ms Yeo, 50, who is chief success officer of Charistal, a work-life training consultancy.

Besides, with mobile phones, "kids think they are contactable any time and may not see the need to inform" their parents of the details of their whereabouts, she adds.

Ironically, in 2009, she appeared in Australian reality television series, World's Strictest Parents, about unruly teenagers who are sent to live with strict parents in other countries for a week.

She and her husband, Mr Chua Hung Meng, 56, who works in a bank, hosted two Australian teenagers.

She says they found the boy and the girl "mostly acceptable", except when they entered her bedroom to steal the house key to leave home and ran away from school.

With their own children, two daughters aged 22 and 18, Ms Yeo and her husband expect an "I'm home" call-out, followed by a "brief chat", when the children return to the family's apartment in Balestier Road.

When they dine as a family, the children do not have to defer to their elders before tucking in.

Ms Yeo says: "Greeting parents robotically does not bring much additional quality to family relationships. It's more important that the family has good conversations at the dining table than to greet and keep silent during the meal or leave quickly."

She adds that her parents did not expect her to greet them before meals either.

Whatever the winds of change do to cultural practices through the years, teacher H. Yunos, 26, feels that "basic manners", such as asking for permission to leave a room or being tactful, should stand the test of time.

She says one reason for the lack of social graces in younger people could be because they copy adults' behaviour.

Ms Iris Lin, head of the youth division and senior social worker of Fei Yue Community Services, thinks politeness is a matter of upbringing.

Given that both parents in many families today have to work, "caregiving and imparting of values" tend to be left to grandparents, maids or teachers, who may not impart values the way that parents would - or should.

Says Ms Lin, 32: "Grandparents love and indulge their grandchildren and may not enforce discipline.

"Domestic helpers look after a child's basic needs and may not go the extra mile to inculcate values to someone else's child."

As for teachers, their hands are already full with covering curriculums.

In her household, says Ms Chandrakala Samugan, 40, her children aged 21, 16 and 13 say hello to relatives and serve them drinks when they visit.

They also know when to make themselves scarce.

Ms Chandrakala, who runs a trading firm, and her husband Kunaseelan Rajandiran, 45, an assistant director in a hotel, share their five-room Housing Board flat in Upper Boon Keng Road with her mother-in-law and her husband's single brother.

She says: "When the elders talk, the children automatically go to their rooms, especially if it is a sensitive topic such as a divorce."

There is no need to know "negative things" too early and not eavesdropping means details will not be relayed - and misunderstood.

Eldest child Gayathri Kunaseelan, who is busy with her ITE business administration studies, complies. She says: "I don't interfere. I know my limits."

Marketing executive Cherie Loh, 27, feels that age reduces enthusiasm. She acknowledges her relatives at their weekly gatherings "less enthusiastically" now than when she was a child.

The elder of two daughters of a sales manager father and retail assistant mother, both in their 50s, she says: "When we were younger, my parents were stricter about us greeting every single relative who walked through the door at the relative's home where we gathered.

"Now, it's own time, own target."

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 30, 2013

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