From ‘Stewardess making announcements:Why the need to specify her origins?’, 25 May 2013, ST Forum
(Kua Bak Lim): WHEN on board a recent Singapore Airlines Beijing/Singapore flight, I was puzzled when the flight stewardess who made announcements in Mandarin identified herself as someone from China. It struck me as odd that the airline found it necessary to make such a distinction when it came to announcements in Mandarin.
I then asked the in-flight supervisor whether the stewardess or steward on board an SIA flight to London needed to declare that he or she was from the United Kingdom when making announcements. The answer was no. This piece of personal information about the staff is completely irrelevant to the announcements, regardless of the language spoken.
This, in my view, tends to be divisive for the staff on board. I also find it disconcerting for SIA’s image as a world-class international airline. One also cannot help but notice that there seems to be the subtle insinuation that Singaporeans cannot speak good Mandarin, which is certainly not true.
Would the SIA management please comment?
There’s no need for an SIA stewardess from China to announce her origins simply because her accent and grammatical precision would be a dead giveaway, if the intention is to cater to PRCs on board. SIA has been hiring foreign staff for a while now so it’s no secret, though they still insist on keeping the ‘Singapore Girl’ moniker. As of April 2013, 7 out of 10 cabin crew are locals, with Malaysians, Thais, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Koreans making up the numbers. It is perhaps the only airline in the world to brand their attendants after a nationality. Even Air India doesn’t call their ladies ‘India Girl’, nor China Airlines ‘China Girl’. The latter is also derogatory in the local context, often associated with mistresses and illegal immigrants than a glamorous profession that involves pushing foodcarts up and down a aisle asking if people want the chicken or the beef.
Interestingly, according to the SIA recruitment site, it’s a prerequisite to be ‘proficient in English and Mandarin’ if you’re a Taiwanese, whereas the requirement specified for candidates from China is just ‘a HIGH level of English proficiency’, though I believe the average Chinese or Taiwanese native could deliver any announcement in Mandarin without much difficulty at all. No such language criteria has been set for the Singaporean candidate, though you’d need to have A and O Level credits in General Paper and English respectively. Which means you can fail your Chinese exams and still become a successful Singapore Girl. But having splendid passes in GP or even Chinese doesn’t necessarily make you proficient in ANY language. The writer above seems highly optimistic about our locals’ standards of spoken Mandarin, but if we were that good we wouldn’t need ‘Speak Mandarin campaigns’. Even ang mo children put Chinese Singaporean adults like myself to shame. I can only remember one Chinese nursery rhyme during my childhood, the one that goes ‘san zi lao hu’ (Three Tigers, Three Tigers, run very fast, run very fast, one has no eyes, one has no ears, very strange, very strange), compared to today’s non-Chinese kids reciting Confucian EPICS like San Zi Jing.
So how many Singaporeans you know are actually up to the task of delivering a message to international travellers over a PA system? How many can deliver a simple interview to a Mandarin news crew in full sentences? How about telling a Chinese tourist the TIME? Not a lot, apparently. Ex Mediacorp actor Ix Shen says we have a TOTAL DISREGARD for grammar and sentence construction. Sumiko Tan posits that English educated folks like herself lacked interest in the language because it was forced down our throats and not promoted in a fun, lively way. Journalist and film-maker Pek Siok Lan mocks our ‘half-baked English and half-baked Chinese’. Back in 1981, a Taiwanese professor urged us to ‘DROP Singapore Mandarin’ because we were over -’translitering’ it. We could consider a Speak Mandarin mascot like Water Wally or Singa, but it would be hard to conceive of a character related to Chinese culture without making it a dragon or coming across as racist and xenophobic.
From a business and customer service standpoint, it’s better for SIA to let a ‘professional’ handle a Mandarin announcement than risk an unseasoned Singaporean butchering it in front of PRCs, generally thought to be so proud of their language they wouldn’t stand for anything slipshod and ‘half-baked’. It would also be a hassle for the cabin crew if PRCs started throwing up their meals because they heard us speak. But you don’t have to tell people you’re from China because it’s obvious and it would confuse everyone about what ‘Singapore Girl’ means. I suppose with enough practice, a true ‘Singapore Girl’ would be able to deliver Mandarin with striking confidence. Maybe that would be the ‘makeover’ that we locals can truly be proud of, a bilingual SIA stewardess who knows what is Chinese for ‘mild turbulence’ and ‘fried mee goreng’, rather than say, toning down on blue eyeshadow.
Filed under: 1980s, 2013, Campaigns/Elections, Foreign workers, PRCs, Singapore Airlines, Singlish/Broken english, Tourists | Tagged: announcements, Campaigns/Elections, Foreign workers, PRCs, SIA, Singapore Airlines, Singlish/Broken english, stewardess, tourism, Tourists | Leave a comment »