Being politically correct

It is sometimes reasonable to be politically correct. Often this simply means being sensitive to the feelings of others. For example we would not use the so-called “n word” because we would want to avoid offending the African-Americans in our midst. Likewise, we respect newspapers like the NZ Herald which write f*** and sh** instead of “fuck” and “shit” so as to avoid offending readers under seven years of age. This is no more than common courtesy.   

On the other hand political correctness is sometimes not applied when, in my view, it should be. I am an ageing male and I find it offensive when people I am doing business with call me by my given name. If I have to telephone the phone company or the electric power company, for example, I would wish to be addressed as Mr Wang. It seems, however, that the people who take customer calls have been instructed to call us by our first name. So I find some 16 year old girl, by the sound of her, calling me by my first name, yet she does not know me and I am old enough to be her grandfather. In my culture this is disrespectful.

The name Wang is the second most common family name in China and therefore, I suppose, the second most common family name in the world. When spoken correctly “Wang” rhymes with “hung” but bureaucrats almost invariably say my name so it rhymes with “hang”. I am not being critical of them, I am being critical of a system which allows them to consistently make this easily corrected error.

There’s more. The name Wang, when pronounced correctly, is spoken with a rising inflection, i.e. it starts low and ends a little higher. Let me explain. When a kiwi asks the question “Neat, eh?” the sound of “eh” is different from when he exclaims “Neat, eh!” When expressing the same two words as a question the “eh” is spoken with a rising inflection. Likewise, Wang must be spoken with a rising inflection if it is to be pronounced correctly.

A Chinese friend of mine has the surname Xu. This is often pronounced “zoo” by non-Chinese people, whereas the correct pronunciation is more like (but not exactly the same as) “shoo”. The pronunciation of the x is uniquely Chinese but “sh” is pretty close.

I know that Chinese is not one of New Zealand’s official languages, like Maori or sign language are, but I am pretty sure there would be more Chinese speakers in New Zealand than there are Maori speakers or deaf people. I suggest that we Chinese are as entitled as Maori to have our names pronounced correctly.

I would go further. In Chinese culture the family name comes before the given name. I find it culturally offensive that, in writing my name in official documents, I must put my given name before my family name. Governments bureaucrats should, I suggest, respect all cultures represented in New Zealand and not just the two predominant ones.

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