Complaining Across Cultures: A Light-Hearted Look

In my last post I reviewed a mid 1980’s novel called ”Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet By Nick Noye: A Book Review Of A Novel Set In Bangkok, Thailand.” One of the reasons for the enjoyment of the novel was that one of the main characters was a complaining English retired major. The major after a military career decided that his retirement would be taken in Asia,  not his native home in England. To be more precise he decided to retire in Bangkok. Thailand. Over to the Major for the reason why:

Bangkok, Thailand

” Couldn’t have returned to bloody England. A rented seaside flat, afternoons in the park or library, the Telegraph, an evening sherry, the television and penurious survival on my bloody pathetic pension? Not bloody likely.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.25)

Furthermore, the Major explains

” No, England’s not the bloody place to die in. Or live in. Take the weather. Where else can you experience winter, spring, summer and autumn within 24 hours? You need the metabolism of an eskimo, the endurance of an Indian ascetic and the skin of a bloody rhinoceros just to survive. And the food has to be the world’s worst. Expensive starch. Average peasant here eats better. And the English themselves! They never stop moaning. Everyone lives in the past. I’m no different. But at least there’s only one me here.” – Nick Noye, Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet (p.25)

Ne'er The Twain

Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet by Nick Noye

It got me thinking about the habit of moaning and complaining and as to what sorts of things people complain about. Do all cultures complain. Surely it’s not just us English?

Well, according to the brilliant book of essays called ” The Cultural Detective” by Christopher G. Moore and a specific essay in that book called ”The Culture Of Complaining” These are a few things that people worldwide may grumble about:

” Some cultures are complaint infested. Other cultures are complaint adverse. Men complain about women. Women complain about men. People complain about restaurant service, hotel rooms, the size of airline seats, their bosses, their spouses, their neighbours, their weight, their hair, their teeth, small dogs, religion, cold food, sex, bad diets, boredom, dating, noise, taxes, the weather, the government, T.V news, foreigners, genital warts and, of course, other drivers.” – Christopher.G.Moore – ” The Cultural Detective” (p.78)

cultural Detective

The Cultural Detective by Christopher G.Moore

At My Complaining Worst

Now I was worried as surely, I did not complain about all these sorts of things… did I? Going through the list I found there were many I never complain about, but certainly  a few I do complain about. Before I go any further, the genital warts category has never been on my complaints list….. thankfully.

In fact the following grumbles had occurred very recently:

1) British Weather: Top of the list was the bloody weather as I had some outside work to complete. Exterior water based masonry paint and masses of rain just don’t blend that well together.They tend to run off down my drive. The weatherman said it was going to be dry.

2) Queuing: Next up was long queue’s and the joy of watching one person serve in a shop and 4 pack shelves whilst I wait in a very long queue. Now that always gets my blood boiling as further intrusion on my time.

3) Road works: Being stuck in constant batches of road works. This is guaranteed to send my blood pressure sky-high. What I hate most is they tend to do the same areas all at once. You then get the joy of stopping for a while 3 or 4 times in succession….wonderful.

4) Other Drivers: The impolite morons. They say us Brits change as soon as we get behind the wheel of a car. There is something in this I think. Down my local gym I observe how people hold doors open for you and say things like, you first and after you. Politeness is very much the name of the game and a very nice calm atmosphere exists. Wind this forward to the car and it’s every man / woman for his or her self. Each driver feels the roads have specifically been built for them, so you had better let them through. Disobey this rule and you will receive their wrath in the way of a one fingered salute, a stand-off (neither car moves to let the other through) and possibly an altercation. It’s like the wacky races out there.


Not Particularly Fond Of British Weather

On reviewing I note however that most of my complaints revolve around the concept of time / progress. I usually have a plan for the day and if that plan is being altered by other people or things, then I am liable to throw a few toys out of my pram. Unfortunately, these are usually things outside of my control. Perhaps I should either take up meditating, stop cramming so much in to the day or take the advice of Jim Rohn.

The Advice Of Jim Rohn

I have been in the audience before when the brilliant late and great  Jim Rohn, America’s Foremost Business Philosopher starts talking about frustration and complaint. He would often recite the story of being stuck in traffic and needing to get to the airport, he calls it turning frustration in to fascination. I have tried this but failed to become fascinated, but in the words of Jim Rohn:

” I’m on my way to the airport to catch a plane that leaves in 45 minutes. The traffic is not moving one inch. I am now fascinated – not frustrated, but fascinated. But I must admit, it doesn’t work every time.” – Jim Rohn ” The Treasury Of Quotes” (p.49)


The Treasury Of Quotes by Jim Rohn

Do The English Really Complain That Much

Well, back over to Christopher G. Moore who spotted this:

” In England the complaint is a birthright. In fact there are U.K. websites that offer the services of a peculiar British consultant: the complaint expert. These experts help you get the hang of the fine art of complaining in England.” – C.G.Moore – ” The Cultural Detective” (p.79)

To be honest the art of complaining has been the hub of some of our finest comedy. Take the British sitcom called ” One Foot In The Grave” starring old misery guts Victor Mildrew and his famous line to everything that went wrong of ” I don’t believe it.”

Now we have that complaining Mancunian Karl Pilkington as he moans his way around the world in ” The Moaning Of Life.” Once again this is funny if only for the mindset of the man. Very little excites him and he was apparently born grumpy and frowning.


The Moaning Of Life by Karl Pilkington

The Girl From New Zealand

When I was 19 years of age, a friend and I decided to travel around the world. It was basically that we had worked at home, saved all of our money together and decided to go. The trip (a very long story), comprised of visiting places, but also we had to work where ever we could as well. After spending quite a while in California, we moved on to New Zealand. On the flight from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand we asked a native New Zealand girl how she thought we would get on in her country. The reply has always stuck with me and was also true. She said; ”you’ll be called whinging pommie bastards.” Good grief,we had not even complained about anything yet.

I Very Rarely If Ever Complain When In Thailand

I must admit that I very rarely, if ever complain when I am in Thailand. Often those around me have moans about the heat, the mosquito’s at night, the traffic, jams in Bangkok, how crowded China Town is, their hotel and the list goes on. I find in Thailand I am much more content and apply the old adage of ” change what you can’t accept and accept what you cannot change”.

For instance take the river taxi instead of the road taxi, wear long sleeved shirts at night, use energy on the important tasks of the day and take a bit more rest, I use energy in bursts in Thailand. I have no need for a hotel as the basic guest house suits me fine and is always comfortable and convenient. Finally, China Town would not be China Town if it were not hot and crowded. That is a main part of the joy of China Town. Why do I not complain about anything in Thailand? That’s a post on its own I think and calls for a bit of analysis.


Traffic Jams In Bangkok, Thailand

Some Visitors To Thailand Do Complain Though

In the splendid book called  ” Watching The Thais”  by Tom Tuohy (Review), an excellent book full of helpful advice about life in Thailand and Thai culture. Tom recites a story about an American woman who he witnessed in a restaurant in Silom Road, Bangkok demanding her food be made exactly as she has it in America and giving detailed instructions for the process. The food returned, but it took a time to arrive causing the obnoxious woman to call for the manager. In Thailand, ranting, raving and confrontation are simply not advised and the Thais stay away from it as much as possible. It basically causes all round embarrassment and loss of face. These negative emotions in Thai society can have fatal consequences if grudges are harbored. Personally, I despise people like this where ever they come from and including England. This is what Tom Tuohy had to say about it:


Silom Road, Bangkok

”It also reminded me of the old adage that ‘People travel a thousand miles but never really leave home’. This woman obviously had an inflated sense of her own importance as an individual which had come to clash with the way things are done in a collectivist society. With delusions of grandeur,she had traveled thousands of miles from America expecting the same food, the same service, and general pandering to her whimsical needs. She had made a mistake that so many visitors to Thailand make: expecting everything to be the same as the place they just came from and finding they were wrong. A good lesson therefore for those intending to visit Thailand is to remember that things are done differently here and when for example things are done in a way you don’t expect – your taxi is going a different way, your food is late, or you get something you didn’t order, a big smile followed by a calm enquiry will almost always get you a more
positive outcome.” Tom Tuohy ” Watching The Thais” (p.26)


Watching The Thais by Tom Tuohy

When An American Is Displeased With Service

A couple of years ago in my own small home town in the South-West of England, I was stood in a long queue at the bank. It was my usual gripe that there was only one person serving and where the hell was anyone else. When banking, people often have tasks to carry out that can take a while, so the queue was moving very slowly indeed. Now in England we often tolerate things (with a stiff upper lip of course), much longer than a lot of nations would. Usually you will hear a few tut’s in the queue, a few ” how long is this going to take” comments to each other, a few ” you think they would have more than one serving’ – wouldn’t you, but we tolerate it. However, in the queue that day was an American man who was having none of it. Right there and right then he let the whole bank know of his displeasure. It basically (in between the god damn’s and what the hell in God’s name), went along the lines of get somebody else out to serve now. The approach was direct and what we English might term as rude, but the result was two people serving immediately.


The County Of Dorset In The South-West of England

Fawlty Towers sketch

I am not a fan of television. More of a movies fan really, but my favourite television series ever has to be Fawlty towers starring the brilliant John Cleese. The American in the bank very much reminded me of the American in one of the Fawlty towers episodes. Very dissatisfied with the service he’d received, the American lets hotel owner Basil Fawlty know all about it. As soon as the American had dished out his dressing down to the hotel owner, then the rest of the guests who are English have their say. The final say goes to hotel owner Basil Fawlty who goes on one of his famous rants to all of them… brilliant stuff.

So Do The Thais Themselves complain

Back to Christopher G. Moore in the book ”The Cultural Detective” and the essay called The Culture Of Complaining: The author states that complaining, having a moan and griping is very much a shared process and we spend a lot of our lives doing so. Life is very much a game of you tell me your grumbles and I’ll tell you mine. So back in Thai society: Do the Thais themselves complain much?

” In Thailand the tradition has been not to complain. No one advertises as a complaint expert unless they are looking for trouble. Thais appear to understand what the rest of us neglect to take into account: that complaints are a slippery slope to be avoided. Complaints don’t nest alone. They breed. Here’s a worrisome offspring – call him Mr. Blame You. You can hardly complain without blaming somebody.” Christopher G. Moore ” The Cultural Detective” (p.79)


So complaining, moaning, whinging, griping, call it what you will seems to occur when things don’t quite go our way. Just imagine if everything you did, went exactly as planned without any difficulties at all. My complaining outside of my time being wasted type of complaints are I believe to do with a lack of skills. More often than not this would be to do with something technical and the complaint would be ” what’s the matter with this bloody thing and why doesn’t it work.” The last quote has to be from Jim Rohn once again. It sums up just what I mean.

” Don’t wish it was easier; wish you were better. Don’t wish for less problems; wish for more skills. Don’t wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom.” – Jim Rohn ” The Treasury Of Quotes” (p.79)

And Very Finally

I recently asked  a wise lady and published author via one of the social networking channels, why she thought people complain, I think she hit the nail right on the head. Her answer was ” This is what happens when people don’t have real problems.” (In view of the recent terrible typhoon in the Philippines where thousands are feared dead), I thought that statement summed it all up perfectly.Our thoughts and sympathies are with all the good people of the Philippines.


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