As a Mum and former flight attendant, I watch with disgust the stories that are filling my facebook news feed today. Amidst planes disappearing , and planes being shot out of the sky, the world of aviation has brought some more, truly shocking news. It seems that sometime in the middle of last week, a Chinese toddler had a poo. The headlines range from the indignant Delta Passengers Outraged when Child Poops on Airplane Seat, to the crude “Chinese boy takes a dump on airplane floor, Shames Chinese everywhere” to the clever, but suspiciously conflicting, “Airline Passengers Kick up a Stink on a Delta Flight from Beijing to Detroit after Chinese Family let Toddler Poop on his Seat”.
OK, ladies and gentlemen, I have some news for you…
Before I was a parent, I flew for a major British Airlline for 11 years. Our motto was “to fly to serve”, and I served passengers from all over the world. From experience, I can tell you that people puke on airplanes, people masturbate on airplanes, people die on airplanes and yes: shock, horror: people, especially children, shit on airplanes – and not always in the correct location.
I have personally found poo in the aircraft toilet sink. (I am not sure if the culprit was Chinese, but since we were travelling from Bogota, it is unlikely). And I have found people pooing in all the wrong places. On a flight from the Middle East, I once opened a toilet door, to see an elderly woman, veiled, way up where she shouldn’t be, squatting with her feet on the toilet seat (I suppose she may have been Chinese, but I doubt it). I have seen drunk passengers try to unzip their fly in the back galley, ready to aim. None were Chinese. Famous actor, Gerard Depardieu was forced to apologise after pissing on the floor of a Dublin City Jet (read the details here) in 2011. Gerard Depardieu is not Chinese, but French.
In my time as a trolley dolly, I carried many A-listers on board including Angelina Jolie, Paul McCartney, the late Steve Irwin, Lenny Henry, Elvis Costello, Liam Gallagher, Ian Mckellen and even Nelson Mandela. They were all very long flights and I can tell your for certain that each one of these celebrities went into the First Class toilet at least once, which means that each one of them MAY have had a poo on board my plane. How’s that for news?
Angelina Jolie may have had a poo on board my plane
Yup, passengers have been pooping, both appropriately and inappropriately, on airplanes for decades.
My senior colleagues of the mid-nineties, those esteemed cabin stewards of the former BOAC, had plenty of stories about the good old days…and some of them were about poo. They reminisced about flights from Delhi to the Middle East during the 1960’s when they transported plane-loads of lower caste Indian workers to build the Empire that is Dubai. These men had never used a flush toilet before, let alone a toilet on a plane. “You had to close the flight deck door on landing”, my colleagues remembered, “because there would be balls of poo rolling down the aisles as we taxied”.
Or how about the flight, where my 1960’s colleague asked “where is your baby, madam?”, and the uneducated woman pointed to the overhead locker. Urban myth? No. It really happened.
In my time as cabin crew, these were funny stories that were shared and appreciated over drinks in the hotel bar. No one ever said: “dirty buggers”, or “Ugh, how uncivilized”, unless we were totally joking. (Irony and Sarcasm have not yet been made a crime in the UK). As members of the international community, we knew that foreigners poked as much fun at us as we did them. For example, I remember being told that while we thought Japan generally smells a bit fishy, to the Japanese, England- and its inhabitants- generally smell a bit like sour milk, a bit like sweaty feet. Imagine!
But while cultural differences can make good jokes, and good building blocks for urban myths, they do not make good headlines, at least not in the way this one was used today in social media.
Is this Responsible Journalism?
As a media observer, I want to ask: What is the purpose of such an article? Is it to entertain, to inform, to educate? No. The purpose of a “news story” about a little Chinese boy having a poo is purely for audience numbers. It’s the kind of story that may go viral.
And the effect of such an article?
At best, the effect of such a harmful non-story is to humiliate one Chinese family. At worst, the story will be shared by many to promote xenophobia and racism, specifically against the Chinese, and more specifically, against the “old” Chinese, you know- those without the Louis Vuitton Handbags, Hummers, and flush toilets. I think this is criminal, and most sadly, disrespectful to the elderly.
Finally, I ask, is this article actually true? Did the family fly direct from Beijing (PEK) to Detroit (DET)? The answer is yes, Delta offers a 777 service daily from Beijing to Detroit, so it is possible. However, one of my colleagues who still works for an airline points out that the photograph shown in the first article (the one with the ridiculous animations), is a narrow-bodied jet, not a 777. So, what is this grainy picture?
Finally, did the cabin staff really “plead” with the family to use the toilet?. As crew, my first course of action would have been to enlist a translator, such as one of the other hundred or so Chinese passengers aboard, to help explain the problem. In my experience, if crew are “pleading” with passengers, then something has already gone wrong.
Most of us will never know exactly what happened last week to this poor humiliated family, but my guess is that the loving grandparents, during a long flight, discreetly helped their toddler have a poo- and it was all said and done -or at least halfway out- before anyone could explain what they were doing wrong. Big deal.
Do the Chinese Let Their Children Poop and Pee all over the Place?
So, you are asking, do the Chinese let their children pee and poop all over the place? I don’t know for sure. I have never lived in China. But here is a link from one Westerner who lived there for six years. See: Chinese Toilet Training. On her web pages, she describes the custom of toilet training, and says “you see naked little bums everywhere”. Ah, here’s one now…and look how cute and clean it is!
Now, let me ask you parents out there. If you had a gorgeous tiny tot who needed to pee when you were out shopping, would you rather take his clothes off, and make him sit over an open sewer (many public toilets are simply holes in the ground), or would you encourage him squat and do his business in the corner, like everyone else’s baby? I know that my choice, if it was within my culture, would be to opt for the bare bum in the corner.
So, the truth? Here are my own set of “facts”:
- This is what some toddlers in some parts of China do.
- It happened on an American plane.
- The flight attendants probably got a little “shitty” with the family.
- Someone “leaked” the story to the media.
- It is not news.
- We should all be a little bit more civilized.
Finally, for the newspapers and social media websites out there, I have a new headline for you. How about:
Western Journalists and bloggers should be ashamed of themselves for making a big shit about a set of Chinese grandparents who weren’t aware of our toileting customs.