Very recently I was in a regular doctor’s office for the first time in a long time. I was sitting next to the nurse’s desk, filling out required paperwork when another patient came in. The nurse began asking them very personal questions and I awkward interjected that I’d finish the paperwork somewhere else so I wouldn’t intrude upon the other patient’s privacy.
“Don’t worry…privacy doesn’t exist here,” the Aussie replied which nonchalance.
It struck me as profound, both as a statement, and the utter lack of resentment in her tone. Just…that’s how it is, and I’ve accepted that.
Back home, doctor’s offices are places where no private information is given in public. Medications you’re on, medical history…all done in private. In fact, a doctor’s office could get in a lot of trouble for talking about patient’s condition or medication regime or anything publicly, much less in public with that patient.
The thing is, disclosure is fairly endemic here. A friend commented on his twitter feed that they could ask the applicants for a job to put down their weight. Marital status, what your partner does, if you’re planning to have kids…all fair game questions in the interview process. I’ve mentioned before that strangers feel empowered to hug Elanor, touch her, offer her candy…things that would have far more high strung parents in the US calling for police. From what I’ve read in magazines here, “me” time isn’t really something that is part of Singaporean culture…the focus is wider; on the family, not the individual.
There are certainly positives and negatives to this lack of privacy. I like that strangers in Singapore are looking out for my daughter and teaching her that most people in this world have good intentions. I hate “stranger danger” and all that rubbish…most abuse (over 80%) is meted out by people the victim knows, not a random stranger. But on the opposite side…I am extremely uncomfortable with sharing my medical history in a public forum like a waiting room.
When I brought it up to the doctor, he told me that in the future I could ask to be taken somewhere more private, which surprised me. I had expressed my unhappiness with sharing private information and the nurse hadn’t offered to change the venue or even blinked. But it’s worth trying in the future.
Part of me was in awe of the other woman. Her utter lack of resentment and acceptance that it was just how things ARE here struck me. That’s the sort of attitude I aspire to, but often fail at (I ended up in tears in the waiting room, which is why I addressed things with the doctor–it felt humiliating to share several details about myself that I am not comfortable talking about in the best of circumstances, which this was not). I wonder how easily or hard won that nonchalance was. Did she spend years fighting against the immoveable object only to finally surrender? Or was it easier for her?
How long will it take for me to have that sort of acceptance? As someone fiercely protective of my privacy, I don’t know…