A cautionary tale: to keep your job, keep your racism to yourself
Daimler’s China chief obviously didn’t like the country, but he has learned the hard way about the need for discretion
Germans are having a tough time with China lately. No, I don’t mean Berlin’s alarm over Chinese state-owned enterprises gobbling up the country’s prized hi-tech companies. Rather, its top people just keep insulting the Chinese.
The furore surrounding Germany’s European commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, after his demeaning remarks, has barely died down and now, Rainer Gaertner, president of Daimler Trucks and Buses in China, has followed up with invective of his own over a parking spot. Or rather, ex-president.
Daimler has removed him from his post and issued an apology on his behalf. He allegedly shouted racist abuse at another driver and onlookers in a luxury neighbourhood in Beijing. They were fighting over a parking space when he allegedly yelled: “I am in China one year already. The first thing I learned here is that all you Chinese are bastards.” When a small crowd gathered, he reportedly pepper-sprayed them, injuring one onlooker.
The incident on Sunday has become a major trending topic in social media on the mainland, with calls for boycotts against the German carmaker.
Daimler’s decision is a wise one. If nothing else, Gaertner clearly was under a lot of stress and did not enjoy his stay in the host country. Maybe he will now be sent to another post more to his liking. Certainly, one hopes he learns a lesson by keeping his mouth shut.
A few weeks ago, while speaking at a private forum, Oettinger was caught calling Chinese “slitty-eyed” and mocked a delegation of visiting mainland officials for having their “hair combed from left to right with shoe polish”.
However, to be fair, he also insulted women, gays and the Belgian region of Wallonia in his speech. Why Wallonia? Probably because the region was the last holdout that almost sank an important trade pact between the EU and Canada. At the time, a lot of Canadians were cursing Wallonia, too. Oettinger subsequently had to apologise for his remarks, which seemed to be equal-opportunity insults to everyone.
I never begrudge someone for not liking a country or its people, Chinese or not.
The trick is to keep your feelings to yourself and not lose it in public at a time when everyone has a smartphone with a high-resolution camera and a YouTube account. It’s not just about good manners, but keeping your job.