Back seat?

中国日报网 2012-11-09 12:25



Back seat?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “Quality repeatedly took a back seat to quantity”.

My comments:

Quality taking a back seat to quantity means that people often put greater store by quantity than quality. In their eyes, quantity is the more important consideration.

For instance, city officials may care more about the number of shoes their factories churn out a year than about whether these shoes all wear out in a matter of months.

You can find many examples of people allowing quantity to take the precedence of quality. And this is understandable, particularly in a developing country where people are kind of operating, so to speak, on the survival level. Quality of living is something they are less worried about. In developed countries this happens also with low-income people, who don’t pay much attention to quality of their food so long as they have an abundance of it. Therefore, a lot of poor people eat junk food, are obese, have diabetes.

Things are changing for the better in this country as people begin to care more about the quality of GDP than the mere quantity of it. While sheer GDP numbers may still dominate a city’s development agenda, people are no longer happy if it takes more energy and a greater toll on the environment to produce a dollar’s worth of GDP in their city than in others.

Progress, yes.

Anyways, “back seat” is the metaphor in question here. If you are attending a meeting and you take a seat in the back row instead of the front row, what does that suggest?

Well, it suggests that you may not be somebody who’s in the thick of things, so to speak. Or you are deferring to other people out of respect. Or you are simply someone who keeps a low profile. Whatever, you understand that seats in the front rows are actually the better seats.

In a theatre, the front seats, allowing one a better view of the actors and actresses, are more expensive.

A still better example is the car or bus. If you drive, you sit in the diver’s seat, which is the driving seat, one that’s in control of things. Then there’s the front seat besides and then one or several rows of back seats.

The back seats don’t offer much of a view and therefore are considered less desirable. In segregation-era America, black and other colored people were forced to take back seats, with the front seats reserved for white folks. Rosa Parks, if you recall “the first lady of civil rights” (who died in 2005), once refused to give her seat to a white person and move further back the bus when she was ordered to do so by the driver (who did so in accordance with the law at the time). Her refusal, making a long story short, helped change America.

The long and short of it all is the back seat is not a prominent position to be in. It has no views and less of a role to play. While people sitting in the front seats are sometimes asked to give directions, people sitting in the back seats have no such responsibility.

Well, of course there always are people sitting in the back seat shouting out directions and giving orders all the time – and are aptly called back-seat drivers – but they are, generally speaking, exceptions rather than the rule.

And the rule, once again, is that the back seat is a secondary position, one that is less significant, less responsible and less taken (willingly).

Here are media examples of people who take or are forced to take a back seat, both literally and figuratively:

1. BRITNEY SPEARS was forced to take a back seat on a recent trip to Beverley Hills.

The troubled star was pictured with her new social assistant and driver, while sitting next to one of her boys, but she was not allowed to take the wheel.

Britney was recently banned from driving her kids after being caught speeding through a red light with SEAN PRESTON and JAYDEN JAMES in the car.

Instead an appointed driver, who looks a happy chappy, took the wheel.

Let’s hope he brings a smile to Britney’s face.

- Meet Britney’s new entourage, The Sun, November 21, 2007.

2. Property owners: take note. Oregon is fast becoming one of the most affordable places to invest in ranches, recreational property, timberland and farming real estate. In the past we have been forced to take a back seat to the premier states of Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho. In this last decade, these states were considered the best values, the most beautiful and the best overall places to invest in properties of this type. Not so anymore.

The economic shift has thrown Oregon into the mix, Oregon holds its own beauty and value due to the price points it offers. East Coast buyers are discovering the value and the investment opportunities the state has to offer, Texans are looking hard at the abundance of water and grazing opportunities for the cattle market, and the recreational buyer is looking at the privacy and security Oregon offers in its lands, which lie in close proximity to small towns with great amenities, strong family values and relative low cost of living.

Sellers can capitalize on the trend of buyers looking at Oregon as well. If they follow the real market values of these types of properties, 2012 and 2013 should be banner years for any owners that want to divest from their land at real market prices. Many new prospects are looking at Oregon and are motivated to capitalize on the price, value and beauty our state offers.

In the past decade, several large tracts of Oregon land have been sold for impressive prices. In 2007, the Ochoco Ranch, 42,000 deeded acres of timbered high country near Prineville in central Oregon, sold for approximately $42 million. More recently in 2012, the Gutierrez Ranch and Cattle Company 21,529 deeded acres plus another 50,000 acres of Ochoco National Forest and BLM grazing permits just 85 miles east from Redmond, was listed for $21.5 million. These are only two examples to illustrate the growing interest investors are showing in the Beaver State.

- Oregon Fast Becoming the Go-To State for Land Investment,, April 14, 2012.

3. BRITISH naturalist Sir David Attenborough is still a hit with Australians after some of TV’s most acclaimed series took a back seat to the octogenarian’s two programs on Sunday night.

Attenborough’s natural history documentary and its accompanying behind-the-scenes special on the ABC were among the 10 most-watched shows.

In contrast, the Emmy-award-winning Homeland, US comedy Modern Family, crime series Bones and police drama The Mentalist all finished outside the Top 10.

Attenborough’s special Kingdom Of The Plants attracted 972,000 viewers to be seventh and The Making of Kingdom of the Plants was 10th with 909,000 viewers.

Despite Attenborough’s popularity, the night belonged to the Seven Network, which had four of the five most-watched shows for the evening.

Sunday Night was first with 1.377 million viewers, while Seven News had an audience of 1.163 million watchers for third place.

- David Attenborough still a hit in Oz,, October 22, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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