Got into the wrong side of the car once last week. Too used to getting into the left seat now.
Said “hola” to a stranger I passed on Shaftesbury’s narrow pavements. Fortunately it was misheard, and fortunately too, greeting strangers is still socially acceptable in Dorset villages.
Panicked once at a tiny roundabout in Surrey, it was deserted, and neither going left nor right around it felt instinctively correct.
Threw my loo paper in a bucket in the corner, then remembered I was in the UK and had to fish it out and drop it in the toilet. Sorry, perhaps that is “too much information”!
Shared a cab with four Spanish youngsters from Bournemouth Airport to the town centre – it was confusing. We chatted away in Spanish and the Russian taxi-driver joined in too. The sun was shining, it was hard to fathom that I’d arrived back in the UK for a week-long visit. Getting out of the cab I grabbed a coffee and a bacon sandwich in Chikitita’s Spanish cafe in Bournemouth. A family at the next table, from northern Spain and living in Bournemouth, were planning their first ever holiday in Málaga and wondering if they’d like it. I assured them they would.
Skyping a Spanish friend kept the language going but it feels as though now it is embedded deeply enough that in a week away I will not lose it all. Some messaging on the online group of classmates from the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas kept me up with their verb practice.
Outside in the streets it is clear that the General Election is getting closer and the UKIP threat is not diminishing. From where has this fear of difference come? A country that is admittedly short of space but so rich in food, wealth, and service industries, which once actively encouraged people in to do jobs the indigenous population didn’t care to do, has become a nation suspicious and aggressive to incomers, willing to believe regurgitated lies about “benefit-scroungers” and somehow able to ignore truths about the net tax contributions of workers originating from elsewhere. England, oh England …. it is true that England has changed, but it is not the variety of faces in the streets that has changed it for the worse, it is the hidden thoughts and open actions of a people who can convince themselves that their own problems are somehow caused by someone who escapes real risk, hardship and persecution to work in this country, to keep schools maintained and hospitals clean, to nurse our sick, repair our roads and roofs, build our extensions, or fix our plumbing. England, oh England …. when did you become so inward-looking and scared?
A weekend in Iceland lifts the sadness. A Peruvian woman, running the best crêperie in Reykjavik, says that incomers are about to overtake native Icelanders in the capital. Is that a problem? we ask. Goodness, no! she replies in Spanish. Iceland is an open country, Reykjavik is a modern, cosmopolitan city, which has welcomed incomers without fear or suspicion. But her viewpoint was not supported by a young Icelandic man we chatted to – he believed there were far fewer incomers. How much was true and how much was perception we didn’t know. He may have gone to school with many second-generation immigrants and seen them as Icelanders. She may see anyone who is not the classic blond Viking as being an incomer, or may spend the majority of her social life with other non-natives. There’s no way of knowing what influences people’s views of the population around them. Certainly what both of our non-scientific “interview sample” agreed was that neither the press nor the public think this is any sort of issue.
Our first night in Reykjavik is minus 11° and the wind slices through us. Iceland is not part of the EU, so I assume British pensioners living there cannot receive the Winter Fuel Allowance. As I struggle to remain upright, wearing every item of clothing I own, the wind flaying the narrow strip of exposed skin, I think of the British living in Spain who complain that the average winter temperature there is about to mean the loss of their Winter Fuel Allowance. With or without the WFA, and despite the undoubted beauty of Iceland, I am glad I live in Spain.
In the Reykjavik hotel room, the BBC breakfast news shows the UKIP leader Nigel Farage. He is quietly confident about the forthcoming elections, and takes credit for changing the political face of Britain, or at least that of England (Scotland and Wales, to their credit, remaining largely free of anti-immigrant rhetoric and discrimination). The Icelandic sunshine and snow, in this welcoming, cultured and cultural city, brighten my spirit, as does the prospect of the Northern Lights tour that night. But inside I am chilled, not by the snow outside but by a sadness for my birth-country, happy to send its citizens to conquer, “develop”, and settle in all corners of the globe, but unwilling to offer others the same rights to settle or to share its wealth and resources. England. Oh dear, England.
© Tamara Essex 2015 http://www.twocampos.com
THIS WEEK’S LANGUAGE POINT:
Ir – to go. Irse …. all sorts of meanings!
Me va bien – It’s going well – literally, it goes well to me. eg “¿El curso? Me va bien.”
Me fue mal – It went badly – literally, it went badly to me / for me. eg “¡Uy! El examen me fue fatal.”
Me ha ido bien – It’s gone well. eg “¿Como va tu vida?” – “Gracias a Dios, me ha ido bien.”