What would you do if you were carrying your two year old toddler in one arm, your folded buggy in the other because it broke a few moments before and a heavy backpack, while balancing your way down the stairs of a London train station and a completly unknown guy starts shouting at you?
He had a reason to shout, indeed he he did.
I´m not English. He performed a quick deduction to come to this conclusion I suppose. After all this is the country that gave us Sherlock Holmes. And because I´m not English he thought I was not familiar with the unwritten rule of staying to the left on stairs (unless its an escalator, tube ones mainly, because then you should keep to the right in order to let people in a rush arrive wherever their destiny is driving them). Living about seven years in the UK makes you familiar with these types of peculiarities. But, I´m sure he thought I wasn´t up to speed with these rules and that he had a duty to warn me about them.
And because he was a bit of a ¨chav¨ - we have plenty of those in Spain too, we call them “kinkis” or “canis”…these type of people are not exclusive to any one country because in all countries we have poverty and parents who don´t have a clue about how to educate their children. We all have institutions who have left people without appropriate resources and so let´s face it, he didn´t have any better way of letting me know the rules than angrily shouting and swearing.
I couldn´t catch his entire speech meticulously, even if it wasn´t very elaborate. Remember we were crossing each other in the middle of a staircase, besides all the weight I was carrying, and admitadly it was like one of those slaps that comes out of nowhere and leaves you knocked out, kind of laughing and ultimately, speechlees. But more or less with certain confidence I can assure you he used these sentences:
¨For fuck´s sake…
This is England!¨
The above of course all garnished with a very imaginative selection of insults and strong language, your odd hells, fucking´s and bloody´s to compliment.
After the shock and after pulling my shit together, and because, I guess because of osmosis, I may have some Sherlock Holmes skills after all, I deciphered what he wanted to say was probably something like this…
“Oh, for fuck´s sake, these fucking, bloody stupid Europeans, stay to the fucking bloody left. When the hell are they gonna fucking learn? This is England.¨
Given his obviously poor eduaction, I think I have the right to elaborate his speech to form a rough draft of what he really wanted to say:
“These poor Europeans… it doesn´t matter how hard they try, poor things, they will never get it. We are different, very different actually and it is a matter of fact that these poor little people would never be able to just follow even a simple custom such as which side of the stairs to take. Better for them to go back to their countries and leave us alone, so that with a bit of luck we will live in an amazing harmonnized world and everybody in our country will be able to sing the national anthem and know exactly which position to take, not only in society or life, but especially on the stairs. This is England for God´s sake”
Getting to the main point: he had a reason to shout at me, I was in the wrong side, indeed I was. But I had a reason to be there as well.
Quite a simple reason actually.
The left side which I was duty bound to take, was already taken by a mummy that was carrying her baby and buggy upstairs, backwards. She was the first one to take the wrong side and I decided to follow suit given my son weighs about 33 pounds (about 15 kilos for those who are reading and are bloody Europeans). It was Nunhead station which meant there wouldn´t be another train coming for quite a while…so no real need to rush to get to the platfform, and mainly because even though I was monopolizing a big portion of the space, a single person would be able to pass by me perfectly well.
But the guy didn´t notice the struggling mummy and maybe think to offer his help, nor did he realize that he was going to be able to pass by me. He preferred instead to change sides in the middle of the staircase and shout and swear at me and my son on the way.
The mummy looked my way with a show of support on her face.
“Don´t bother about him, he is a nobody and nobody ever listens to him” she told me as we passed each other on the staircase.
I smiled back and noted the irony of a fate shown by her accent, she was English:
It wasn´t just her accent that marked her as English. How could I be sure she wasn´t Welsh, Candadian, American or a bloody European with a bloody good accent? How could I know without any shadow of doubt? One simple word that she added to the end of her sentence:
Of course, a “sorry”.
Obviously, as a very good English person she apologised for something that she didn´t do or participate in. The same as when a beautiful old lady apologised to my Australian wife one day in the park because the weather was horrible. Those types of “sorrys” are as typical as the Queen, the Earl Grey, the cricket and all the things that make this land an amazing country and amazing place to make a living.
So to answer the question that I formulated in the beggining; “What would you do?¨
The answer is nothing. You do nothing. Just nothing. At least not in that moment. Then later, you think, you ponder, you meditate and finally you get some inspiration and a bit of help from your wife that frees you of the 33 pound toddler for enough time to allow you to put your thoughts in order and write them down.
Today, my fellow English friends, you will have a amazing opportunity to vote… to vote about this. After about seven years living here I have never experienced any episode of xenophobia like this and I wonder if this is what this vote will be about for so many. Some of you will disregard thought saying something like: “bah, he was just a chav”. Yes, maybe he was, it could be true; and everybody knows how dramatic we Spanish are, always surrounded by drama and emotion. Yes, I suppose it could be.
But I have to say that I´m feeling the temperature rising in this regard, little by little. A door has been opened and the current that entered has empowered people, fueled their prejudices. And so whatever happens in the referendum, it will likely signal no return. Maybe we will reach the point where foreigners no longer feel welcome, where it would feel uncomfortable to speak your own language, less pleasant to keep some of your customs, harder to make some mistakes, such as taking the wrong side of the stairs.
Maybe not. Maybe it is true that I´m being too Spanish.
I love democracy and I really feel that we should give people opportunity to choose. I don´t like the EU either, it represents the money of Europe and not the people. And I really believe that we should begin to rebuild it so that future generations don´t suffer the disatrous consequences of taking the wrong paths.
The big problem I´m seen here with this referendum is that the reasons you are going to vote the way you are, are wrong. Voting from fear rather than thinking about the common good. It is exactly the same reason, only slightly more sophisticated, as when my son yells “mine, mine!!!” in the playground when some kids around want to play with his cars.
Toddlers don´t know the beauty in sharing, they are not capable of seeing the joy in cooperation, not mature enough to understand the effectiviness of or profit from team work, and ultimately not able to realise the blessing of solidarity.
In this referendum you are voting not only remain or leave, if you think further, you are voting about what type of country you want. One where people shout at you “this is England” or one where they gently help you carry your buggy with your 33 pound kid in it.
Both countries live in you, today you have to decide which one will win the future.