Cold Tapas, Poland and monoculturalism: a trip to the heart of England


Next Thursday the BNP (British National Party) will appear, for the first time in history, on the BBC program Question Time, and the news has created one of the most heated debates I’ve seen in 12 years spent in the UK.

Usually the British talk about politics like they talk about their weather: something slightly annoying they have to put up with.

In Italy at every televised political debate you watch the ignoble show of grown up people shouting at each other, their opinions so polarised – right/left, social democracy/liberism, Catholic/non Catholic – they could as well come from different planets. In Italy if you’re a Right supporter, you don’t really have Left wing friends, or if you do they’re used to prove your openmindness. Same thing if you’re a Left supporter. I have a friend who voted Berlusconi at the last elections but I try to keep her secret. In fact  I’ve caught myself several times saying “XX votes Right. But you know, she’s actually quite nice, she doesn’t REALLY care about politics…”

In Britain…

Political debates on TV are usually as exciting as a game of Polo. All fairplay and politeness and smiles and soft words. Which is great, it’s actually a sign of decency that politicians from different parties can talk without going at each other throats and without using insulting expressions.  Berlusconi would fall alseep straight away, “what’s this?” he’d think. “Not even a fat ugly lesbian that I can publicly insult? I’m out of here!”

But the sedate debates don’t help the general impression that all parties in Britain have become the same, that Right and Left are just words meaning nothing. Tony “things can only get better” Blair, led the triumph of Labour in 1997, and left ten years later as George Bush’s best buddy, after creating a government whose policies seemed so conservative the Tory party for years wasn’t quite sure what to do and sort of kept silent.

So it’s perhaps to shake up its audience that the BBC has invited the BNP on Question Time, a program where a panel of politicians from different backgrounds is questioned by random members of the audience on current policies.

The BNP is a party founded by a bunch of Nazi supporters and whose leader, Nick Griffin (photo)

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is a Holocaust denier, white supremacist and Ku klux klan sympathizer. Exactly what one would describe as a kind, peaceseeking guy, no doubt, who probably wouldn’t mind having slavery re-introduced together with public stoning of white women who sleep with black men (I only have to hope Nazism never returns. I would be killed for so many reasons – from Judaism to “Communism” to black lovers – I could just as well commit suicide and avoid torture or concentration camps.)

The BNP believes in the necessity of kicking out of the UK everyone who’d look peculiar wearing a foundation of a darker shade than “ivory” (never mind they were born in Britain and their families  have been UK citizens for generations), leaving the “pure” Anglo-Saxon finally free to roam their sweet green meadowland, producing blond, pale children with blue eyes and transparent skin ready to take Britain back to its Imperial grandeur. I’m not joking: the BNP constitution says that it wishes to restore “the overwhelmingly white makeup of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948” – when postwar immigration of blacks and Asians began.

Yes, sure.

What is it with white blond European people that makes them think they’re better than the rest of the world? I mean, the Americans also tend to think they’re the best, but at least don’t try to justify it on the basis of colour, they were born to rule the world because everyone who’s watched a couple of Hollywood disaster movies – and The Simpsons – knows that God always blesses the United States of America, blondes and brunettes alike.

And besides,  the concept of “pure” race was arbitrary and absurd enough in Nazi Germany, where most of the population, however, did share a certain (scary) look… But Britain? I mean, WHAT are the typical genetic traits of the British race? Propension to drunkness? Love of dirty carpets and Pub Quizzes? Inability to dress according to outdoor temperature? British is a nationality not a DNA trait, you morons! Since Roman times the British Islands have been invaded by so many of people – Latin, Viking, French – the average Briton has a genetic map more mixed up than a Chinese stir and fry… May I point out the Windsors are German? Is Griffin planning to kick them out as well?

Living in London, where white people are in most neighborhoods an ethnic minority, I’ve always thought the BNP was just a bunch of anachronistic idiots with no future. I mean, try and restore the “white makeup” in some parts of Haringey, you’ll have 70% of the population rising against Nick Griffin and eating him alive after roasting him on a kebab. But, surprise surprise, London isn’t Britain, exactly like New York, San Francisco and Chicago aren’t the US…

Flashback. Early October 2009:

my boyfriend Patrick and I (yes, yes, after all my posts about internet dating, speeddating and being single, I have a boyfriend now. Stop the cheering and blow off the candles you had lit to the Virgin Mary) decided to take a “minibreak” to the Lake District, notoriously one of the prettiest (and rainiest) parts of England. We booked a lovely hotel in Windermere, and boarded a train armed with waterproof jackets and laptops (we both write and thought it would be ideal to work at our stories in such a beautiful location.)

The train journey was smooth and we passed some absolutely stunning countryside, a true postcard from England: green meadows, sheep, sweet hills, little stone cottages… Hydillic.

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Windermere was also hydillic. A tiny village with well kept stone cottages and brick houses, a couple of big posh hotels on the lake, the lake itself big and blue, spotted with sails and ducks.

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All fine.

In Windermere most of the people working in the tourism industry are Polish, from the waiters in the restaurants to our hotel manager, to the lady checking our tickets when we went for a boatride. The Windermerean Polish are  blond, tall creatures who tend to blend in the background as if they were part of the landscape, like  impeccably efficient robots, always smiling but never really engaging with the customers, as if the goal of their existence was to make sure you’d get what you had asked for in under ten seconds.

Being pale and blond, it’s hard to tell a Polish from an English person (unless they start speaking), especially since in Windermere, as we noticed the very moment we arrived, everyone is white. And mostly blond. No Asians, no Afro-Caribbean, no Chinese… Occasionally a group of Japanese tourists appears from a bus, takes pictures of the lake, boards a boat and disappears in the horizon (whether they ever return or they’re thrown off board the moment the boat gets out of sight, I don’t know).

To begin with, I didn’t give such details a second thought. I mean, yes, Patrick did stand out as the only black tourist in the village, in fact as the only black person in the region all together, but such is life. But after our first day I realised something: we were being watched. Like in one of those thrillers where a nice couple arrives in a perfectly quiet pretty town just to found out it’s populated by zombies, we noticed people stopped and whispered every time we entered a shop, arrived in the breakfast room, or walked down the streets.

Was I wearing the wrong pair of jeens?

No.

It didn’t take us long to guess the reason: not only Patrick is black. Patrick is black, well dressed and staying in a fairly expensive otel.

Blimey, you could see people think (real pure English always say blimey), now black men come in posh, how did that happen? It’s all Obama’s fault! (trashing Obama being at present such a popular entertainment as darts or watching X Factor) It’s bad enough to have a black tourist, at least he can have the decency of wearing a hood, baggy jeans and white trainers like every normal black person we see in The Bill.

So we can call the police and get rid of him.

Their eyes opened even wider when Patrick spoke. In fact some of them were so shocked when they saw us at breakfast they tripped over and dropped their porridge on the floor.

Bloody hell (pure English people also say bloody hell), a black man without a Jamaican accent? Is he taking the piss? The bloke speaks posher than me primary school teacher, innit? (ok, now I’m going Eastenders, I got carried away. They don’t say innit in Windermere, I must admit).

They basically stared at Patrick as if he was being dubbed in real time, as if he was carrying a tiny, caucasian, voice over artist hidden in his pocket who spoke for him. (funny the only tiny caucasian voice over artist Patrick did carry with him was an Italian woman – i.e. ME)

But the glazing on the cake was the laptop. The moment they spot Patrick’s computer, the people of Windermere almost collapsed… He can write too!!!!!

Now, if Patrick had been accompanied by a local blond called Claire with big boobs, a pink sweater and a ponytail, the Windermereans might have let it go. Oh yeah, the black guy is Claire’s flatmate, she’s living in London now, she has exotic friends, it’s a phase…

But Patrick was accompanied by me.

I, it turns out, look even more alien than Patrick: not only my big curly hair is unheard of in Windermere (never seen hair like that, have you?? how do you comb it? is it a sort of Afro that starts growing when a white woman dates a black man?). I have olive skin, and my flowery, bohemian clothes must be totally, totally inappropriate in Cumbria, unless one is about to do an amateur version of Midsummer Night’s Dream with the local theatre company.

The funny thing is that the ones who stared longer were the Polish. Hey,wake up, you’re not robot, you’re human beings! And the BNP hates you as well, you’re the infamous immigrants who steal Britishg jobs, like me, we should be friends!

Yes, we were the attraction of the week. Living in London, one forgets how provincial the rest of the world is. I’d never truly realised before last week how white England is. Having spent 12 years in the capital of multiculturalism, I tend to equal London with Britain, but it’s not true. Big cities are multicultural. But middle England isn’t. Middle England stares at foreigners and educated black men, as if we were an enemy army ready to invade, or, in the best of cases, a couple of freaks.

London is fashion, trends, creativity, in London you can walk on the Tube with green hair and a plastic bag instead of a skirt and nobody would give you a second look. In Windermere my hippy jacket was stared at as if it was alligator skin. In London every other restaurant is “ethnic”. In Windermere after the second day we learned that it was better to forget about Tapas (cold and bland) and pizzas and just aim for the pub, where the fish and chips was excellent and so were the burgers.

Windermere seemed to me like a peaceful and nice piece of old England, where immigrants (albeit white) were perfectly integrated and the odd stares we received were caused less by racism and more by old sterotypes resulting from not being used to “different”. However, in different, poorer, areas of the UK, where unemployment among the white working class is raising, things are different. In such places, where multiculturalism tends to be seen as “foreign invasion”, where Europe is seen not as something we’re all part of but as an alien body trying to take over, it won’t take long to resuscitate old prejudice, hatred, suspicion.

The BNP on BBC Question Time is scary because Griffin will use the BBC “fairness and openness” to conquer credibility, acceptance, social respectability. The risk is that some people will fall for it.

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