Monday, 8 September 2014

Why are the English so cold part 2

I just don't get it. In Ireland, everyone talks to everyone, all the time.

For example, my Granny used to go to the shops every day at the end of her little lane. There was a newsagents, supermarket, butcher/veg shop, chemist/post office. That was it. It took her on average 2 hours. She went to get my Uncle's cigs, bread, a paper, some meat for dinner and a few veg. Never mind she didn't need anything from the chemist - in she would pop to chew the fat with Mr Boylan and his staff for twenty minutes. She'd take a detour and drop off the paper with an old lady who was immobile. She'd make her tea, spend some time and then head home.

During the day, she'd bake for 'Soldier's Sunday' at church, or if anyone new had moved to the street - she would arrive with an apple pie, or fresh vegetable soup. Then she'd pay the milkman for neighbours, or the fish man on a friday, and she'd mind a neighbour's daughter after school - for free - until the neighbour came home. She gave everything she could of her time, her baking, her care, to her neighbourhood and many people relied on her and valued her. Talking to people, helping them out - was just what you did.

My Dad ('the professional funeral goer' my step-sister calls him) chats to so many folk for most of his  day that he is known as The Bangor Telegraph - he imparts all the news a local paper would. When I go home (and it will always be home in my head) I am always bowled over by how warm, how charitable, how kind, how friendly people are. They always have time, always want to make your day that bit better or easier. It is a world away from London/Southern England.

In the Crown pub in Belfast - there are gorgeous wooden booths, which folk often end up sharing - whilst they sink some Guiness and a bowl of steaming hot stew. I once worked with a camera man who popped in one afternoon whilst over in Ireland filming, and got chatting to a guy in the same booth. They ended up drinking all day, keeping in touch, forming a firm friendship and he was best man at the guy's wedding. True story.

I love the openness of the Irish, their ability to be self-deprecating and charming. They are without ego, without the need to impress - are very much 'take me as you find me.' It is so refreshing, when for the last 20 odd years I have lived in places were the majority of people I find quite cold, often to the point of rudeness. In London, after my son was born a friend gave me the number to a child maunder she knew. When I called the woman she said she also lived in West Hampstead. Then she said she lived in the same street as me. Turned out she lived next door, in the basement flat - and gene though I'd been in my flat for 5 years, I'd never met her.

Even today on the school run, a woman edged past me with her dog - not a 'good morning' or an 'excuse me.' The school run tends to bring me out in a sweat anyway - I only know a handful of people - all lovely - as I didn't do the school run for several years. Sometimes people I know, I've spoken to - look through me. It astounds me. What's the cost of saying hello? Maybe they secretly hate the Irish...

At a gathering at a woman's house recently, I was chatting to a lovely friendly Mum I know, when another woman stepped in front of me and started talking to this Mum - all the the while keeping her back to me. She could't have been more blatantly rude if she tried. Attitudes like this I can't fathom, as the Irish love to introduce folk to one another - 'Here Sammy, you know Jimmy don't you? Oh you do, your Uncle's sister's dog's friend's Mum used to bowl together... remember?'

Ultimately, new people seem to be viewed with suspicion, rather than welcomed with open arms. Whereas where I'm from, new folk are simply friends you have yet to make. Yes the Oirish are the butt of manys a joke - simple, stupid creatures who believe in leprechauns. But I'll take that any day, over the coldness of the Brits.

It genuinely has upset me over the years - several times, hot tears threatening to spill out my eyes, with the injustice of it all. Sometimes it feels like the awful moment at school where the notable team was picked and you stood there, waiting to be picked, and they still picked the kid with permanent nits over you.

My Husband - and antisocial man who loves 'alone time' - never talks to anyone if he can help it. Anywhere - being served in a restaurant, in the supermarket, on the tube, on a train home at night. He despairs at the amount of folk I stop to chat to and warns me on every train journey home lat at night that he will move away if I start yakking to folk in the seats next to us. I usually talk to the world and it's wife - and if I don't, I kind of wither inside - an unwatered plant. The best nights of my life are the ones where I have made new friends - even if just for an evening. That connection, the shared stories, the laughter - is something I love. Mind you some of my mates do warn me that THEY have come to see me for the evening - not to make best friends forever with the folk sinking cocktails at the next table.

I used to think it was just me who was such a soul, but a trip home in the summer reminds me that back where I'm from, everyone is like that. Not suspicious of others, unnerved by them, not forming any kind of judgement.  Even driving up the hill towards my Mum's house one morning, I saw through my car window a girl walking with her yoga matt. She smiled and nodded at me - as did everyone that day as I went for a run over Donaghadee commons by the sea. Not a single person I saw ignored me, or failed to say hello or give me a nod. As the wind whipped through my hair and the sea bashed against the rocks I stood for a second and contemplated the view, the sunshine, the warmth, thinking simply, there is no place like home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am from and live in a place not renowned from being friendly, very cliquey, not wildly welcoming etcetera. However, I have never come across coldness like I experienced living in London. The friends I made were largely the same nationality as me or from various Antipodean locations, and it used to wind me up when the English would accusingly / disparagingly announce that ''you lot all band together''. Yes. We do. Why do you think that is?? One freezing December I slipped in a patch of ice while walking to the tube one morning, all nicely dressed in a suit. My bag went flying, my trousers were ripped and I'd badly hurt my arm. Did ONE SINGLE PERSON stop to help me as I lay there, crying from shock in the road? No! They stepped round me, one guy even trod on my lipstick. Along came an Aussie girl (I'm not Australian btw) and leapt into action, helped me up, helped me get my stuff, got me to the local cabbie office from where I could get a cab home, you know, basically was kind and caring enough to be 5 mins late for work! These sorts of things happened constantly and the inhumanity of it was staggering. I watched a blind lady trying to cross at a pedestrian crossing, where there was no bell, did anyone help her? No! I had to leave the café I was in, cross the road and go and take her arm. For goodness sake! It's not you, it's them...