Monday, April 03, 2006

Debunking Myths About Foreign'

You know how we’ve always been led to believe that ‘foreign’ is an advanced society, where riches are easily available and everything works – life is fantastic and the best thing you can do is get a Visa and flash?

Well after living in the UK again I realised what a big fat joke that was!

Today, after dropping into yet another pothole (yes, you heard me, dem have pothole in foreign) I began to think about all of the myths that have been debunked since I’ve been back.

First of all as mentioned, there are many potholes. Now we know about Jamaican potholes, in existence largely because of shoddy roadworks, and also because of intense weather. But what’s the excuse here? There’s plenty of money, and no extreme weather that I know of that will cause serious potholes. You know what is a large contributor to the problem? You guessed it, utility companies digging up the road and not putting it back properly. Just like somewhere else I know. In that respect ‘foreign’ is not that much different from the rest of the world.

Also, service. If you think the service given in Jamaica is bad just come to the UK and get a taste of serious bad service. At least in Jamaica you know bad service is usually intended – I mean the shop assistant ignoring you to talk to her sistren, could stop chatting and come and help you if she felt like it. But here it seems to be an issue of capability which is scary. It isn’t that people aren’t willing to help – it’s often that they are incapable of helping. So you smile sweetly for all their effort and then go and sort yourself out.

Then there’s the issue of everyone being well educated, and sophisticated.

Again, this is a big fat myth. Most people I’ve come across are not well educated because the UK education system is particularly poor, in conjunction with a culture that doesn’t encourage accountability in children. It’s a shame because it didn’t use to be this way. Something very wrong happened in the 80s. My other half Seymour is a high school teacher here and you should hear some of the stuff he has to put up with. Some of his students are barely literate, but instead of that being sorted out they have someone read out questions for them. Also, homework is optional. Optional I ask you! What’s the point of that? But alas, teachers aren’t allowed to punish students for not doing what they should. A lot of the stuff I learnt in school that stuck was because I was forced to sit down and go over it again and again in my own time. If you can only get access to what happens in the classroom – and a disruptive one at that you’re largely screwed.

Even amongst the so-called educated classes too there is a marked difference between what we consider educated and what is considered educated in the UK. The one thing I miss horribly living here is intelligent and probing conversation. The topics of conversation here range from alcohol and getting drunk, holidays, what you did on your weekend, the weather, DIY and gossip. Very different - and very difficult to get used to.

I miss talking about the politics of the day, pulling to pieces different issues and local and international gossip. I’m not the least bit interested in getting drunk, holidays or the weather and I couldn’t care less what people did on their weekend unless something fantastic happened, like they discovered the cure for cancer or something! When I get together with the few British friends I have who will really talk, and with my Caribbean friends it’s like water to a parched soul.

After five years it’s still an incredibly difficult culture shock. I now understand why people of different ethnicities stick together here – it’s the only way to feel comfortable.

And it’s not like I didn’t try. When I first came back in 2001 I went all out to fit in. I knew I was effectively moving to a new country. (Even though I was born here, 1970s England is vastly different from now). So I went to social occasions on the rare occasions I was invited, tried to interest myself in the things that interest people here, I also joined all kinds of groups and got involved with various outreach programmes – but it just hasn’t worked very well at all. Now I’m tired and not at all apologetic for being me – bred and brought up in the Caribbean. I realise the only group I don’t feel totally comfortable with is unfortunately, most white English people – and I emphasise, not all of them, but it seems to be most unfortunately. I’m fine with every other ethnic group, including Irish, Scottish and Welsh. Weird isn’t it? It may be delayed rage from being beaten up for being black when I was a kid – who knows?

The truth of the matter is that for me the culture here is not just different – I could deal with that – but it is unattractive to me – deeply so, which is a shame because I live here. Then why not leave you say? If it was up to me I would – but Seymour and all of my family is here –and Seymour doesn’t want to return to the Rock so for the time being here I stay – but who knows what the future may bring eh? I may yet return to the sunny side of the world . . . .


Thalia in Jamaica said...

First up - hey Seymour. I teach high school here on the Rock and it is a load off to feel another educator's pain. Secondly - Nikki I have learned that same "interesting conversation" lesson as I have aged. And being unapologetic is the only way to go. So to the death of all out efforts join groups and make friends so one can stimulate one's mind - I dedicate Pink's "Stupid Girls."

Keep your stimulating friends near by - If you have more than 3, you have more than enough...

Chief Lymer said...

Thanks for the advice and Seymour says hi too.