Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Southerner Baiting

I've decided to do a lifestyle commentary style post. My target for today is the South of England. For those of you of a foreign nature, when referring to The South in England people invariably mean the South East. It really is like a separate little nation down here.

I moved down here about a year ago from Yorkshire where I spent 4 years living in quite a rough city. I grew up in North Wales and have friends pretty much all over the country right now. The point I am trying to make is that I really have got a fair amount of comparative data.

OK so lets just list a few indisputable facts about Surrey (where I live and from what I can tell the distilled essence of what it is to live in the home counties) first.:

  1. No one can drive here. I swear they dispense licenses from gumball machines and use the Highway code to prop up wonkey table legs

  2. In Surrey people don't park. They Abandon.

  3. Talking to people you don't know appears to be illegal. This raises severe concerns about the gene pool.

  4. This is where the people that keep the Daily Mail in business live.


Let me give you an example. I helped an old gent with his shopping up a flight of stairs as he left a train station last week. He had no idea what to say, other than to mention he couldn't remember the last time anything like that happened. In Surrey 'The Kindness of Strangers' appears to be replaced by the 'Irrational Xenophobia'. With the aliens in this case being anyone that isn't immediately recognisable as someone you know or at least has a few quid. Now I would expect, to an extent, an older guy to be left struggling in an inner city like London but the strange thing is that it doesn't happen there - despite a transigent population that appears to think 'Manners' are a hip new rock band and often appear so self absorbed they run the risk of disappearing up their own arseholes - I've seen more random acts of courtesy and kindness the relatively few times I've ventured to London for a day out, than the many, many more times I've been out and about in comparatively small Surrey towns.

Let me give a comparative example. I'm on the tube in London, it's packed and I am new down here - still don't know how the hell to get places. I'm stood scrutinising the bizzare set of lines and words before me that are masquerading as a readable map. I mumble, often to myself. In this instance it was somehting like 'Where the hell is [insert wherever it was I wanted to go to]'. Now bear in mind I was vaguely directed by someone in Surrey that I needed to get on this train to get to the bit of London i wanted to get to. I assumed that there would be a stop that would be of some use to me. You know, like 'Shoppy bit - get off here - Newbie Street' or 'Here be Bars' or 'Station that gets you out of this hell hole'.

Apparently not.

Anyway. Mumbling. I mumbled my eloquent expletive followed by the particular bit I was looking for and some Maiden in Shining Linen yelled from about 6 feet away 'You're on the wrong one love, get off at the next stop - hop on to the southbound train and then change on to the Victoria line at [somewhere or other]'.

That's not the only instance of a native taking pity on a hapless lemming-like visitors like myself. I've had someone in Camden stop me from going into a pub there because he overheard me say I was dying for a pint of Guinness and so he directed me to another pub where the 'Guinness doesn't taste like arse'. This has never happened in Surrey. Everywhere else I have been I've managed to start a conversation and have a few pints with people in my newly designated 'local'. The first time this happened to me in Leatherhead was about a month ago. In a pub I have been going to for over a year.

Anyway, that's why I am unwilling to apply the same caustic critique to London. Yes it's a nightmare shopping there and I could never walk into someone without immediately spinning around and apologising. Equally I would never walk headlong into someone then scowl at them as if it was their fault. It could be that I have this idea that if I did so my mother would leap out from hiding and slap me. Maybe it's because I am from a small town unused the the frantic pace of London. Maybe I have manners.

Look, point I am trying to make is that in other places people talk to each other.

On the other hand, these things are expected in London and don't seem out of place - as irritating as they are. For this reason, and the random acts of kindness I can't really berate it completely.

Surrey, however, is like my ex-girlfriend. It doesn't appear to have time for anyone that doesn't pronounce it's Ts properly, despite not doing so itself.

4 comments:

Olivia said...

People in London say "sorry" more often than "thank you" I think.

Someone can imagine they brushed up against you and you'll *both* say sorry. Sometimes I feel like saying, "But you didn't do anything." So more often I say, "It's ok."

I am sad to see that in a home county, there isn't enough humaneness around for people to reach out to each other.

Still, whenever a nice thing happens to me in London, I hang on to the pleasant memory of it all day :)

MattJ said...

I don't know, generally I find a lack of common courtesy but the random acts keep the rest of them alive lol!

It does cheer me up immensely when I see the random acts occurring and, with the exception of shopping on Oxford Street, they do make me forgive the whole manners thing to an extent.

I am undoubtedly inflating the home counties problem beyond what it is but it is absolutely the most unfriendly place I've been. This an opinion shared by a few people I know who have moved to live down here at one time or another.

The place is growing on me though, it's not like I despise it or I would move! Just seems odd that everywhere else people behave like the social animals humans are.

Famulus said...

Over here it's much more friendly. I often give people strange looks because they say hello to me as if I am a long lost friend and I have no idea who they are. Except of course when it comes to queueing. The Dutch couldn't queue to save their lives. Only the Germans are worse. When trying to get on a train, the use of elbows to assist your progress is obligitory.

Olivia said...

Famulus - That's really odd about the Dutch and even more so the Germans...not queueing??? And yet they value order in so many other things....
Weird, they resemble the Italians in that way.

 
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