But last night, I experienced a testing of my determination to be indifferent to ethnicity and nationality. Here's what happened:
During the week, my eldest son called to say he'd got some complementary tickets for 'Roger Waters The Wall' tour - he of Pink Floyd and horribly well preserved despite a lifetime of drugs and probably every other vice that fame and fortune offer. Free tickets can either be amazing - as in private boxes, free drinks, celebrity seats etc - or the unsaleable remnants that might as well go to appreciative homes. Though I was of course graciously grateful to my lad, ours were the latter.
So there we were, up in the gods (Wembley Stadium is truly HUGE), with plenty of empty seats around us, when a large family from [insert notorious nationality here] planted themselves right behind us. About a dozen of them. Several teenage girls with assorted fathers, uncles and the odd boyfriend I'm guessing. Doubtfully oligarchs with their 'hoes'... they would have got the other type of comp tickets.
Now pop concerts at the best of times are noisy affairs. And the dreadful outdoor acoustics combined with monstrous tower of speakers at the biggest stadium in Europe meant that the air was permanently filled with vast amounts of what can only be described as a deluge of LoFi. Grombler, who'd spent his youth listening to Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath at ear-bleeding intensities, now struggles to hear conversation in crowded pubs and at dinner parties of shrieking women. In The Wall, you will recall, there are plenty of odd bits of commentary that in their contemporary airings you would have drunkenly ignored, but when you're trying to understand what the hell is going on at a live event, you do need to pay attention. Whose planes were they, who were they bombing, and why is Waters dressed as Hitler with a floating pig dancing above his head? Let alone what it's got to do with kids who hate school.
The [notorious nationality] didn't chat quietly with each other - which would have been acceptable if not a trifle distracting - they shouted, in [notorious nationality language] of course, to each other from one end of their row to the other. Basically they didn't give a shit for anyone else around them as long as they were having fun.
It didn't just annoy me. All my group found their loud chatter profoundly disturbing. So eventually we moved seats - but only after I had turned round and, politely, but with a touch of disapproval, if not the evil-eye, raised my finger to my lips in the universal gesture for 'please be quiet' - gentler, I thought, than 'shut the fuck up'... which they might not have understood in English anyway... notwithstanding the fact they were in London and at a very British concert.
The young female that it transpired my neck rotation had enabled me to focus upon, didn't show any sign of apology or even acknowledgement that she had upset me. She exhibited amazement and incredulity (that anyone might tell her off), and gave me the look of 'you can go fuck yourself'! When I turned back, she was laughing and shouting even louder to all her mates/family about what I had just done. Her mates all joined in the escalating laughter aimed at me. Zero recognition that she, or any of her family might want to re-evaluate their behaviour in order not to offend or annoy not just me, but everyone else in the vicinity.
I am prepared to believe that most nationalities would have immediately understood that either a smile and an apology was in order, or at least an acknowledgement that offence had been caused. Remembering too that they were guests in another country. But these people immediately resorted to 'who the hell do you think you are to be telling us what to do'. In fact their noise level subsequently increased. We were now several rows away, but still their shouts to each other could still be heard from many rows away throughout the whole concert.
So here were a bunch of foreigners, in my capital city, at a concert given by a British institution, in our landmark stadium, surrounded by fellow ageing British Floydies, providing what amounted at best to discourtesy, but what I felt was determined to be an insolent 'we don't care about anyone else' attitude. We're best, so FO everyone else. Even the British at their worst would show more respect for Johnnie Foreigner. We might be arrogant, and even disparaging, but rarely (unless a drunken football supporter perhaps) discourteous and oblivious to the effect of our behaviour on other people. Every member of this family was enjoying their ability to piss off whoever was in earshot. If they were enjoying themselves, that was all that mattered. Screw everyone else.
As an aside, I read a letter in the Sunday Times yesterday from a French chap who lambasted his own nation as inconsiderate to foreigners and ethnic minorities, but cited the British as a nation of welcoming and courteous people who, in his experience, would always go out of their way to be civil and helpful to anyone - no matter their origin. I like that and I sense it's true, if not a touch surprising. Intriguingly we've moved a very long way from my parent's generation who mistrusted blacks, the Irish, gypsies, queers and anyone who was not an Anglo-Saxon. Feels like another blog post might be in order to explore how most of our society managed to change in a single generation, and how there seems to be pressure from the likes of EDL, and this post (?!), to revert. Interesting to also note that contrary to what this observation about multi-cultural tolerance might have suggested about a parallel change in our voting habits, during 34 out of my 57 years we have had right wing right wing Conservative, not socialist governments in power. Also interesting to note that the opposite is occurring today in many Scandinavian countries where former socialist governments have presided over hardening oppositions to immigration and cultural diversity. Does liberalism always presage tribal resentment and conflict?
But getting back to my growing anger at Wembley, unfortunately the [insert nationality] family's behaviour behind me was confirming what I had already heard about their homeland - assuming, again, they were indeed from [insert nationality]. Brutal, arrogant, and dismissive of minorities. Tolerant, even supportive of neo-nazis and other far-right nationalist groups. Lovers of tough mafiaesque leaders. Purgers of gypsies, homosexuals and dissidents.
I am now in a dreadful quandary. I wanted to break the noses of the shits behind me, especially that girl's. Her brothers would then have tried to break my nose and that's the way nuclear wars start (or something like that). I would also have ended up in a UK prison for battering a girl, much as she deserved a touch of good old-fashioned manners-teaching. But trying to explain to them, calmly and rationally, why I was asking them to keep their voices down so that we could all try and work out what on earth Waters was on about (to be honest, it's not worth trying), was not going to work for many reasons.
I had only three courses of action (which I mulled over with a scowl on my face):-
- Stay put and try to ignore them, but resort to never knowingly ever buy anything [nationality] (Oil? Can't think of anything else);
- Make a fool of myself and probably get knifed - if not immediately, then in a Wembley backstreet;
- Move seats.
There are countless pleasant, generous and courteous [nationality]. I don't hate them. But if the mob behind me at Wembley, on Youtube, in the press, and tweeted about by Stephen Fry et al are in any way typical of their nation, then I don't like what their nation believes is OK behaviour, and I therefore don't like people who associate themselves with that type of person. I don't like people who like being [nationality] so they feel they can behave like that with impunity.