21 October 2008

East European Peasant in London

Being an East European in London, I have experienced much politically incorrect behaviour which targeted my geographical origin rather than the universal human one. I have stopped wasting energy on being hurt by racist comments in Daily Mail type articles which spread the fear that people from my region steal and eat the royal swans in this country. They say it is necessary to sign-post London canals with a picture of a swan and a raised hand denoting a stop – refrain from killing and eating – to an allegedly illiterate, non-English speaking East European.

I have even been chatted up by a polite Englishman who, after finding out I was from Croatia, innocently commented: aren’t all women from your part of the world prostitutes? I innocently replied, thought I doubt that he understood my sense of humour: yes, I started as one as well, but now I moved on to do a PhD here.

But when an educated Yorkshireman who used to be my partner called me an East European peasant, I decided it was time to spend energy on venting out my outrage. I wondered to myself: do we need to wait for an ‘equal opportunities’ questionnaires to introduce a category ‘East European’ for a certain number of British people to recognize their cultural abuse? When a so called innocent joke gets too close to the bone, it even stops being a mere personal insult. It becomes a reflection of a malaised society – the one which is not concerned about genuine, self-motivated, respect for cultural differences but only about ticking boxes once they have been created by outside authorities.

The conversation was always about style. Apparently, we, East Europeans have no style in clothing, he concluded. Our jeans are not trendy enough, because we don’t spend enough money on the right brand and, by the way, they are totally unflattering to our flat enormous bottoms. Our tops are drab and unimaginative because we don’t know how to match colours – we are colour cowards – and we don’t reveal enough flesh. He said, we suffer from the lack of self-confidence so we walk with hunched shoulders and refuse to show our cleavages. When we wear turtle-necks in the winter, we are actually falsely prudish, hiding away our repressed sexuality. We should also examine ulterior motives of our need to wear warm and comfortable pyjamas during cold and damp English nights, because what is normal is to sleep naked, allowing our imperfect bodies to be sexually accessed at any time. Our worst crime is not wearing high heels which could actually help our posture look more feminine and extravagant.

We are guilty for valuing common-sense comfort over ludicrous ever-changing trends. For that, we are accused of having values of old boring ladies. ‘What’s going to be next’, he asked me when I refused to buy shoes on the basis of pure aesthetics ‘light pink and blue, like an old granny’s autumn coat?’

To win this argument, I even borrowed words of a famous fashion designer, one of his heroes – 90% of what you call style is personal choice and the WAY you wear the clothes you love, only 10% is trend. Style s reflected in your self-confidence, I proudly said, trying to defend my right to be different, to be me. But reasoning is the last thing on the mind of someone who has no eyes and no interest to allow your uniqueness and difference. Insisting on his own version of truth, he concluded the discussion: you, East Europeans, you don’t have any self-confidence, you grew up under communism, where there were only two flavours of ice-cream. So much about dictatorship…

In Eastern Europe, we had three flavours of ice-cream: chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. We wear comfortable clothes and we keep warm at night. We were taught to show our bodies to our lovers and not in the street. We don’t eat swans. We can read and write. We can also talk back when we feel our line has been crossed. This is because we have self-confidence.