Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for Xenophobia

Xenophobia is the fear of strangers or foreigners. I can honestly say that we have encountered our fair share of Xenophobia. Being in a relationship with someone from a different country and both of us having lived in one another's country opens you up to all sorts of prejudice. These two countries are not that different from one another, England and the USA, but, for some people, they might as well be on different planets and the people be different species.

Now, don't get me wrong, not everyone I met while in England nor everyone The Hubs has met in the US have been this way. In fact, most of the people we've each met in the other's country have been very nice. However, there have been the odd folks who would fall in the Supremely Xenophobic category. This post is about those people, not the ones who have been very nice. I say that now because I know some of my readers are from other countries and some of them are even friends of mine from England. I do not want to cause any offense to them. You guys know I love you! But I would like to share some of our experiences with you.

I'll start with my experiences in England. There are three main examples of how I experienced the prejudice behind xenophobia while in England. The first one happened very soon after I moved over. The Hubs was at work and I was taking the bus in to meet him that evening so that we could go out to eat and go to the movies. I got on the bus and was seated two seats behind the driver. There was an older man - probably in his late 70's or early 80's - seated across the aisle from me. I noticed that he (the older man) kept looking at me funny, but I couldn't figure out why. Well, apparently he had heard my accent when I got on the bus and paid the driver, because he muttered "D*mn asylum seekers! They need to stay in their own country rather than coming here and taking our jobs and living off our charity!" I looked around because I was trying to figure out whom he was talking about. There was no one else on the bus but me and him! When we got to his destination, he gave me one last disgusted look and then got off the bus.

I have to say I couldn't believe anyone could believe I was an asylum seeker! I'm American for crying out loud! Why would I go to England seeking asylum?! There is no need for me to seek asylum! I'm not from a country where my life would be in danger for my beliefs (not yet, anyway), so why would he think that? The ignorance just really agitated and frustrated me.

The next experience was also on a bus, but this time it was actually with the bus driver. At this point, I had been in the country a year or so and was familiar with the places I traveled to by bus. I was also familiar with how much it cost to get to where I was going. So, I would often get on the bus and order my ticket from the driver by saying the price rather than where I was going (this was actually common practice, at least in our town). This particular day, I got on the bus and said "60p (pence), please". The bus driver looked at me, rolled his eyes and said "Where you going, love?" in a very sarcastic tone. It irritated me that he acted as if I didn't know what I was talking about (the price of the ticket) but I told him where I was going and, sure enough, it was 60p to get there. I took my ticket and turned to walk down the aisle to find a seat and he muttered "F**king Yank!" Oh, my Lord! I couldn't believe anyone would actually say that where I could hear it! It made me so mad! I did report him to the bus authority, but all I got was a form letter from them (with my name spelled incorrectly, no less) stating they would investigate it and let me know their findings. That was about 8 1/2 years ago and, to date, I still don't know what the findings were because they never got back in touch.

The final episode for me happened when I had been in England for about 2 1/2 years. I was standing in line at the supermarket waiting to purchase a block of cheese (not sure why what I was purchasing is relevant, but it is a detail that sticks in my mind), when, out of the blue, the lady ahead of me in line turned around and started talking to me. That should have been my first clue there, because it wasn't common practice for people you didn't know to randomly start talking to you in a supermarket, but I didn't pay that any attention. So we chatte for a minute or so and she suddenly asked "You're not from here, are you?" I confirmed that I wasn't. She asked where I was from and I told her "Georgia, in the US." (This had to be differentiated from the Georgia in Russia in some instances, so I took to stating it that way for everyone). She said "Oh. Is that in the South?" I told her it was. Her response was "Oh." Long pause. Turning back to me with a puzzled look on her face, "Can you read?"

I was dumbfounded. I looked back and her and said "I'm sorry?" She repeated "Can you read?" I answered her "Yes, why?" Her response? "Oh, well, I just thought all Southerners were stupid." My jaw dropped open, but I recovered quickly and said "No. I'm quite intelligent, thank you!" Needless to say, that ended the conversation. She spent the next few minutes she was waiting in line glancing back over her shoulder and giving me frightened looks as though she thought I was going to attack her.

Those were my run-ins with xenophobia. Now onto The Hubs' experience.

Shortly after we moved to the US, The Hubs started a job selling life and health insurance. We had some fliers to put up with his information on them so that people could contact him if they wanted to set up a consultation, which we were going around town trying to find places to disburse the signs. We entered a local business, a place I have known my entire life and the people who own it know me. They, however, would not let The Hubs put one of his fliers in their store. They told him "We only advertise for local businesses and people." The Hubs explained to them that he lived in this town, that he was married to me, who his mother-in-law was (my mom knows EVERYONE), all to no avail. They told him they didn't advertise for "out-of-towners", which could only mean they wouldn't advertise for him because he wasn't American. It made me so angry and I wanted to say something to them, but The Hubs asked me to just let it go, so I did.

I loathe xenophobia. Not one of us (apart from those of us who are Native Americans) were originally from this country. We all came from foreign stock. The ignorance and fear that permeates the country really aggravates me. Does this mean I think immigrants should be allowed to come to this country illegally? Nope. But I do think anyone who chooses to come here and follows the legal pathways to get here (or, in fact, to any country) should be given the same advantages those who were born here have.


Frozen Egg Donor Pro said...

WOW! First, I didn't know that Xenophobia was the fear of foreigners so thanks for that, you learn one thing a day! Secondly, I can't believe what you experienced abroad. I also lived in the UK for some time and didn't experience those things so it is the exception not the rule but it blows my mind. Let's just hope that people move away from spreading ignorance.

Madeleine said...

Good grief what strange people there are in the world. I'm Canadian living in the UK and it sounds like you were unlucky enough to encounter one rude bitch in a million. I'm sorry to hear about your husband's encounter too. I guess you have to see it as their problem not yours. They are just sick people.
Blessings for future health and happiness x

Kakunaa said...

I am constantly amazed by the attitudes toward so-called outsiders, especially in the US, a country built on immigration. I was talking about this on FB yesterday inresponse to the proposed supplementary passport application. I got some seriously strange questions while overseas, and strange assumptions. Weirdest one was actually in Australia. So much of it stems from TV and other media. And it is so frustrating.

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Here's to making it this far, congratulations! I have an award for you!!

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