As the famous advert goes, ‘Can hate be good? Can hate be great? Can hate be something we don’t hate?’ I’m not so sure anymore. These two stories happened to me in the last half of a year, in both cases while travelling on South West Trains.
On the first occasion, I took a late night train from Guildford to get home. The carriage was rather empty, but at the very end of it I could hear a group of local youngsters ‘messing about’. Their mobiles were blasting with music tunes, the boys were joking around, and the girls were laughing as loud as they could. The ticket collector approached the group and asked politely to remove their feet from the seats and to keep the noise levels to a minimum; otherwise, he would have to ask them to leave the train. Oh dear, the man had his best intentions, but not the best ones for me.
So, the whole group moved down the carriage where I sat. Even though there was plenty of space for as far as you could see, they specifically chose to land onto the seats next to mine.
One boy, not older than 13, asked me a question which I didn’t catch.
‘Pardon me?’ – I asked. I shouldn’t have, I know that now because they heard my accent.
The boy immediately replied (trying to impress all the laughing females and slightly showing off), ‘Oh, ‘pardon me’? Are you a traveller? Are you a traveller?’
There was no stopping to their laughter – the girls soon joined in, shouting ‘Don’t mess with the gypsies! Don’t mess with the travellers!’ and so on.
All I could do is keep quiet and not fuel their enjoyment even further. I got off at my stop, and if they got off at the same station, I would have stayed on the platform, where at least I was covered by CCTV cameras should something have gone wrong.
My second “adventure” happened just over a week ago, while on train from London Waterloo to Guildford. It was around 7 pm, so the train was packed. As I was getting back from the Knitting & Stitching Show in Alexandra Palace, London, I pulled out a magazine ‘Sew Today’ to help cut my journey shorter. An English lady (I’ll use the term loosely), who sat indirectly in front of me, was clearly not having a nice day because she seemed to be very irritated and restless.
At first, she was muttering to herself, which is okay, and then she tried to strike up a conversation with two men sitting opposite her. Having no luck there, she then stopped the ticket conductor to ask where she could recharge her mobile phone battery. The ticket collector said she could do it in the 1st Class carriage. She then quite loudly expressed her disgust at the fact she ‘needs to pay 1st Class fare for 5 minute phone charging service’. The ticket man shrugged the comment off and moved on.
What I couldn’t shrug off was the feeling that soon it will be my turn to take her vocal criticism. I was still minding my own business and reading ‘Sew Today’, when she loudly announced, sarcastically, ‘This is what a true woman should read, a sewing magazine!’
I was praying and begging myself in all the languages that I know ‘Please, keep quiet and do not reply. Just keep quiet!’ However, keeping quiet and observing all the passing by buildings and trees was not the best choice either, because she began to verbally abuse me.
Fellow passengers started turning their heads as she continued, ‘Why don’t you talk to me?! Answer me! I’m just trying to be friendly here – I’m trying to have a conversation with you! Are you deaf?! Do you speak English? Do you?! I bet you don’t! You are Polish, aren’t you! You just sit there and do nothing, and you can’t even speak English!’
Mind you, ‘Sew Today’ is published in the UK, in English. Not too bright, this lady.
In between her comments you could cut the silence with an axe. A lot of people had a look at me to ‘evaluate’ if I really looked like a ‘Polish who doesn’t speak the language’.
She dumped so much verbal hatred and intimidation on me in public during those few minutes that I could hardly speak when I rang my fiancé from Guildford station.
I am sharing these two stories following the article in The Independent, covering the “racially-motivated” attack on local internet café in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, owned by a half-Portugese and half-Pakistani man and used by large numbers of Eastern Europeans to send emails home:
What was clear yesterday, however, was the anxiety felt by the young men and women from Warsaw to Kiev who were sending emails home from behind the cracked-glass window of Mr Rafique’s café.
Sasha Poborscwa, 27, a Polish teacher who has been working in a vegetable processing plant for the last two years, said: “My girlfriend says we must not go out on a Friday or weekend night. In my country it is important to welcome visitors but here some stupid people think there is a sport of attacking them.”
In the cubicle next to him, Robert, a Lithuanian crop picker in his 40s, was philosophical. He said: “It is an ancient story isn’t it? Outsiders come and they are resented or detested by those they live amongst.”
I am not sure if calling each other ‘stupid people’ will help the matters. Neither can I be sure I won’t get intimidated again. What can I do to not attract such hatred?