Archive for the ‘foreignecdotes’ category

Wales through a window

October 31, 2008

We’ve already established that the “they all started speaking Welsh” story is problematic. Luckily, there are other ways to identify arrogant English attitudes. One great way is if you’re chatting to an English person and you mention that you’re Welsh/a Welsh-speaker/someone who has lived in Wales. If the other person says, “I know one word in Welsh – ARAF!” you know you have a bona fide case of English privilege on your hands.

Araf, as many people already know, is Welsh for “slow”. Lots of people know it because they’ve seen it on Welsh roads. When they tell you that it’s the only Welsh word in their vocabulary, what they’re really telling you is this:

  • They’ve been to Wales on at least one occasion but haven’t tried to learn a single word of the language.
  • They’ve been to Wales by car on at least one occasion without trying to learn a single word of the language. In other words,  either they haven’t grasped the fact that safe driving involves preparing for driving through an unfamiliar area, or they believe Wales is essentially the same as England and can hold no surprises.
  • They think this is nothing to be ashamed of.

I would also guess the following:

  • They see driving as an easy option compared to public transport, because the car is a magical metal case that will protect them from any foreignness that the country can throw at them.
  • They haven’t grasped that safe driving, just like being a decent human being, involves interacting with other people and being aware of your surroundings.

When they’ve told you all about how they learnt the word araf, they will then try to tell you that actually, they’ve remembered another word they know. That word is almost always gwasanaethau, which means “services”. Unfortunately for the English person, they’ve never learnt how Welsh pronunciation works, so even if they remember how the word is spelt, they can never pronounce it. And so the marvellous joke, the “I went to your country and all I got was this lousy road-sign” joke, never reaches its full potential.

An Englishman walks into a pub…

October 30, 2008

An Englishman decides to go on holiday to Wales. He chooses to visit North Wales or mid-Wales rather than South Wales, because he wants to go somewhere rural and different from his city home in England.

In other words, he chooses to holiday in a part of Wales well known for Welsh nationalism, anti-English sentiment and high levels of Welsh-language fluency.

Then he walks into the pub. Or the post office. Or the village shop. And suddenly we’re in a Wild West tableau. Everybody else in the pub (or post office, or shop), who had previously been chatting away happily in English, falls silent. Then they resume their conversation – in Welsh. He feels excluded yet gratified. He goes home and tells his friends, “I walked in… and they all started speaking Welsh.”

But this story is part of another story. The bigger story is about a Welsh person who’s moaning about the stupidity of the English. He or she tells the straw-Englishman’s story as part of their own story, which is about English ignorance. Google for “they all started speaking Welsh” and you’ll see that none of the anecdotes are from English people complaining about Wales. They’re all from Welsh or pro-Welsh people complaining about English people complaining about Wales.

I’m not saying that you don’t get real anecdotes ending with the words “… and they all started speaking Welsh”, and I’d be interested to hear about any spotted in the wild. I’m just saying that to tell those stories is to position yourself, unwittingly, inside someone else’s story.

I have heard a genuine version of the “I went in to the post office…” story, but it was a dramatic variation on the usual one. An English friend of mine said that he walked into a post office in North Wales and heard people speaking Welsh. But as soon as they spotted him, the counter staff realised he was English and switched to speaking English out of courtesy. He was very surprised because he’d always been told it was supposed to happen the other way round. He thinks the surprising politeness was because he’s black.