Saturday 16 August 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Lachrymosa)

Monday 4th August, morning, summer camp in Dorset.

Daughter: Dieciocho! (Eighteen)
Son: Diecinueve! (Nineteen)
Blonde Girl: Can we count in English, please?
Black-haired Girl: Yes, can we count in English? It’s getting very confusing.
Middle-aged Couple: Yes, English, English!

The counting began again and when it to got to Son and Daughter…

Daughter: Dieciocho!
Son: Diecinueve!
Blonde Girl: English, please!
Black-haired Girl: Yes, English!
Middle-aged Couple: English, English!

So, one more time the counting began and this time both Son and Daughter complied with the request (or order, whichever way you want to look at it).

As for me, I stood there, mouth open and ears refusing to believe what had just happened. What should have been an innocent activity had turned out to be an ugly display of linguistic intolerance. Counting was done for a purpose. To make sure that we had the right numbers in the camp and that no one was missing. After all, there were children whose parents were not present and we all had to watch over them. During counting some adults used Roman numbers, whereas others used German or French. But it was supposed to be fun. So, where had this prejudice come from?

Suddenly, out of the corner of my right eye I saw a shadow moving furtively around the circle we had formed earlier. He (for it was a man) was crouching behind the crowd of campers, drifting stealthily from one side of the circle to the other. What was strange about this scenario was that none of the other people seemed to have noticed the intruder.

Little Englander had made a chameo appearance at summer camp. And at least for me it was a most unnecessary and distasteful one.

A brief explanation must be given now. Little Englander is a creature that dwells in the realm of Middle England. Its natural habitat is the suburbs of big metropolis like London, Manchester and Cardiff and the British countryside. Little Englander (usually male, although women can be found in its ranks, too) stands for everything modern Britain wants to move away from. His anti-multiculturalism, jingoistic attitude and xenophobic points of view should make Little Englander a figure of mockery and parody in this time and age. However, he is still alive, very well alive and kicking. And the fact is that he has not changed much throughout the years.

Little Englander usually reads The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, loathes the BBC, detests leftwing, sandal-wearing and muesli-eating people who read The Guardian, The Observer and The Independent and cannot withstand difference, especially linguistic ones. He is pro-royal, pro-hunting and anti-establishment (in the broadest sense of the word, as in opposed to whoever is in government and doesn’t follow his politics). Little Englander is by nature, rightwing and bigoted. Above all, Little Englander hates foreigners, unless they are the type who parade around the West End in London, as they all go back home after their stay in the British capital. Other than those, Little Englander has little patience for those of us who have relocated to this country and have become law-abiding citizens who have enriched the social make-up of Great Britain.

So, the issue for me was, what was this unwelcome character doing here at summer camp? After all, this was a week-long event coordinated by a local group that swears by a greener and fairer world as was shown a couple of years ago when they took part in a huge Peace Summer Camp in Essex. One of the lines of the various creeds they have states that they have the intention of ‘spanning the world with friendship’, which is a huge claim, however, for the last five years I have seen them acting on that pledge. So, why was this insignificant, throw-back-to-another-era, pathetic excuse of a human being allowed to come into our camp and roam around unchallenged? Especially when Black-haired Girl had just told me a few weeks before that she had done her work experience with Johann Hari, the maverick columnist at the Independent who had put her in touch with Tony Benn, of who she was a fan? Well, what would she have made of Tony’s opinion on war and militarism: ‘"if we are serious about wanting peace we have got to eliminate the causes of war, and to do that we shall have to study our history a bit more carefully". And our culture, I should add. And language, like it or not, is part of that culture.

Afterwards, both Son and Daughter’s faces said it all. They felt defeated. They could not understand what had happened. I had to tell them both later that nobody, NOBODY had any authority to tell them not to speak in their language, because Spanish is their language, too. It’s part of their social and cultural make-up. It’s part of their half Cubanness.

However I could not help feeling that Little Englander had scored a precious goal. So, it was game on boy, and you know what, I‘m coming for you!

Little Englander 1 – Living in a Bilingual World 0

(To be continued)

Copyright 2008


  1. Hi Cuban! Don´t like these characters, but I am afraid you will be dealing with them for a while...until multi cultural attitude overflows from big cities to the Little Englander habitat...a big hug from AH

  2. Hmm. Interesting, I'm looking forward to seeing how this progresses. I guess growing up in NYC where it seemed everyone was bilingual I never realized how prevalent linguistic intolerance is. We live in AZ now-enough said. I'll be rooting for your team in a few different languages!

  3. Linguistic tolerance might be an autocatalized process whose rate is proportional to the concentration of bilinguals. Your kids will be more tolerant than their blond buddies.
    Al Godar

  4. Your Little Englander looks a lot like my Southerner. Changing, for sure, but still with many fears.

    In my new hometown of Nashville there is a petition asking the city to conduct all government business in English only. All top leaders have said it is bad for the city -- historically known as very nice and welcoming -- and bad for business, tourism and resident safety. If they've collected enough signatures, it ends up on the November ballot.

    Southern Hospitality be damned.

    What I say is, thank goodness for evolution, because one day the people of the future will look back and wonder just what the hell all our fuss and division was about. I pray, anyway.

    Un abrazo desde Tennessee.

  5. Hello, everyone. Yes, this is a character that exists everywhere, usually in developed countries, although 'Der Kleiner Deutscher', or 'Le Petit Francais' don't sound the same. I won't give away the ending as there are three more parts to come in weekly instalments as usual.

    What surprised me then and still does is that ignorance and especially the voluntary kind (as Whoopie Goldberg called it in the 'Actors' Studio' many years ago) crops up unexpectedly in the most unusual places.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Greetings from London.

  6. "His anti-multiculturalism, jingoistic attitude and xenophobic points of view should make Little Englander a figure of mockery and parody in this time and age. However, he is still alive, very well alive and kicking. And the fact is that he has not changed much throughout the years."

    Little Englander seems to be prevalent everywhere.

    We've been dealing with it for the last 8 years in the US in the form of our commander in chief.

    This is from 4 years ago, but I believe it explains so many things...

    Here's to change!

  7. Little Englanders are everywhere, unfortunately. Especially here in the midwestern US. Your children are fortunate in being raised in a multi cultural atmosphere and philosophy. Your're a great dad.

  8. oops...type..too many "r"s there..

  9. Hi, diva, thanks for the link, it was very good. The other day I read a similar article by him on why Democrats DO NOT want to be elected and it was hilarious. Some people would call it prescient.

    Willow, thanks for your kind words. Raising two children in a bilingual household takes effort but it's worth it. Also, I am greatly supported by my wife who is the total opposite of Little Englander.

    Greetings from London.

  10. "So, why was this insignificant, throw-back-to-another-era, pathetic excuse of a human being allowed to come into our camp and roam around unchallenged? "

    I suspect he's thinking the same of you, having come all the way from some "foreign" place like Cuba and calling somewhere in England as your own!

    You know I read the Telegraph and yes, have huge issues with socialistic mindset but that is anyone's right. I must now wonder if you would not perhaps think of my family as such too except they are very well traveled and my mother, for one, speaks 8 languages but is about as English as English can be. The thing you perhaps judge incorrectly and don't get is that we don't want to lose our identity and heritage. It is the same here in the States, except in the States I do think elsewhere is more celebrated particularly as everyone comes originally from elsewhere!

    Multiculturalism works, like here, Stateside, when those who are newer to the particular shore desire to be a part of the fabric of the country, not remain aloof or proudly isolated. Everyone is allowed to celebrate theirs but somehow the English must be embarrassed of theirs which is really silly if you think about it, considering how much she has contributed to the world, language being the utmost.

  11. "What I say is, thank goodness for evolution, because one day the people of the future will look back and wonder just what the hell all our fuss and division was about. I pray, anyway."

    --As Hen says--that is if, of course, they can all understand each other! LOL. I think you need a common language to feel a part of the fabric of your nation. Look at how much more united and stronger India is now that it has a common language all in the educated circles and thus business are expected to know. You simply can't operate successfully if you can't understand what your competitors and others are saying to you! Surely that makes complete sense, if you think about it rationally.

  12. Hi, mmm, point taken. Unlike most of my Guardian and Observer compadres I don't get up on my high horse from which to look down on and pity those poor souls who just don't grasp the multicultural phenomenon. I, too, read the Telegraph (or is it 'The Torygraph'?) for its arts coverage, especially performing arts, which I think is brilliant. But their editorial is as right-wing and bigoted as they come, so, sorry, but no, I am not sorry for what I wrote.

    You raised some significant points in your very well-written post. I, too, agree with you that it must come as a shock for a nation that indulges in self-deprecation so much (they could win gold in Beijing, if it ever becomes an Olympic sport), to have so many people from such various countries dwelling on its shores and displaying their nationalities wih so much carefree gusto. My point was, take full advantage of it, because it won't be there forever. The Poles are on their way to Poland, so that's your plumbing gone. I'm being flippant, but you catch my drift. Britain is moving forward as a nation (at least that's what I have been able to ascertain in almost eleven years living here), but sometimes it feels like an uphill struggle to convince certain people that we, immigrants, are an essential part to that social development that made London win its bid to stage the Olympic Games in 2012.

    All in all, your comments are very welcome because they were made with a modicum of respect that I treasure in people, regardless of what newspaper they read.

    Thanks mmm.

    Greetings from London.

  13. You're welcome, mate.

    Greetings from London.

  14. "The little Englander" is not a friend of mine, at all, but I don't see it as offensive to ask someone to speak the "common" language in order to make the situation less confusing. Maybe, I’m missing something… Well, I’m looking forward to read the next post on the topic ;-)

  15. the picture is priceless...haha

  16. Que frustracion... Esto de ser extranjero te hace descubrir aun mas necesidad de la tolerancia. Es duro la educacion bilingue pero hay que seguir con lo que se siente correcto, ignorando a los Little Englander porque ese tipo de gente tampoco vale la pena de tratar de explicarles las cosas. Good luck!

  17. Gracias, lena.

    Saludos desde Londres.



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