Brexit: Into the Fog

Disclaimer: I am not a UK citizen, did not have a vote in the EU Referendum, and am not white British by ethnicity. I currently live in Iceland, but as I am married to an Englishman and consider London one of my many homes around the world, the UK is a big part of my life. I consider the United Kingdom my country, too.

If these things disqualify me in your mind from giving an opinion on this week´s developments, feel free to piss off to another corner of the Internet. May I suggest this page full of cat .gifs.

I woke up Friday morning late. 10 am, GMT.

We had gone out to the end of the lake on kayaks and canoes to jump from a bridge into the freezing waters below, and not returned until midnight. The fog on the water was a dreamscape; we floated on a mirror toward it in the late sunset near the local hill and eventually disappeared into it. One couldn´t see more than about 30 feet in the fog, and it gave our tiny kayak the impression of being lost in a dew-lit morning. No shores. No birds. No wind. Gray water reflecting the gray all around us. Beautiful, but a little bit scary at the same time.

We went to sleep when only the first four of the declarations had been made. Sunderland was declared Leave just as we turned in for the night.

At the risk of sounding hackneyed, the metaphor of the fog on the lake was not lost on me the next morning. I sat wrapped in a towel on the 1970s sofa in our shared living room, having not bothered to get dressed before checking the EU Referendum results. We had been fairly sure that the vote would be In. Quick check, then into the shower.

I sat in my towel for more than an hour, unable to unglue my butt from the sofa.

“Russell?” I said, a little alarm in my voice when the BBC´s ´UK Votes Out EU, Cameron to Resign’ headline came up on the window I´d left open from the night before. “They voted out.”

Into the fog, then.

I´ve been a spectator to the paroxysms that have taken over my newsfeeds. Social. Political. Economic. At least a few of the predictions from before the vote have solidified.  Our money will go 10% shorter in Iceland, at least the part of it parked in Sterling. We had been telling people that we came to Iceland because Russ could, in theory, have a job here and stay under current rules. I´m sure everyone´s seen a lot of fights on Facebook and Twitter, the #NotMyVote reaction, the #LeaveWins gloating, and the confusion of the global market. A selection of my favourites from the ‘airwaves:’

If we vote Brexit tomorrow I’m staying in the USA and going underground. If the US votes Trump then I’ll go to Canada and drown myself in maple syrup ‪#‎voteremain

Guys, just to be clear, we’re not desperate to stay so keep your marriage proposals. It’s your economy you just fucked, not us x

51.9% of you, can go fuck yourselves.

I’m so upset for all of my European friends who feel let down and heartbroken by the Brexit, especially those with a strong connection to Britain. Most young people in the UK, including myself, share these feelings with you.
Now we’re stuck with a decision that most of the people who voted to leave will only have 20 more years on this planet to live with. However, We cannot and will not give up hope. Love must prevail over bigotry, racism and ignorance.

Too many feelings for words, really. I feel adrift in the world, in a country that doesn’t want me, pleading for changes I never get.
I really wanted to build a life here, I really did. But I don’t recognise this place.

Welcome to the Idiocracy

It seems my friends on here have similar viewpoints to me. There must be alternate news feeds I am not seeing, full of posts about how proud everyone is that the economy is crashing and how everyone can go back to where they came from now. I am genuinely gutted about the news this morning. As long as half the population (not including Manchester, London or Scotland who apparently voted the other way) are pleased with what they have done. I hope they are proud that we are the laughing stock of the world.

I’ve lived in Hackney (as you know, a very multicultural borough) for over six years and today for the first time, I heard the word p*ki shouted at someone in the street. This may or may not have anything to do with the recent referendum but I fear this is the sort of ‘legitimised’ racism that these examples attest to and I totally understand how upset and desperate you feel.

(I anonymised these quotes from people I do genuinely know since I´m not sure if they wanted to be on my blog with their names on them. If you see your words up there and want to have them attributed or want to be included, contact me!)

That last one up there is the most worrisome thing about the EU Referendum result. Steady reports of idiots empowered by the apparent opinions of their country´s voters have been trickling in on social media, and although I do not accept wholesale that the reports are all sparkly bastions of Truth, it sure as shit is possible some racists will feel emboldened. Try as they might to protest that it´s all about economics, the Leave campaign deliberately stoked xenophobic tendencies in those it wooed. Even if it hadn´t, there would still have been underlying tension.

Immigration has long been a third rail in the UK. I´m no stranger to the ways that people felt long before this referendum about those who have taken advantage of the (now former?) freedom of movement to get jobs in the UK. My blinding whitness shielded me from a lot of criticism when I was a migrant myself in the UK 2013-2015, but it also made it so that those few people who were wont to go on and on about the job stealing culture ruiners we apparently are slammed on the brakes with a blushing, backtracking, ‘Oh, well I didn´t mean you….’ when I pointed out my immigration status.

This was followed by misunderstandings about how marriage does not grant automatic citizenship, right to family life, or leave to remain once we got married in 2014. I wrote in 2014 about my envy of British citizenship:

6. Can’t Beat EU Membership 

Oh, yes. Good ol’ Figel Narage and his UKIP kin are vehemently opposed to EU membership. But let’s be honest, the chances of the UK leaving are akin to those of Scotland voting ‘Aye’ on its referendum later this year.Which is to say, pretty slim. The benefits of being in the EU are farther-reaching than most who grew up with them can imagine.

Not being a card-carrying member sucks. UK citizens can travel the world with greater ease than I because of their EU membership. They can work in any number of foreign countries on the continent, or retire to them once it’s time. They can study without barriers, and should they happen to fall in love with someone who has a membership card to this great political experiment, the doors are open.

Despite the misgivings, the EU is often led by the UK. There is no one leader of the EU, but no one can deny that the UK has serious bargaining power. I’d love to be on the cutting edge of international politics, problematic and bizarre though it often is.

That post needs some adjusting now.

I couldn´t form an opinion on the couch on Friday, in my towel. I couldn´t form one later, while we scrubbed toilets on the campsite. I still had not found a way to reconcile my thoughts eight hours of mopping and wiping up later. Even now, several hundred words that started as an incoherent journal entry later, I am not sure what I think about Brexit. But I am fairly certain about how I feel.

I feel disappointed.

On a personal level, I felt the loss of what I had hoped for some time would be the future for my nascent binational family. Me and Russ might not fit in well back´’home’ in the US or the UK, but we could always move to an EU country and stay there. It might actually have been easier for us than if we wanted to move to our ‘own’ countries with a foreign spouse. It might still be possible to live in Europe, but I selfishly wanted it to be easier than it will now be.

Lately, I´ve been toying with the idea that my generation´s political and social inheritance will be one of profound sadness, above all. The Brexit vote shows a massive, clear, and undeniable split between the voter´s ages. On average, Remain was young. On average, Leave was older. But this is not a petulant post about how screwed over by previous generations we are as Milennials, nor a post about how everyone should kowtow to the immense knowledge and wisdom of our elders that wiped 24 years of EU contributions (£200 billion) off the UK stock market in a day.

I wouldn´t characterise the Brexit as a tragedy, as so many have. Tragedy is too close to home, coming from the USA where gun violence is treated like a natural disaster (out of our hands, tragic but as impossible to prevent as a hurricane or earthquake). Nigel Farage appears to have forgotten that his ‘Independence Day’ did not, in fact, come without a shot fired. Sadness is nonetheless the theme of Brexit for me, as it is the theme of so much social and political machination for me.

The sadness that I sense in the reactions of my peers to the news this week is not new to me. It feels oddly similar to the sadness I feel about Barack Obama´s Presidency. Akin sadness to what I feel about the endless two wars that started half my lifetime ago in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadness that I feel about gun control and the huge check on my happiness that LGBT marriage was legalised in the US last summer in the form of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. The sadness I feel looking back on The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. The sadness of a lifetime of inaction and blustering on Climate Change, the single greatest threat to humans since nuclear weapons (which are still around and waiting, too).

I am part of a generation raised on the sacchrine distillation of the last days of the Cold War, our youths sandwiched between the fall of the Berlin Wall and September 11th. Told, through oft-repeated readings of the story of Rosa Parks and the deliberate condensing of complicated 20th century history into Narrative that change can be wrought by individuals. That change is real. That we are ready for it. That change will come. Often, as with The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, it felt like things might actually be changing. Then we are back to where we were, or worse.

That is one speck of hope I have in the confusion and disappointment I feel about the Brexit. I have voted for what I thought was a change, and gotten more of the same. I have participated in more direct forms of democracy, and gotten more of the same. I have fought for years on issues close to my heart to see them pass or fail, and received the great gray sameness of the grinding gears of the same as before. This apparent pendulum swing in the direction of nativism and bonafide right-wing politics in two of ‘my countries’ in the forms of Brexit and the Trump candidacy will not make 2016 a year that lives in any particular infamy. Change happens, but slowly and haphazardly. Unless we´re talking about the Great Barrier Reef or the Greenland Ice Sheet.

Therefore I have some hope that for all their current victory, Leave voters will feel some of the same sameness I feel when looking along the long lines of disappointments. The 10% drop in currency stablised and the recession in the UK assured, things will go back to grinding along as they have for ages. The people who thought they were voting for change and even an ‘Independence Day’ by voting Leave (if all of them understood fully what they were doing, since at least a few appear not to have known what, exactly, the EU is) will not get what they thought they were voting for, except in the knowledge that Leave won a hard-fought and divisive campaign. The fog is now settling on the UK, and if it even manages to come out of this referendum intact the fog of uncertainty will hang over the country for years.

Brexit is not a revolution. It´s not a democratic triumph. It´s not a tragedy just yet. It´s a massive disappointment.

The Wintry Bund

The Bund here in Shanghai did its best London impression the other day.

I feel the need often in this wandering life to coin a word that means ‘anachromism, but in space rather than time.’

It’s the feeling that one gets when your new travels remind you forcefully of the previous ones. It’s Peruvian panpipes at Seoul Station. It’s single malt Scotch in Shanghai. It’s a wrapped scarf from India on the Front Range of Colorado.

I just wish that our laundry would dry in fewer than five days.

My Last Two Jobs

My last job before this one in Shanghai was bartender. I worked in a very busy London bar, which this time last year started to approach critical mass as the days got darker and colder, obviously requiring more beer. It was great work, and I miss it (except for the night bus commute).

Approaching six months in China, I’m thinking more about the similar skills one needs to be a bartender and a teacher. To be either is relatively easy, but to be a truly great one is very hard.

First, you have to be prepared to sweat. You will burn more calories behind a bar (and especially in the cellar) than in any office job. Teaching is physical work, too. Some teachers sit down a lot during class. Lame! I bounce around, spin in place, pretend to sleep on the floor, put chairs on my head…I dance, sing, and act all at once. A teaching triple threat.

Another similarity is here: bartenders and teachers both have to put on a certain stage presence. There is a definite demarcation between ‘backstage’ and front of house in both positions. Kitchen and teacher’s room? Swears, copious caffeinated beverages, and quick changes of clothing.

The skill of setting boundaries, and following through on them with consequences, is key to teaching. It’s key to bartending.

‘What can I get you, ma’am?’

‘Ggginnn. And tonic. Slim tonic.’

‘Single or double?’

‘Double or nothing!!’

Maybe serve, anticipating the need to cut her off next time before she climbs onto a table. In the classroom, anticipation of bad behaviour goes a long way. I have to know what four year olds’ tells are for naughtiness, just as I had to know the common signs of over-drunkeness in the bar. Incidentally, in both cases people think they can get away with a lot more than they can. Everyone sees you picking your nose. Everyone. In the classroom or the bar. And yes, this happens every single day in both. People forget that the bartender and teacher has eyes!

Bizarrely, art skills are key to both jobs. Good handwriting is key for signs and menus. The ability to write on a board is up there. Witty ways to get attention are every day, every hour skills in bars and classrooms. Less known skills, like how to wipe a toilet seat covered in pee without touching anything germy (four year olds and drunks both miss the mark consistently!), come up and get honed through daily practice.

Perhaps the closest resemblance? Sidework. For every hour you put on the ‘show,’ you’ll spend another hour folding napkins, organising flash cards, polishing silverware, marking tests, or kicking the dishwasher/printer/laminator while swearing under your breath. The sidework is the real work, and you’ll stuff your face during breaks while trying to get it all done as a teacher or a bartender.

At at the end of the shift, you’ll be craving a cold one and covered in ink, chalk, germs, food, and general mess. A full-blown, Ebola-level hand scrub will be necessary. Two repetitions of Happy Birthday To You, with soap and hot water. Your feet will ache, and you’ll have another long day to come. ‘Clopen’ shifts where you have less than twelve hours to go home and sleep are common for both.

And if you aren’t careful as either a bartender or a teacher, someone might puke on the floor at the end of the night.

Short Survey Results: Passports, Travel, and Immigration

It’s always interesting to me to talk about travel.

As someone who makes travelling a lifestyle, I find it fascinating to hear the opinions of others on the subject and the impressions that they gather on the road. Sometimes the conversations go better, sometimes worse. The other day I had someone bring up the supposed ‘No-Go’ Zones in England for non-Muslims, the product of this divvy asshat’s Fox News tirade. I had to draw on all my powers of English reserve gathered in sixteen months to set the record straight (“With all due respect, no.”).

It was a good reminder that it’s difficult to approach common ground on travel and living abroad, especially when the perceptions here in Boulderiorfieldville, CO are influenced mostly by what happens to hit the news. For my part, living in a ‘highly Islamised’ area of East London was never once uncomfortable. In fact, I miss the Halal butcher desperately. Where else can I get frying steak for £1 a kg? Of course, if one never travels one never gets exposed to the realities than underpin the narrative shown on cable news.

I wanted to get some data about travel. The myth is that about 15% of Americans hold a valid passport at any given time. Americans are known worldwide for not travelling, and if they do take any time to do so at all, for not leaving the US. In fact, the percentage is much higher, approaching 50% (based on the numbers crunched here). There are still pockets of low passport use, like West Virginia (~19%) and Mississippi (~18%).

I devised a short survey to spot check the official numbers (discussion below) and added a question about emigrating/immigrating to another country. I put it up on Reddit’s Sample Size section, which allows surveys like this to get more exposure and participants. The answers were a little surprising!

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Results

  • Respondents: 79
  • US Citizens: 59
Survey Participants' Nationality

Survey Participants’ Nationality

  • Total passport holders (valid): 64 (81%)
  • US passport Holders: 50 (84.7%)
Participants by number of trips abroad per year

Participants by number of trips abroad per year

  • Total planning to immigrate into a new country: 32 (40.5%)
  • US planning to immigrate elsewhere: 21 (35.5%) 
  • Non-US citizens, planning to immigrate: 9 (45%)
  • Most common income range of participants (mode): $75,000+
Destinations for travel, US Participants

Destinations for travel, Total Participants

  • Travel by continent (total continents marked = 112):
    • North America: 31 total, 24 USA
    • South America: 8 total, 8 USA
    • Africa: 4 total, 2 USA
    • Europe: 46 total, 32 USA
    • Asia: 16 total, 9 USA
    • Oceania: 4 total, 2 USA
    • Middle East: 3 total, 3 USA
Percentage destinations for trips abroad, US Participants

Percentage destinations for trips abroad, US Participants

  • Most common range of trips per year (mode): 0 times (29 total, 26 USA)
  • Percentage of total participants who take no trips abroad each year: 36.7%
  • Percentage of US participants who take no trips abroad each year: 44%
    • Of US citizens with valid passport: 20%

      Percentages for Trips Abroad

      Percentages for Trips Abroad (total)

Those are some shockingly high numbers for valid passports. The US State Department estimates that 46% of the US population has a valid passport. This cross-section (admittedly a particular one, being drawn from Reddit) has almost double that percentage. Higher than any one state in the US, and much higher than the Colorado average (47%).

I was surprised at the high number of participants planning on immigration! Especially for the US, in my experience I don’t believe I’ve met another person who wants to move abroad permanently. Good to know at least in this group of people, I’m not alone. 35.5% is a really high number for US citizens planning on emigrating, contradicting my personal experiences. But then, that’s precisely why one does a survey, right?

Things got more interesting when I asked for specific details on travelling abroad. It appears that most US participants with a valid passport take at least one trip abroad every year, but a high ratio of Americans surveyed take no trips abroad (44%). This could be contributing to the ‘American=No Passport’ myth.

This is obviously not a fully scientific study, and is probably flawed in several ways. One such way is the apparently high income average that was self-reported here. I have no way to know whether any of that is accurate. It’s the internet. Likely, people are making some of it up. Especially the six ‘students’ claiming $75,000+ a year. But then, maybe they were counting their whole family’s income. In addition, the sample size of those from outside the USA is tiny (20), so it’s not likely that the stats correlate in the general population.

This was a great little survey. What do you think of the results? Do they seem accurate, based on your experiences?

Click here if you’d like to add yourself to the survey. I’d love to get some more data to share!

Escaping London

We dragged our bags through the narrow turnstiles and onto the platform at Dagenham Heathway station, a full five minutes later than I had scheduled. The first of three long journeys for 21 January, 2015 loomed ahead of us. Get to Heathrow. On the Tube. In rush hour.

The past week had kept us so busy as to seem like London life would just continue as normal. I worked six days in a row and had my last shifts at the bar. Russell worked a schedule largely opposite to mine. Between that and our leaving pub visits with friends, we didn’t have the time to begin packing our room until the morning we had to leave. The transition out of London, known about ever since I received my visa to move there, seemed utterly abrupt. We woke up in our room in Leyton, and it went from being our room to being a stranger’s in less than two hours.

Stranger's room

Stranger’s room

Of course, the District Line decided to give us the parting gift of ‘Minor Delays,’ which turned out to be a full 25 minutes of standing on the filling platform, contemplating going the exact opposite direction of Heathrow to Upminster and hoping for the faster trains. The train eventually crawled up to us, and the mash was on.

Even as a practiced London commuter with 16 months under my belt, this was torture. The train sauntered down the track at walking speed. Above the crowd, the husband and I exchange worried looks.

“Let’s just get off at West Ham. We’ll take the Jubilee Line.”

A few seconds later, “A notice to customers, there is no step-free access at West Ham due to elevator improvements.”

Of course. We got this.

We EXCUSE ME PLEASE’d our way through the crush, down one set of crowded stairs, up another, and then down one more. The Jubilee Line was crammed, but running as normal. Off to a station we’d never set foot in before on the west side of London. Through seemingly endless halls with changing directions (keep left! No, keep right!). Onto the Piccadilly Line.

I’ve always thought, in part because I took it so much during my unsavoury MA experience, that the Piccadilly Line would be the one Line of the London Underground where the zombie apocalypse would come to the City. It runs directly from the biggest airport into the centre. It’s full of confused tourists with built in obstacles in the form of their huge luggage. Very little ventilation. I’m not a huge fan of the Piccadilly Line.

As we wandered out of the tunnels into the grey day I realised London was fading behind us. In the fray of the ‘Minor Delays’ and the workout of carrying our meagre worldly possessions, I’d forgotten to say goodbye to some of my favourite places. London is odd; the edges of the city seem to wrap around like a parabolic curve and the neighbourhoods in the west look bizarrely similar to those on the fringes of the East that we’d left behind.

We alighted at the nearly-closed Terminal 1, one of five passengers checking in. Our bags were checked easily. We were sniffed by two different bomb finding dogs.

“Strange. They seem to be on some kind of alert.”

My husband pointed out the sniper on the second floor.

“Let’s go through security.”

Just like that, we were through. It was weirdly simple. Weirdly quiet. I got a full pat down and metal-detecting due to a zipper I’d forgotten on my bra. I was officially out of the UK, less than 24 hours before my Tier 4 visa was up. I am not allowed to return without a family/partner visa. I had to say goodbye, not knowing when I might return to the country that had been home for 16 months. We took off and almost immediately disappeared into the low London clouds, and that period of our lives was over.

My time in London is done, for now. That constant inconstancy of transition is back.

On to the next adventure.

Next Time- The Iceland Adventure. A preview: 

Glacial Ice Cave

Glacial Ice Cave