Tuesday, December 23, 2014

England: Food and Immigrants

I’m spending seven weeks house sitting in England. As always, travel is a learning experience.

Strangers in a Strange Land
I spent a week visiting my cousins in Lincolnshire, which is a major agricultural area. There are fields full of vegetables and spring wheat. The roads are packed with trucks carrying produce to market and factories for food processing. And the food production plants are many and huge.

Farming and food production require large numbers of workers, so Lincolnshire and the surrounding areas have large immigrant populations. There is tension. Working and housing conditions can be very poor, and the British often resent the foreign-speaking people who crowd their streets.

Low-Income Neighbourhood
Immigration was only of passing interest until I moved to Norwich to house and dog sit for a young Portuguese couple who were going home to spend Christmas with their families. They’ve been here for 4 years, working in a food production facility (they warned me not to eat the products), but England is not and likely never will be home.

They are a lovely couple and welcomed me to their home with a meal out and a Christmas present, but they are seen as foreigners and find it difficult to become part of British society.

I’m staying in a low-income neighbourhood. The streets are lined with terrace houses (long and narrow – just one room wide) and many are in very poor condition. The population density in this area is astounding and it’s easily visible in the number of pedestrians and the vast number of pubs, small restaurants and convenience stores.

There is a shopping centre, but two thirds of the stores are cut-price dollar stores. It’s cheap stuff that people can afford to buy, but it won’t last, so they will be caught in a perpetual cycle of replacing it with more cheap stuff.

I was feeling a little sorry for myself because I would be spending Christmas in a somewhat unattractive place. But I went to a church service in Norwich Cathedral on Sunday evening and was reminded that Joseph and Mary were strangers in a strange land and Jesus was born in a stable.

Whether or not you are Christian, there’s a lesson there for all of us to try and walk a mile in another person’s shoes before judging them. They may speak a different language, but they’re willing to do jobs that many of us would refuse to accept.

P.S. Don't get me wrong. I’m having a fabulous time in England. I love the old buildings, the food, the politically incorrect television programs – and the fact that I can buy tulips and daffodils at outdoor markets! More news to follow.

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