Regional prejudices

A short trip down memory lane last night had me thinking about just how different the various regions of this country can be. And you don’t have to travel very far to discover that.

Over the years, I have been to almost every corner of The British Isles, and have certainly visited every one of the main cities. Outside of tourist-orientated holiday spots where everyone is falsely welcomed, the look and feel of different parts of the UK was very noticeable, at one time. Then there are the accents of course. We have great variety of those, but I have written about that previously.

During the 1970s, I had to travel around for my job. I was excited by this prospect, as it would take me to places I had only ever heard about, or seen on TV. It never really occurred to me that it would be that different. After all, I was a Londoner. I came from a city that was the melting pot of Britain, and had almost as many non-Londoners living in it, as genuine ‘locals’. I departed on my travels armed with twenty-one years of my own regional prejudices. The North was grimy and industrial. The West Country was all about farming, and people who spoke like they had never been outside their village. Liverpudlians were edgy and aggressive, and the Welsh hated everyone who wasn’t Welsh. As for East Anglia, (where I live now of course) it was just a flat land full of people who sounded like idiots, and never ventured anywhere.

I didn’t care. I was from London. The best city in the world, and the shining star of Britain, undoubtedly. I was lucky indeed, to be a cockney.

As you might imagine, I got a shock.

People outside London didn’t seem to like us Londoners. They mimicked my accent, (badly) and were often outwardly hostile. I was less than 100 miles north, and already hearing the oft-repeated insult, ‘Soft Southerner’. Hadn’t these people ever heard how hard the streets of London could be to live on? The gangs, the crime, the crowds. Soft? Me? Once I got a lot further up, I became an oddity to be giggled at. Girls in a Newcastle club asked me to say sentences in my harsh London accent, and fell about laughing when I did. They would seek out a friend, bring her to where I was standing, and ask “Say that again, Pet”. (That’s not a typo of my name, they call everyone ‘Pet’.) These people had (still have) a language that was a ‘version’ of English. Their local dialect and sayings required the assistance of a translator, and they had the audacity to laugh at me?

I headed west, to the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. At the time, before much recent regeneration, those cities were bleak and industrial indeed. Young men swaggered around on the streets, and glared aggressively at me in bars or clubs. I wasn’t even talking, they just seemed to know that I was ‘different’ before I spoke. On the way home from a long trip, I had to go to Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, which at the time was a coal-mining town. This was the ‘grimy and bleak’ I had imagined. Arriving in the rain, I stared at the sour-faced people, their faces devoid of joy or hope. I was only 141 miles away from London, yet felt I was in another country, at another period in history.

I was never so relieved to get home to what I saw as ‘normality’.

I had to travel again, many times. But I was forewarned, so forearmed, and I was a lot more careful about where I spent my free time. By 1979, I was no longer having to travel around other than for holidays, and as the old saying goes, I took my eye off the ball. In the late 1980s, I went to visit the parents of my then girlfriend. They lived in Yorkshire, a place I had mostly managed to avoid, short of the city of Leeds, and the coastal town of Scarborough. I had been there working with local men, who took me under their wing. This time, I was closer to the city of York, with a girlfriend who was originally from Northern Ireland, but had lived long enough in the county to sound local.

We went out to a pub in the town of Tadcaster, to meet some of her school-friends. I walked up to the bar to order some drinks, and as I said what we wanted, the barman turned and served someone else. When he had finished, I waved to him, and he came back. As I started to speak again, he smiled at me, and walked around to a different section of the bar. I was pretty angry by now, but aware that I was one Londoner in the equivalent of a one-horse town in bandit country. I walked back to the table, and explained to my girlfriend that he wouldn’t serve me. She went up to the bar, and spoke harshly to him. She was very feisty, and he was hardly prepared for her tirade. He served her the drinks, denying he had refused to serve me. He claimed he hadn’t noticed me waiting. We finished the drink, and decided to leave. There had to be a better pub than this, surely?

As we walked to the door, the barman said quite loudly, “F*****g Cockneys”.

For the last seven years, I have been living in the region that I had once written off as being flat, and full of idiots. There is less prejudice against me being a Londoner, but mainly because they are not really sure if I am. I have been asked where I come from more times than I can remember, and quite a few people have suggested that I might be Australian! It’s all very strange, even after such a long time. But there’s one thing I can be certain of.

I’m glad I didn’t move to Tadcaster.

55 thoughts on “Regional prejudices

  1. Not being from the UK, I found my share of interesting attitudes there, but was lucky to move there at a times when Barcelona became very popular, and people always were complimentary towards it (mostly). But Fawlty Towers always came handy (‘I know nothing, I’m from Barcelona’ worked like a charm). Here there are regional prejudices as well, of course, although times move on…
    Thanks for sharing your experiences (and of course, programmes like ‘It’s Grim Up North’ illustrate why the attitude, perhaps…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is strange how we can all live relatively close to each other, yet be so different. I think it has lessened to some degree, but will never go away completely.
      Thanks, Olga.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

    1. It was much worse than that, Eddy. I asked for two large glasses of red wine! He had probably never heard of wine. πŸ™‚
      (I have never had a ‘lager top’. )
      Oh, those biscuits. Very tasty!
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pete, as you know, I have read two books by Bill Bryson about traveling through the whole of Great Britain, and Paul Theroux did it decades ago as well…they speak to exactly your points: I find that fascinating, but as others have pointed out, it exists here in the US, but not in the aggressively hostile manner you mention…here, it is usually relative to your race – great post Pete!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting Pete. I wouldn’t have expected such strong regional differences and prejudices in a fairly small country (relative to the US anyway.) I know there are here especially between north and south though I’ve not experienced it much myself. As far as accents go, we have them too of course, the strongest being in the northeast and southeast. I rather like them. It’s funny that people from the Pacific Northwest assume they (we) are the only ones in the country who speak without an accent. Of course there have been studies done to prove it isn’t so. It’s just not that detectable. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am sure you would have an accent detectable to me, Susanne, but it would just be ‘American’. I can tell the Southern States’ type of accents, and the harsher New York one too.. πŸ™‚
      The UK is small, but the history of the country has left us with so many different origins. Even in small areas, accents can vary within less than 50 miles. Very few people talk like Hugh Grant, or Benedict Cumberbatch, I assure you. And absolutely NOBODY has ever sounded like Dick Van Dyke, in ‘Mary Poppins’!
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well as a Yorkshire lass who doesn’t have a Yorkshire accent, but does have flat northern vowels I am hoping you don’t have that irritating Danny Dyers accent that is constantly on the TV right now. I want to choke him! My accent has been diluted by moving around and of course living in South Africa. When I returned to England I was asked if I was a Kiwi – oh, if only! And the kids in my Surrey school loved asking me to say “butter” or “garage” or “bath” so they could have a good laugh! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Danny is from the East End, and I am from the other side of the river. The Thames might just as well be a national border, as far as I am concerned. I probably sound more like Michael Caine, (in his Alfie period) though I do use many of the expressions that Danny continually ‘murders’ in films, and on TV. πŸ™‚
      ‘Bath’ is a word that always betrays our origins. I of course pronounce it ‘Baarff’, not ‘Baff’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very thought-provoking and I feel your pain, Pete. When I first came to the UK in the early 80s people were far less tolerant of Americans than they are now. I didn’t even have a very strong accent but I as soon as I opened my mouth I was branded a loathsome, brash Yank. It was worse than speaking a foreign language because I would go into a bakery, for instance, and not have a clue what anything was called so I would have to point, and people then branded me stupid as well. When my accent faded I used to have great fun listen to people go on about how horrible, stupid and loud all Americans were; at some point I would drop hints about my nationality and have fun watching their expressions as they tried to remember exactly what they’d said and attempt to back peddle furiously. Cheers E

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I think that years ago, some American tourists were quite ‘brash’. They certainly talked much louder than most people in England, at least in my youth. But long before I left London, I noticed quite a change. That said, my wife worked for some time in a bank that was almost next to the US Embassy in London, (2004-7) and she had a very poor opinion of American manners. πŸ™‚
      But I am sure that many people outside London think just the same of those of us from the capital. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was totally amazed reading your post here, Pete. As an American we generally carry with us an amazing snooty and chosen ignorance of the rest of the world, given we are rather self-consumed, mumbling about our Constitution being so great an wonderful (thanks to you oppressive Brits back in the day). You are very likely aware of our regional dialect differences.. but given America is a tad larger that your island over there the longer travel distances between such regions makes it feel as if you did travel to a “different place”. Over here traveling 100 miles just takes you to a different place inside the same region.. and there’s apparently far less animosity between regions compared to 1970’s Britain. Now.. when I was in the military I became aware of the South as many military bases had 50 to 75 years of existence and there were stories of Northern soldiers (determined by accent) getting a bit roughed up by “townies” when they left base. Back then the Deep South had folks that were still in a subtle simmering for the Civil War. I read to my GF here your post.. and she recounted to me living in Memphis, TN.. her northern accent being obvious… she did attract the “damn Yankee” comment a couple times. But I have to admit.. in none of my travels from sea to shining sea did I ever encounter prejudices to the degree that you seem to have attracted going only 100 miles away.

    So, have these regional animosities been tempered with the advancing generations since the 1970’s over there.. or have things gotten worse with Brexit?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it has changed that much, Doug. Though of course I don’t get around as like I used to. Londoners are still generally regarded with dislike or distrust in other parts of the country, and the Welsh are still very much ‘Welsh’. πŸ™‚
      Football team rivalry also fuels this, to some degree. When travelling around the UK, most men will soon be asked which football team they support.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

      1. Yeah.. I could never understand why futbol.. football.. “soccer” here… always seems to inspire violence between fans. Over here “real” football… all that inspires is eating and drinking to excess and acting like imbeciles. I, of course, can pass that judgement because I could care less about pro sports of any kind as they make a helluva lot more money than I will ever see.. and they constantly bitch about it. I also don’t drink. But I do eat.. and Chicago being a junk food capitol of the US… I abuse myself regularly.. even though I live in California (it’s the spirit).
        Now I’m hungry.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Hahaha.. I did too. Being in business as I was you had to speak the language of sports to fit in a bit. Often before I went into a business venue I’d flip on a sports radio program on the car to get a tidbit or two to remember and pretend I knew what I was talking about. Chicago being a huge sports town with all the sports represented big time.. I could just grunt in Neanderthal agreement, grab myself and spit, to give the impression I knew what I was talking about, being all manly like all the rest of the stags in the herd.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Of course, here in the States, linguistic and cultural barriers have largely been broken down due to the country being hellbent on diversity. But I would assume there would be some friction if, for example, a New Yorker moved to rural Arkansas.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was born in Scotland & then moved from Surrey to Dorset then Yorkshire. I soon learnt to mimic the local dialect but it didn’t work in the Yorkshire Dales as they were very unfriendly to anyone not born & bred there.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I think a certain language is treated the same anywhere. Here in our country, you would know if a person is from the province or from the Visayas region by the way they speak Tagalog or English. They pronounce the words usually hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Humans are a tribal species, and always find some way to knock others not of their tribe. Regional accents play to that nature. I’ve lived in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and now Tyne & Wear, and as I grew up in some of those places, have a unique accent that befuddles most people and so I get away with it πŸ™‚ I love the Geordie accent and the Scousers and Cockneys. Wish I had a prooper one!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Undoubtedly. I have seen TV companies like the BBC and Channel 4 have taken to using a lot more ‘regional’ announcers now. Perhaps they are trying to do their bit to overcome the generations of prejudice?
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. It takes a brave cockney to venture North of Watford – even with a Liverpool burr caught from her dad (and encouraged in the ’60s by Beatlemania).
    Never mind the rest of the country – there’s a strong divide between North v South of the Thames, and even wider is the East v West London divide – it stretches way past the M25.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s very true, Cathy. As a south Londoner, I usually corrected people who called me a Cockney, but just came to accept it in time. But I am still always sure to let people know that I am definitely not an East-ender. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

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