Bits ' n Pieces of Chavs and Other Things

Now I'm really irritated. Seems someone phoned ahead and told the British I'm coming. Shops in the city center generally only remain open while I'm at work. I have this fantasy of me riding the bus home and shop doors getting locked in a continuous wave about 100 feet in front of the bus.

This shouldn't have surprised me as it's actually fairly common in Europe, but it's frustrating nonetheless. There are, as I understand it, historical reasons for this, but those reasons are gradually fading away. First, I'm told that it used to be rather uncommon for people to live in the city center, so there wasn't as much call for shops to be here. Second, the male traditionally worked while the female did the housework. Thus, she had plenty of time (ha!) to go out and shop during the day. The shopkeepers, too, wanted to go home in the evening and this arrangement worked out well for all concerned. (Please chime in if you have a better knowledge of the background here.)

Since shops on the periphery of Nottingham are often open later, I'm in the awkward situation of busing out to them, shopping, and busing back home. That is why I say "Thank God For Tesco!" Tesco, for you American folks, is a large supermarket chain over here. There's one a few minutes away in the Victoria Centre and it stays open until 8:00 PM. This makes me squeal with glee but then I look around quickly to make sure no one saw me.

Were it not for Tesco, I imagine that I'd be eating at restaurants every night and frankly, I'm down to my last £200 in cash. Next I'll have to start drawing on my US bank account and the exchange rate is killing me.

Speaking of money, I've pretty much stopped converting pounds to dollars. The exchange rate is too depressing. If I think in terms of dollars, everything is hideously expensive. If I think in terms of pounds, prices are quite reasonable here. Since I'll be paid in pounds, not dollars, this is a very important switch for me to make. The taxes turn out to not be as bad as one would think (more on that in a later post when I have a better grasp of it) and I think I'll be doing nicely here. Of course, "doing nicely" means that another mental shift must happen: this is not an adventure.

That's something that tripped me up when I moved to Amsterdam. It's not some wildly cool adventure with exotic women, rugged men, charming accents and theme music in the background. Though I suspect that everyone would deny having such thoughts about an international move, I also suspect that everyone secretly harbors them. In reality, it's just like any other move to a new city except that you can't figure out how to use the phone and the shopkeepers pretend to be patient while you struggle with the weird-looking coins in the palm of your hand.

Thus, instead of thinking of this as an adventure, I knew that this would be just another move and this time, I'd have to focus on building up a social circle and getting integrated into daily life. In this case, daily life for me means trips to Victoria Centre to worship at Tesco.

The Victoria Centre, in case you're wondering, is a shopping mall. Nothing more; nothing less. A couple of months ago I was walking through a US mall with a friend and she commented how much she hated malls. Jokingly, I replied, "yeah, but would you think it's cool if they all had British accents?" She smiled and said "yes".

No, it's not cool if they have British accents. When I landed in Dublin, the first thing that I noticed was that Irish people actually look human. In fact, up until they open their mouths to say something, you wouldn't know the difference. Not so at the Vicoria Centre. Don't get me wrong, you have your fair share of exotic women and rugged men, but you also have chavs. The name's different, but I'm sure you recognize the type. Baseball cap on backwards, gold chains, tracksuits, and -- if he owns a car -- a stereo cranked up loudly. He probably works as a fry-cook, if he works.

Now I realize that even though much of the aforementioned is intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it also sounds a bit classist. Well, to be frank, while I realize this is a different country and I could easily be reading cultural cues wrong, I don't think I'm too far off. Back in the states, I hear people in clubs -- sometimes friends of mine -- talking about getting into fights or just "talking macho" and it saddens me. People usually choose to be in situations where things like that can happen. Hang out with shady people and shady things happen. It's not rocket science. Nottingham has a lot of crime and if I want to skip that part of the culture, not walking up to the chav's and saying "whassup, homey?" is probably a good start.

Regarding the chavs (is this term considered derogatory? I suspect so but I don't know of a nicer one), everything I've read about them tends to reinforce my suspicions. They tend to have lower education levels are high unemployment and this, not surprisingly, is correlated with higher crime rates. Place a few of them in any "nice" area in the US and folks will be wary, so it's not unlike home. So I guess the age-old question fits here: has society let them down or have they let society down. The answer, I suspect, is a bit of both.

In other news, today I will be meeting Greg and Lynne, a brother and sister who life in Staffordshire, about an hour away from here. I've never met them before, so this should be interesting. Lynne, as I may have mentioned before, is about three weeks younger than I am. I'm sure my father might be a bit embarrassed by that, but Lynne and I actually find it quite amusing.

And speaking of my father: I won't be visiting him soon. Seems he's in Dubai for a few weeks and then, if I recall correctly, heading off to Turkey. Busy man.
Glad to hear you seem to be settling in, and getting to grips with the odd little differences in culture.

The shop opening thing: this is a thorny one. I think your observation about town centre shops closing early is accurate. This suits the town centre shop-workers because it means the can actually have a life.

Also, although it is becoming less of a problem in larger areas ironically, town centres, especially at weekends, become no-go areas for people who arn't out at the pubs and clubs. As a former retail worker myself, I shudder at the thought of having to work in a shop at 9 or 10 pm, having to fend off drunken yobs from the premises.

The out-of-town 'malls' (we prefer the term 'shopping centre', thank you!) do stay open later. I know the Trafford Centre in Manchester is open till 10pm (oooooh!). The centre I used to work in was open till 8, and there were gasps of horror at the rumour that it was angling to open till 10.

My guess also is that it has something to do with the weather. If it's cold and raining, - which you may not yet have noticed happens a lot here, arriving as you have in the middle of a heat wave - the last thing you want to do after a hard day's work is go shopping! As someone who runs an evening class, getting people to do anything outside of their house after tea when 'Corrie' is on is hard enough!
I also wanted to talk about Chavs. Yes, it is a perjorative term in the sense most often chavs are lower class, Council Estate bred, under-achieving, and socially excluded. However, there has always been a culture amoung 'working-class' young people to dress flashily, to show off what wealth they have, as opposed to middle class kids who wear charity shop cast-offs or become goths.

I have a very interesting book by Ted Polhemus called 'Street Style' which documents this phenomenon very eloquently.

Chavs have always existed. There just wasn't a universal name for them. In Liverpool and Manchester they were 'Scallies', further south they were 'Townies'. Now, they're all just 'Chavs'.
Chavs endured a very brief popularity when the term became mainstream (it began near where I live so *for once* I was ahead of a trend). It was popularity in the way that chavishness was seen to be peculiarly British and therefore, I dunno, patriotic?

But yes, after a little while classism reasserted itself. Having succesfully been categorised by their clothes, criminal potential, and fecklessness, chavs became fairly universally hated. The way most people use the word now is full of negative implications and, when used by the media, can be synonymous with "thieving, rowdy scumbag".

It's pretty much a stereotype which has created an easy target for blame.

Also, Tesco is currently facing claims of a market monopoly and calls for an investigation as a result from the organisation Friends of the Earth. I think that technically it's market share *is* a monopoly and then some but there's some legal loophole about it. Apparently something crazy like 1 in every 8 pounds is spent at Tesco.

Unfortunately, they are both useful, convenient, and good value.

Hmm. Most of that was probably unhelpful but I'll have to leave you to sift through it for anything useful - sorry :(
I also think Tesco is wonderful. Not so much because they stay open late, but because of their delivery. (Which is quite reliable, and also goes late, if you need it -- I don't.)

BTW, I think "Chav" is derogaroty, but I don't much mind derogating them. Of course, I'm only a small step above them, since I don't work...
Don't work? Seriously? I didn't realize castaway was doing that well for you. What's she have you doing? Writing perl 6 into existance for her?
On burst bubbles...

There's no theme music? Well, damn. Now I don't want to move there anymore.

Good luck meeting your siblings! The intelligent/geek gene clearly runs strong in your family, so I'm sure they'll be great.
We have it good here in America. When I went to Australia/New Zealand it was the same story. Nothing stayed open late. I mainly felt it was because the shopkeeper wanted to go home to his family in the evenings. I can understand that.

Asia is a little different. There were always places open all night long in Asia. Different work ethic, I suppose.
Chavs probably would be considered offensive. Looking at the possible etymology, it's as bad as calling someone a gypsy. Everywhere I've been in Europe gypsies are very much disliked, and distrusted for the same reasons as chavs: uneducated, poverty livin', high-crime people. I suppose the mistrust is not unfounded, even the small kids will pick your pockets if you are less than vigilant.
I must be lucky then, as the nearest grocery shop is open until 22:00 on weekdays and 20:00 on saturdays....
(and with it being only 500meters away... :-)

Of course, they stop selling beer at 18:00 on weekdays, and doesn't sell it at all on saturdays(the types with alcohol in them, of course) Not that I drink beer, just making small talk...

Most gas-stations sell more groceries than car-supplies nowadays... And some of those are open 24/7...
(Cheap only when compared to restaurants...)

We just have to watch out for polar bears hunting penguins when we go grocery-shopping... :-)
you always have such a fascinating commentary about life. I am glad I got to know you and I'm glad i can still hear it.
How interesting. There are these types of chracters in Australia, "dole bludgers," "hoons," and if you want a racial slur, then "wog" is it. A "wog" refers to people of Greek descent, most of whom are from immigrants arriving after WWII. (Did you know that there are more Greeks living in Melbourne than in Athens, Greece?)

They have the faux gold chains, the goofy hat-wearing ways and ALWAYS wear tracky-dacks....and, oh yeah, the loud, thumping music in often dumpy "souped-up" cars...erg

You're right that "if you lie down with the dogs, you're going to get fleas." But I always saw the "hoons" more as given up on by society than anything else. Those fucking Aussie suburbs were so depressing and devoid of meaning (let alone spaces for adolescents to live) - hey, that sounds like American suburbs! :-/ I guess the only difference has been the relative "economic opportunity" of a given area and/or demographic
Yes, actually, I do. Though I might sound grumpy in my posts, that's probably because little things which irritate me inspire me to write. If I'm having a blast, I'm less inclined to grab my computer.
>5pm = Pub time..
When I was there, it seemed that you either spent the evenings with your family or went to a pub. :/
Another reason for early closure
It saves fuel. When the shops close early people must shop on the way home. When they stay open late a separate shopping trip, or two, is made.

Learned this from a transporation policy engineer.
Hi Ovid. I've been sort of following your blog every now and then over the years because of a shared interest in Perl. Now I open your blog again after a long hiatus and see that you've moved to Nottingham where I lived as a graduate student from 1987-1990. Your descriptions are triggering a bout of nostalgia for me. Thanks.
Ah, cool. Thanks for the note.

Yeah, Nottingham is a pretty nice city and I must say that I'm happy here (so far). A bit curious about Iceland, though. It seems most strange to me.
I felt that Nottingham combined the best aspects of a big city with the best aspects of a small town. A winning combination.

Iceland strange? I don't find it in the least bit strange, but then I've lived here for most of my life. I suppose some aspects of Icelandic landscape and culture may be strange to outsiders, but I suspect that the same may be said of any country and culture. The USA seems mind-bogglingly strange to me, for example. I have the feeling that visitors here tend to exaggerate and dwell on the unusual and ignore the fact that most of the time we do pretty ordinary things. But it's a good country to live in for the most part. Except for the weather of course.