I am safely home from a holiday which included 3/4 of the Rev’d Claire clan (the other 1/4 house sat, minded the cats and worked). It was one of those holidays for which I am extremely grateful, which I enjoyed very much, and which I’d be unlikely to take again.
We were on an all inclusive deal in a resort which offered lots of activities, and which cosseted those able to afford it. We were insulated from the culture surrounding us, and everything there seemed to conspire to lull our sensibilities about exactly where we were. Every holiday I have taken until now has either necessitated rubbing shoulders with locals in order to eat and live, or has been designed to take us out and about to experience the history and (at least a tourist’s view of) the culture. This holiday was different. The people we were “supposed” to talk to were British, and to be brutal about it, that meant white middle class British, probably taking gap years or if older, more senior in the resort management. For me, the attitude was encapsulated by the end of holiday questionnaire – please could we name the person who had contributed most to our holiday?
I couldn’t. She was our room cleaner, a lovely local lady, about my age, and unable to speak any English. We managed with sign language, but I tried and failed to learn her name. She wasn’t important enough to wear a badge, as far as the resort management was concerned, but every day she straightened out our beds, she cut fresh flower heads to scatter, she cleaned up (and we did try not be messy). She made my holiday a real holiday, and I don’t know her name.
I do know the name of two others – Mahmoud the driver who took us to Ephesus, and Dervis the guide who entertained and instructed us while we were there. Mahmoud and I have sons of the same age, and because I ended up sitting next to him, we had several hours in which to chat. We shared some hopes, some dreams and talked a bit about our faiths (he started it, honest!). Getting on the trip was hard enough – it needed a certain number to run, and of the several hundred people there, just two families opted to go.
It was talking to Mahmoud which really reminded me where I was, as he talked of his trips to Syria, his friends in Iraq, not to mention his best friend in London. We were in Turkey, where the human rights record isn’t brilliant, but the people are warm and welcoming, at the crossing from Europe to Asia, just one border away from bombs and shells and worse.
I had appeased my conscience as we booked, with the thought that at least the money we spent was going into the local economy. Discussion with Mahmoud revealed a general cost of living not soooo very different from in the UK – but I wouldn’t like to bet how much of our money made it into the local economy. The only bit I can be sure about is that we spent when we walked into the local town where Turkish people also go for their holidays – we bought souvenirs together.
It is a little late in life to wake up and smell the coffee, but I really, genuinely, didn’t realise that people went so far afield and spent so much in order to have a warm corner of Britain where they could surf, sail and sunbathe (I let the side down, I kayaked, swam and slept). I’ve experienced ‘Centre Greenspace’ (other companies are available) in the UK which do much the same, but at least at home, it’s imposition on locals, not a weird hang over of the empire attitude. I’m well aware of the pockets of Spain where breakfast means a full English. But I’ve always assumed that beyond the Costas, people travel to experience difference. I’m so wrong.
The thing which bemused me most of all was the expectation of service. The place was full of holidaying Brits issuing orders and expecting them to be obeyed. “Fetch me this”, “change that”, “I want the other”. It was all summed up by the flight home. Towards the end, cabin staff went up and down the plan with plastic sacks, asking us to put our rubbish in them. The Rev’d Claire clan were some of the last off the plane, and as we left we were horrified by the amount of detritus left behind, because people couldn’t be bothered to reach out an arm to put their empty cups and discarded magazine into a bag offered from three feet away.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a lovely holiday. The food was smashing, the weather was fab, and the rest was much needed. But I hate feeling ashamed to be British.