Want to understand why people dislike foreigners? Try living in Stratford-upon-Avon
It’s astonishing how casually racist my hometown has become
Summer in Stratford-upon-Avon means only one thing: tourists. Visitors come to the town all year round of course, but it’s summer when they really swarm. The birthplace of Shakespeare (and tormentor of many a school child) is the epitome of what foreigners expect of England, part-quaint Tudor theme park, part-small English market town. Tour guides walk around wearing Tudor ruffs, “traditional” cafes spill onto the streets and gift shops on every corner sell everything from Shakespeare chocolate to “I Love London” t-shirts. Practically every single element of the town is geared towards the coach-loads of day-trippers, which is terrible news for the people who live here.
While the people who’ve spent the best part of their lives here share some pride in the global recognition their town enjoys and benefit from the income good ol’ Will brings to the local economy, the great Bard’s presence can be overbearing. Town planners focus on creating a “World Class Stratford” rather than fulfilling residents’ needs, leading to countless over-priced pubs and bars, a dismantled skate park and a solitary live music venue: the steakhouse.
There’s also the simple fact the town just wasn’t designed to hold so many people. The network of roads can’t cope with the visitors from countless foreign countries, meaning traffic jams are extremely common. Anyone running late to work has to suffer being stuck behind groups of slow-walking, pavement-hogging tourists who are too busy photographing lampposts and trees.
In this melting pot of frustrations and inconveniences, cultural misunderstandings are all too common. The language barrier serves to make both the tourist and the local feel as if the other party is being rude and obnoxious, and before you know it prejudices build. Although it’s not overt, casual racism and offensive stereotyping have seeped into the cracks of everyday life, to the point where it’s hardly surprising UKIP received the second highest number of votes in this constituency.
Threaten a person’s place and you can be prepared for them to react with anger. “Paki” and “Chink” enter conversations unchallenged. You over-hear complaints about the number of “slit eyes” in the town centre. Continental visitors have been known to end up battered and bruised in late-night bar fights.
Stratford is far from the only place in the UK where this is happening, where investment is more focused on attracting outsiders and bringing in money than providing for those already there, and in these sleepy middle-England tourist traps you’ll find disgruntled locals determined to reclaim their hometown and be treated like a priority rather than an after-thought.
It doesn’t require a huge imaginative leap to see these same locals deciding to back a political party campaigning to leave the EU or to favour stricter border controls. All because the people in charge of their town forgot to look after the community, without which there wouldn’t have been anything for tourists to take a picture of in the first place.