Monday, September 19, 2011

My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

I watch this show on TLC sometimes when I am bored. I find it humorous to see the gigantic dresses some of these young girls wear to their weddings and then the almost non-existant dresses they wear to the receptions lol. What a contradiction!

Anyway, the undertone I see a lot on the program is to do with how the Gypsy (Traveler) community is viewed in Britain. I can attest to the fact that in the general population, gypsies are not talked about nicely. At all. My ex husband is English and we were married for 5.5 years and we have a teenage son so we are still in contact. If you say the word 'gypsy' to him, he will make a face lol. He likes to call them Gippos (jippos).

When we were first married though, I had no idea what gypsies were other than my idea of someone dancing around in sheer fabric or reading my fortune :) So I was all new to this and I heard some people referring to each other as Gippos or gypsies if they were dressed all messy or looked a wreck, but I didnt think much of it. I was 19 lol. I didnt really pay attention to that, I was too busy trying to figure out everyone's different accents and learn German too, since I lived on a british base in Germany :) I didn't have time to figure out all those crazy brit sayings.

At any rate, I was introduced to various Traveler communities during my years in England and I must say that each one was very negative. That's what also interests me about the program - they speak as though they have it rough and for no good reason. But if you watch for tiny details on the show, you can pick up on a few things. For example, showing the caravan parks (trailer parks i suppose you could say) where the ones highlighted in the show live - you can see dirt and crap and grunge all over the place. Tonight's repeat showed them walking through a yearly event where up to 10,000 gather each year and my god what a horrid pig sty that was. Ew. No, they are not the only types of people living like that - but in the program you see them all dressed fancy and clean and getting their hair done. Then they show a bit of their caravans (like travel trailers and such) and it just looks a horrible mess. Mingin' is one word the brits I knew like to use when talking about gypsies.

My first real encounter was when I worked in a large grocery store. A traveler camp moved into the field behind the store, literally overnight. I left work one day and there was a big open grassy field, and came back the next morning and it was completely full of trailers, wagons, vans, dumpy cars, and people. oh my god the people! TONS and TONS of them everywhere. I almost fell off my bike because I was so confused and thought I had taken a wrong turn on the way to work lol.

When i got into work, the managers were all in a buzz over it. Later that morning, a whole bunch of kids were suddenly running around the store. Dirty 'mingin' little kids. Yeah kids get dirty and they didnt look much diff than when my kids got into a pile of dirt and made mud pies lol, but they were running about with no parents in sight, no shoes on, touching all the clothing, hiding in the clothes, running through the produce area, meat dept - everywhere. It was like an invasion lol. I had to go help round some of them up near the front doors to wait for any parents to show up and there were more than a dozen at that point, with more still loose in the store. I didn't know what to think. Who shows up in a strange town and lets their kids run around in a store like it's a playground. If it's one family, you can understand that one parent isnt very responsible - but we had no idea how many parents were needed to grab these kids. Finally an equally dirty man showed up, yelled at the managers for treating his people like rubbish, and herded the kids out the door. I was dumbfounded. Who on earth were these people? Where did they come from? The man had a very thick accent but I could not place it. I figured northern england. The travelers were there for about 5 days and one morning they were gone. Just like that... But I can't say it was almost like they weren't even there because that big field was nothing but a torn up wreck with garbage, broken pieces of god knows what, busted furniture, piles more garbage (and I mean piles without the bags - just heaps and heaps of crap strewn all over the place). It was sickening. The Town owned that field so they were responsible for cleaning it up, at tax payers expense of course, and they had to do it fast before locals complained about it blowing into their gardens and yards. It was quite eye-opening for me. I could see why my husband was so rude about gippos... I saw it myself.

I was also quite aware that perhaps it was just a particularly naughty group of gypsies. But when I was almost 8 months pregnant with my first child, another group came into town and practically took over the place for 2 weeks. This group came from Scotland and Im not kidding, they drove me out of my freaking mind. I could hardly tolerate walking in the town center because you could not walk 10 steps without one of the young girls approaching and asking if you would buy a sprig of heather. If you kept walking, more would come and surround you! I was not happy because I was heavily pregnant, my husband was serving in Bosnia, I had no family around, and these girls would come 3 or 4 at a time and walk backwards in front of me trying to convince me to buy some heather. I went into town a lot because I had to get final things for my baby, and I could only carry so much at once without exhausting myself. So I encountered them a lot during that time. On the second or third day of this, I decided to buy a fricken sprig of heather for 2 quid (about 5 bucks at that time) and get them to leave me the hell alone. The moment you left a shop, they were in your face. You walked by a bench and they would stand up and follow you. Just as you ditched one crew, you ran into another. It seriously was a nightmare and townspeople were getting angry. I have never in my life had a beggar come at me like that - other than one dude that put his arm around me this summer and shocked me to death in my hometown here in Canada. But that was a first (and hopefully a last).

I kept my sprig of heather with me at all times when going into town for the next while because when they started coming at me, I would whip it out and say 'sorry ive already bought some back there' and just sort of point randomly over my shoulder. I thought this would solve things but imagine my surprise one day when walking down a narrow sidewalk and getting surrounded by three dirty young girls with dirty children in disgusting strollers - all asking me if I could spare some money so their babies could have some food or milk. I was completely ticked off and mortified. I tried to push my way through them but my belly was so massive by then, I actually went into hospital about a week after this encounter actually, I was also feeling protective and they were crowding me. I started to get upset. When I said no, they kept coming in, right up beside me, and I could not pass them without stepping into the busy street. I didnt know what to do. They kept talking about their babies having no milk and I finally got angry and I think the expression on my face helped back them off. I pulled open my cardigan to further show my big belly and half shouted, half cried, that I had my OWN child to worry about and buy things for. They parted and drove their strollers around me and were already calling out to people walking up behind me. I was disturbed and disgusted by that. They could see that I was pregnant easily, and they still pushed up against me and plopped their dirty little toddlers in my way. Horrible experience, im sure heightened by my condition, but I have never before or since seen anything like that.

My third was just seeing the Travelers from afar - a camp was set up somewhere between Oxford (where I lived) and the next major town to the south and it was a total tip. There were even people sleeping in this big tree, with their sleeping bags hanging over the branches, tents off the lower limbs, and hundreds of caravans as far as the eye could see. It looked like a bad case of a summer drunk fest carnival or the 60s gone terribly wrong. As we drove past, I was completely dumbfounded. And now as I watch that program on TLC and see them say that it's their way of life and people don't understand and judge them - well Im sorry but I guess I am one of those judges. All the southern red neck trailer park jokes in the world could not come close to what I saw in England. I saw three camps and three disasters. Im sure there are travelers over there who arent like that, but then perhaps they arent travelers in the traditional way.

I have friends in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England and they all feel the same way about the Travelers. And they live there, live with them, see them, their whole lives. Are we supposed to sit over here in North America and feel sorry for the bad rap they receive, hoping that we won't know WHY they have a bad rep in so many places? The onus in every show is that if the people holding the reception find out they are travelers, they might cancel and bar them from entering. Is it mean nasty hall-owners? Or is it people that have had to clean up the messes one too many times and now decided that they will no longer take that risk? One woman in particular during tonight's program was very worried they would be discovered,,,, but you could gather some clues from her son while he was explaining that they didnt want other guests to show up at the house waiting to find out about where the reception was because they would be all out in the car park and 'well, you know...'.... and then he just carries on without saying what he was going to. Gee could that have been 'they get all rowdy and start wrecking stuff and throwing their garbage around the neighbourhood, or vandalizing the home(s)'? Nah. That couldnt be it. He was just going to say they sit nicely and quietly out in the carpark and wait patiently for details of the reception and his mum doesnt want them to do that. Of course.

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