The ex expat
The joys of being able to stroll around the shops without being bothered should not be underappreciated, says stressed-out Kate Birch
Unable to escape from harassment on the British high street, Kate Birch gives up shopping.
Walking down the street the other day, I was stopped in my tracks by no fewer than six people. The street is just 300 metres long. The people were strangers. And they all wanted something from me: my time, my money, my answers.
Welcome to the British high street. For those unfamiliar with this uniquely British territory, it’s a road packed with shops and cafés where people spend their Saturdays – where the shopping experience can leave you feeling stressed, guilty, terrified even.
Yes, what should be a leisurely stroll punctuated only by pretty things and hot lattes, as is the case with the carefree, unobstructed shopping experience in Dubai, is instead a minefield of mishaps, an obstacle course bringing you under siege from start to finish. By obstacles I mean people – the ‘great’ British public, who find it necessary to approach you, stop you, ask something of you, hassle you… until you give them what they want (The Takers) or they give you what they no longer want (The Givers). And believe it or not, this is all perfectly legal.
Firstly, The Givers (of Gumpf as I’ve labelled them) are a gutsy group who thrust leaflets and flyers at you with such force that not only is refusing not an option, meaning you’re left clutching a handful of unwanted papers, but it leaves you momentarily muddled. And it’s in such a stunned state – when you stop, pause, hesitate – that the circling vultures, aka The Takers, pounce.
There are two types of ‘takers’ who are especially prolific and particularly annoying, taking not just your money and time, but also your dignity. The Privacy Pirates, otherwise known as market researchers (mainly unemployed university graduates) are simple to spot, with their oversized suits – courtesy of Dad – and equally oversized clipboards.
But while easy to detect, and thus dodge, if you do happen to be caught by one, it can be tough to escape. Yes, Privacy Pirates – who demand answers to questions ranging from what you wear in bed to how much you weigh – don’t take no for an answer.
And if you dare to say “no” to their “got two minutes to answer some questions?” refrain, be warned - they will follow you. As I discovered just last week, the Privacy Pirate is not unlike an ex-boyfriend who desperately wants you back. First, they try to make you feel guilty for not giving them the time/attention they desire. When that doesn’t work, they attempt to flatter you. And if that fails, as it no doubt will, sweet talk turns to slander and they begin bad-mouthing you as you walk
Show assertiveness – any strolling, any hesitation and they pounce. They are looking for weakness
away up the street. It’s a horrifying and humiliating experience.
Having navigated the Privacy Pirates, and already well behind shopping schedule, you are then accosted by what I now consider to be the worst of all the street snipers – The Chugger. These on-street charity workers, who demand money for old people, poor people, starving people, and make you feel bad if you decline – are a group so prolific on the high street, they’ve been given their own name: charity + mugger = chugger. These badge-wearing bandits lurk behind phone boxes like they are playing pedestrian paintball, pouncing when they spot a likely target. I must have the kind of face that grimaces guilt, as I’m always being targeted by chuggers.
I’ve honed my skills the past seven months, perfecting the art of avoidance. I can spot them a mile off. I get my phone out and simply hold it to my ear. No eye contact. Walk with conviction as if in a rush. Show assertiveness – any strolling, any hesitation and they pounce. They are looking for weakness. I know some people who start talking in a different language, pretending they don’t understand English. We call them Northerners.
How awful that we have become so sly on our streets. I am a good person, who regularly gives to charity. I have compassion. I do give. But this incessant intrusion that guilts us into giving, well, it’s nothing more than emotional blackmail. It’s an uncomfortable scenario because there’s no moral justification in telling them to go away and leave you alone. If you don’t give, you get a dirty look – from them, and from the tutting masses around you.
I never thought I’d say, “I’ve given up shopping”, but after just seven very sorry months of British high-street shopping, that’s exactly what has happened. The stress is simply too much.
And I’m not alone. In a mini poll among UK-based Facebook friends, I discovered that most found a trip to the high street one of the most stressful activities. One friend said a recent visit left her in floods of tears after being made to feel bad for not giving to charity, while another friend relayed how a clash with an aggressive Privacy Pirate ended not in tears, but in blood, with said Pirate lying on the pavement holding his bloody nose.
Well, it certainly gives new meaning to ‘shop till you drop’.
Overworked, overwhelmed and over there... long-term Dubai expat Kate Birch misses
her maid, struggles with small talk and is desperate for someone
to pack her shopping