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

Friday - - Contents -

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

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