“Hey, wait! Could the other three of you kindly step outside please? Only one of you at a time is allowed in the store. You know that. The rest of you will just have to wait outside.” At first, I didn’t even realize that the woman was addressing herself to me and my three companions.
I soon became conscious that her words were directed towards us when a short, pear-shaped man, presumably another employee of the store, grabbed my shoulder with his hand and, while pointing grimly to the door, stated bluntly, “wait outside. You heard the woman.”
Once outside and still not fully cognizant of what was happening, I looked at two of the boys with whom I had come, Jimmy and Pat, and asked what had happened.
“Nothing,” replied Jimmy coolly. “The lady in there never lets more than one of us in the store at a time. To her, we’re just Pikies. She thinks were going to steal something. With just one of us in there, she can keep a closer eye on us.”
“How long has this been going on,” I asked, feeling the blood rush to my face as each word came out of my mouth. “Since as long as we can remember,” interjected Pat. “She has never even caught us stealing or nothing.”
After each of the three boys had gone into the store, paid for his candy bar or soda and came out, I prepared to enter. A part of me wanted to leave right then and not go in at all. I went in, however, and immediately felt the woman’s gaze fall upon me like a ton of bricks.
After grabbing my soft drink from the refrigerator and making my way to the register, my eyes met squarely with those of the woman who had greeted us upon entering into the store.
“Is there anything else you would like?” she asked, peering out the window at the three boys I had come with as if they were preparing to spray paint the outside walls of her store with graffiti. “Yes,” I replied, “I’ll have a Guardian, please.”
The moment the last word had left my lips, the woman’s countenance changed immediately. Not only did her eyes soften and her thinly pressed lips relax, but the tone of her voice switched from accusatory to obliging.
“Well, um…I,” stammered the woman, grasping for what to say. It was obvious that my Indiana accent had thrown her for a loop. As she gazed at me incredulously, the numerous wrinkles on her forehead displaying her inward struggle, I could only wait until she uttered her next words.
“You’ll have to forgive me. I just assumed that you were one of them,” she said, spitting out the last word as if it was a sharp piece of glass cutting the inside of her mouth. “You can never be too careful with those Pikey children, you know.”
There was a lot I wanted to say at that moment. A myriad of images swept through my brain in an instant, colliding with the emotions of anger, pity and contempt that I felt at both the woman’s actions and words.
Whether it was the timing of the encounter or the fact that I felt my words would have mattered little, I grabbed my change from the woman’s outstretched hand and left the store shaking my head.
Walking back to Dale Farm from the store while listening to John, the third Traveler teenager with whom I had come, go into great detail about what he would buy if he earned David Beckham’s salary, I couldn’t help but notice that not one of the boys had even mentioned what had just taken place at the store.
As I have come to understand, events as the one which transpired in the store are so common that Travelers view them as banal occurrences in the course of their everyday lives.
Walking around in a Traveler’s shoes for over a month now, I can’t help but feel that my feet hurt more than they ever have in my entire life.
Posted By Zach Scott
Posted Jun 25th, 2007
Dr Todd Landman
July 1, 2007
Good post Zach…what you experienced and report does not actually surprise me, but it is good that you provide the account. I hope we meet up soon.
July 3, 2007
Thank you for your detailed postings. You have introduced me to a whole new world of discrimination I did not know existed within England. Your writing is engaging. I will be wikipedia-ing the Travelers for sure.
August 7, 2007
Thing is, you have to understand that ‘pikey’ in this country (the UK) does not mean ‘Irish Traveller’ or ‘Gippo’ like it used to. The derogatory term ‘Pikey’ now means any white youth between the ages of 10 and 25 who looks like they might be up to no good. We have a MASSIVE problem with yob culture in the UK – especially in the suburbs of the larger towns and cities – where ignorance, bigotry and a propensity toward violence for little or no reason are seen as desirable qualities amongst the youth peer group.
In addition, true ‘Irish travellers’ are now few and far between – there is little of the fascinating traveller culture that originated in Europe centuries ago – it has been replaced by the thieving bastids that prevail on most campsites nowadays.
Because of the general ignorance of the British populace and the seemingly ingrained bigotry that biases us against ‘travellers’ people tend to tar all ‘travellers’ with the same brush.
To confuse the woman in the shop saying ‘pikey’ with a racist attitude toward itinerant Irish travellers is, however, probably misplaced.
August 21, 2007
yes Dale Farm lot should boycott it….the benfits of that could work both ways. You know what I’m getting at. Anyways most local shops in the area have a policy of only letting 1or 2 kids in at a time. Young children always have the propensity to steal.
August 30, 2007
i’ve lived in england all of my life, and currently live in wickford, and know the shop in question well.
i would just like to point out to our rather earnest american guest, that signs saying “1 schoolchild at a time” are displayed in every newsagent and tobacconist across the country, i’m not exaggerating.
with this in mind, your poetic offense-by-proxy diatribe is kind of amusing/embarrassing for you.
anyway, thanks for coming to visit us, do come back, the law abiding citizens of essex have so enjoyed your fair and balanced account of the very difficult situation we have had thrust upon us.
August 30, 2007
Dumb American reporting a completely one sided and biased shocker…
September 3, 2007
“Comment from: Kristina Wong [Visitor]
Thank you for your detailed postings. You have introduced me to a whole new world of discrimination I did not know existed within England.”
As a resident of Basildon, I find your comments actually quite insulting.
you are trying to imply theres no basis for the attitudes these people are subject to, like its just a case of innocent people being wrongfully judged because of their background, or where they come from, you, just as Zach, didnt even bother to find out why the travellers arent liked, the fact 9 out of 10 of them have convictions for violence, theft, etc the fact they make the lives of locals a misery, the fact they claim benefits from the taxpayer, yet drive cars taxpayers could only dream of having, they wernt always disliked, they earnt it through their own greedy, vile behaviour and it sickens me that idiots like you stick your noses in and not even bother to hear both sides of the argument, just decide from your comfy bedroom on the other side of the world that these people are innocent and they must be victims of prejudice
September 3, 2007
Come on Zach, there are a lot of well written comments here (Andy & Terry T) which I think deserve a response.
September 5, 2007
i have to agree, terry.
like in this specific instance, the assumption is that the shopkeeper just revels in the opportunity to discriminate against the traveller children, because she just basically hates children, for no reason.
but of a naive standpoint sadly.
i do feel strongly that the rhetoric on both sides of this issue gets in the way of the reality of the situation (i mean, it’s either “all travellers are scum” or “all travellers are lovely romantic chaps going around in horsedrawn caravans helping local people who just throw it back in their faces”, when neither is entirely true, in my opinion.
this is the main reason that i feel so frustrated by this website, as i feel a real opportunity to cut through the BS and spread some understanding on both sides, has been entirely squandered.
a real shame. but i’m sure old zach goes back to the US with some great chat up lines off the back of this, eh?
also one small aside, concerning zach’s berating of the local councillor Mr Baron – i didn’t vote for the guy personally, but the fact remains that he is the democratically elected representative of this area, and as such could have been afforded slightly more courtesy by our guest, again: in my opinion.
October 19, 2010
you silly muppet – every corner shop in the UK has one of those signs!!