Dear Europe
October 26, 2019 10:49 AM   Subscribe

You’ll never walk alone Oh, it won’t come to that, surely?” This is a phrase I’ve heard many times in the last three years. It’s uttered by friendly, cultured, open-minded people in my town – the sort of people who woke up on the morning of 24 June 2016 blinking in disbelief at finding their values outvoted. Since that day, they’ve reassured themselves that the fracture in our society can be reversed, as if a pane of glass can be talked out of the crack in it, as if a burst balloon can be made to see that staying intact is the best thing all round. (SLGuardian)

From Paris to Berlin, fado to football, boat trains to pen friends … public figures reflect on their lifelong relationship with Europe
posted by mumimor (29 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
What a lovely, bittersweet article. Thanks for posting!
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:07 AM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


"That night was the start of our love affair with Europe. Until then, Liverpool’s gaze was fixed the other way – over the sea to Ireland,"

Ireland is also part of Europe. Not that you would know it from any of these letters. Can't help feeling that nothing has been learned at all in this process, even by well-intentioned folk.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:13 AM on October 26, 2019 [34 favorites]


as if a pane of glass can be talked out of the crack in it, as if a burst balloon can be made to see that staying intact is the best thing all round.

We are a nation of Glaziers.
posted by clavdivs at 11:38 AM on October 26, 2019 [7 favorites]


I couldn't make it past the list of authors. It just hurt too much.
posted by edd at 1:40 PM on October 26, 2019


“You’ve got nothing to worry about, surely? I mean, come on, they’re not going to send police to your flat to deport you. Not someone like you.”
Again, the Shirley/Surely Exception strikes, and again and again right wingers of the not quite so extremist faction keep voting for extreme policies because, well, **SURELY** there's an exception for the good ones!
posted by sotonohito at 2:44 PM on October 26, 2019 [14 favorites]


Can't help feeling that nothing has been learned at all in this process, even by well-intentioned folk.

Right?
posted by humboldt32 at 3:22 PM on October 26, 2019 [4 favorites]


**SURELY** there's an exception for the good ones!

The shade of Martin Niemöller would like a word with those folks.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:51 PM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


Again, the Shirley/Surely Exception strikes

OK this is brilliant to the point that I feel it should be on some sort of a mandatory curriculum somewhere.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 11:19 PM on October 26, 2019 [2 favorites]


Christ so many of these guys still Just Don't Get It. The endless casually dropping of upper middle class signifiers is aggravating, even to me. At least Mary Beard and Michael Faber are there to think a little deeper and a little more critically.
posted by Braeburn at 11:53 PM on October 26, 2019 [9 favorites]


Not to abuse the edit window, as I lie in my home in Europe: Brexit is he worst thing, and I feel every day like someone is trying to pull a part of me away. My experiences of Europe are totally in line with those described in the article. In the words of my partner, 'europe has been so good for me, a person with enough wealth to fully immerse myself in it'. I get that being in the EU has made us all richer but that's sort of intangible isn't it?
posted by Braeburn at 11:58 PM on October 26, 2019 [3 favorites]


lesbiassparrow's comment above pretty much nails it. The E.U. for many of these writers is a cosmopolitan dream. Poverty, in comparison, can shrink your world, and if you don't have the money to partake in that dream, it's pretty much meaningless.

In Toronto -- Scarborough, to be specific, which is technically a part of Metro Toronto, but it ain't "Toronto" -- one of my co-workers is a twenty-five year old white male who lives with his girlfriend and their six-month-old son, along with a few room-mates in a detached house. He's never been outside of the country, except on a few visits to the States. One time at the counter I was cashing out an order for a contractor with a strong Australian accent, and my co-worker came us just as the contractor had left the building. "Was that guy Australian?" I said he was. "Wow, I've never met an Australian before."

I've told this story to some of my friends, people who are better-read and better-traveled than I am, and they think the story is bizarre. One person told me straight up that he didn't believe me. Living in Canada and never meeting an Australian? That's like driving on the 401 for years and never getting in a traffic jam! Impossible.

And yet these people exist. Those houses with room-mates and broken-down SUVs and posters of hip-hop artists over their warehouse work desk (thirty years ago the posters would have shown hair-metal bands, but times have changed) are their world. Trips to the UK, let alone Madrid or Bonn, are for those with fat bank accounts and time to burn: hipsters, celebrities, company owners. They might happily eat the samosa or beef patties other workers bring in for pot-luck, but that's as far as their cosmopolitanism goes. A political abstraction like the E.U. means far less than the stagnating pay and deteriorating road infrastructure and competing immigrant workforce that they deal with daily. And if someone can convince them that the political abstraction might be to blame for their worsening quality of life, well... here's the Brexit movement as Exhibit 'A'.

So I did appreciate reading the collection of letters that the Guardian editors put together. But every subsequent reading puts me at a further distance from what they are praising, and what they are mourning. There's a lesson in the Brexit vote, as well as the ongoing crisis of the Trump presidency and right-wing movements around the world, but some of those obviously intelligent writers are still going full-on Principal Skinner: Are they so out of touch? No, it's the voters who are wrong.
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 3:47 AM on October 27, 2019 [14 favorites]


OK, fine, the letters were written by champagne socialists and cosmopolitan liberals whose idea of what Europe is, and what Europe means to them, doesn't resonate universally. Point taken; point understood. People Had Reasons For Voting Leave.

But: how does Brexit improve life for people dealing with stagnating pay and a competing immigrant workforce and deteriorating infrastructure? By what mechanism will post-Brexit life improve for me and my neighbors? I don't feel burdened by EU regulation; I feel protected by it. (If anything, I wish there were more of it; I feel taken advantage of by fat-cat capitalists more than I feel robbed by the state.) Will the post-Brexit UK have more opportunity for me? If so, how?
posted by Fraxas at 5:00 AM on October 27, 2019 [18 favorites]


What? I don't know that Brexit voters are mainly poor people who aren't able to travel. That might account for some of the non-voters, though.
All I've seen is that Brexit voters are middle-aged to older Conservatives, many of whom travel to "The Continent" on holiday regularly, and all of whom enjoy products from the EU27 every day. They closely resemble their leaders, Farage and whatshername the screaming lady in the EUP. They blame everything that bothers them on the EU, and dream of the imperial England of their history books from the 60's and 70's (I still have mine, and it's been quite an eye-opener to re-read them now).
In the university where I taught before, we had many British students because tuition was free for EU citizens, unlike in the UK. Those were the students who didn't have rich parents, who paid for their living by washing dishes. Freedom of movement is for everyone, and English is spoken almost everywhere. I'm not going to go into the article, since I posted it, but the EU being a thing for the middle class and above only is rubbish.

Also: why would it be a middle class thing in England, and not in Poland? Last I checked, Poland is a far poorer country than the UK, but somehow flatsharing Polish workers don't hate on the EU and they don't see traveling in the EU as an elitist middle class privilege. In spite a majority of Poles of voting for an authoritarian religious nationalist. (You can replace Poland with any other EU country).
posted by mumimor at 6:13 AM on October 27, 2019 [21 favorites]


Trips to the UK, let alone Madrid or Bonn, are for those with fat bank accounts and time to burn: hipsters, celebrities, company owners.

For someone who lives in Canada, sure. But for the equivalent person in Britain, a hop across the channel to France or Spain would be more comparable to the Scarborough guy's occasional trips to the States, surely?

How does Brexit improve life for people dealing with stagnating pay and a competing immigrant workforce and deteriorating infrastructure?

Most likely, it'll do exactly the opposite. Many of Britain's most disadvantaged areas were receiving big development grants from the EU, targeted at improving their crumbling infrastructure and encouraging new jobs. There's absolutely no guarantee that a post-Brexit British government (particularly a Tory one) will match those development grants when the EU's help is no longer available.
posted by Paul Slade at 6:21 AM on October 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


somehow flatsharing Polish workers don't hate on the EU [...] In spite a majority of Poles of voting for an authoritarian religious nationalist.

Polish workers, despite what rightwing propaganda would like them to believe, can see the benefits of Poland's EU membership in their everyday lives. Still, many voters of PiS (or LaJMA, Law and Justice My Ass as I prefer to call it) are perfectly fine with hating on EU values while taking EU money. And the party was supported by a plurality of 43%, while the centre-right KO and coalition of leftist parties came 1,5% short of majority, but D'Hondt method gave the majority of seats to PiS. (And this is far into the derail territory, but I can't resist mentioning that the hateful old man leading PiS got far less votes than the opposition candidate.)
posted by hat_eater at 6:54 AM on October 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


No-one's working harder towards a Tory government than a lot of Remain campaigners, so I'd take concerns about replacement funding sources very seriously.
posted by Acid Communist at 6:57 AM on October 27, 2019


"Trips to the UK, let alone Madrid or Bonn, are for those with fat bank accounts and time to burn: hipsters, celebrities, company owners."

For someone who lives in Canada, sure. But for the equivalent person in Britain, a hop across the channel to France or Spain would be more comparable to the Scarborough guy's occasional trips to the States, surely?

Most people in Canada don't travel to the U.S. thinking they're necessarily going to a foreign country. Quebec is more foreign to a lot of (Anglo-)Canadians, frankly. And if we're traveling somewhere overseas, we have to have a very good reason, because geography is not in our favour as it is in Europe. I do wonder what life would be like if a vacation somewhere in Europe or Asia didn't require a week's vacation time and a round-trip ticket worth one or more mortgage payments. I also wonder what it means to English people who might not care that much about other countries - like the dreaded "expats" who haunt the coasts of Spain and complain about the locals - or for some unemployed northerner who can't afford even the 30 euros for a "cheap" flight to Dublin.

I probably should stay out of the comments section because I don't have first-hand exposure to Brexit and what it's doing to the UK (and I feel like I and others owe an apology to muminor because this thread is taking a different path than what he or she might have envisioned when they posted it). What I will say is I find the whole situation to be horribly sad and I empathise with the writers in the article who have so many fond memories of the Europe they experienced, and like some of them I really wished there was a way to turn back time on the whole mess. Then again, my city elected Rob Ford as mayor years ago, and we now have his horrid garbage brother for Premier of Ontario, and um... well, I feel your pain, for whatever that's worth.
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 7:43 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


But for the equivalent person in Britain, a hop across the channel to France or Spain would be more comparable to the Scarborough guy's occasional trips to the States, surely?

There are a lot of people in the United States or Canada who have never left their own state or province. No, not even for vacation. There are many who have never left even their own county.

The gap between the rich and poor is rising, and what we are learning is that those who suffer most from it are attracted most strongly to hope and fear. People organizing with both are working to pull the previously apolitical into our camps. I hope to God that hope, organizing then to rise from the ashes and build something beautiful together, will win. I am working really hard to try to make it so. But it is important to look at the rise of right wing xenophobia and hate with clear eyes. And so yes - I find these letters beautiful but also sort of sad. It’s mostly about the freedom to travel for those with the ability to do so - not about what England has gained. It’s inaccessible to those who have never known that freedom.
posted by corb at 7:59 AM on October 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


Again I would point out that when English people cross to Ireland they are also travelling to Europe. It is really telling when you look at the countries that the authors dwell on what they see as the valuable parts of Europe and what they don't.

It is also a really telling thing that The Guardian editors looked at this and thought it was representative. I imagine Eastern Europeans also have a lot to say here as well as Irish people....
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:00 AM on October 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


There are a lot of people in the United States or Canada who have never left their own state or province. No, not even for vacation.

While on holiday in Sint Maarten I met an American lady who told me "I've never been out of the U.S."...
posted by Cardinal Fang at 9:22 AM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Still, many voters of PiS (or LaJMA, Law and Justice My Ass as I prefer to call it)
Pis is the Scandinavian spelling of piss. Just saying
posted by mumimor at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


Considering the vote had 1.3mill between leave/remain and there were about 13 million registered who didn't vote you'd only need 10% of the non-voters to change the outcome. Their alienation from Europe no doubt played a factor.
posted by Braeburn at 1:10 PM on October 27, 2019


It is also a really telling thing that The Guardian editors looked at this and thought it was representative.

I don't think they thought it was representative. I think they thought it would contain a variety of ideas which would appeal to their readers. I suspect that has been successful.

Most people in the UK have benefited in one way or another from membership of the EU. And there's a reason (as Sandi Toksvig alludes to in her piece) that the EU has received the Nobel Peace Prize. But unlike, for example Ireland, many British people don't or won't recognise these benefits. As if their ability to spend a summer working in a Magaluf bar, spend their retirement in Benidorm, buy cheap British-grown produce, or be employed in a Nissan factory in Sunderland is their own doing, and is in any way independent of British membership in the EU.
posted by plonkee at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


But for the equivalent person in Britain, a hop across the channel to France or Spain would be more comparable to the Scarborough guy's occasional trips to the States, surely?

There are a lot of people in the United States or Canada who have never left their own state or province. No, not even for vacation. There are many who have never left even their own county.


It is far cheaper for Brits to travel to Europe than it is for Canadians to even travel within Canada or to the United States. When I lived in England you could get flights to the rest of Europe on budget airlines for anything from 39-100 quid return. You can fly pretty much nowhere from Toronto for that amount. There was an inexpensive high speed train that could take you to 3 european countries in under 6 hours (however the internal English trains were insanely expensive unless you booked 3 or 4 months in advance because Conservatives). There were also ferries that could take your car across the channel for hardly anything at all. I think it is really hard for Americans or Canadians to conceive of just how local Europe is to the UK (and conversely many Europeans don't have a good sense for the sheer scale of distances in North America).

The people in the UK who didn't go to rest of Europe for the most part either didn't want to or were so desperately poor that food would be an issue for them so any travel at all wasn't an option.

That said I'd point out the reason someone from Scarborough might not have experience with Australian immigrants is because the immigrants drawn to Scarborough are by and large not westerners. Scarborough has one of the highest concentrations of visible minorities in Canada with only about 28% declaring themselves to be of white european descent on the last census. 45% of the population is from Asia. So it is hardly a non-cosmopolitan ethnically homogeneous backwater with no knowledge of the world but is possibly becoming known as a non-white immigrant landing pad that european/western immigrants might avoid. (If the 'not meeting any Australians' anecdote was for England I would have laughed hard because I can't be sure I ever encountered a bartender in London who wasn't Australian).

I feel absolutely awful for my British and European friends from my time in England who are facing a huge stupid and pointless constriction in their freedoms. What a terrible loss. As a two-time immigrant who has had to deal with the hostile, restrictive and invasive bureaucracy that moving across borders without the protection of an EU like organization I know exactly what they are facing when they lose the freedom of movement the EU granted and it really sucks.
posted by srboisvert at 3:10 PM on October 27, 2019 [10 favorites]


Scarborough, to be specific, which is technically a part of Metro Toronto, but it ain't "Toronto"

To be clear, Scarborough is literally part of Toronto in the same way that Queens is part of NYC. It's more suburban, but not actually a suburb.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:07 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


One point, though -- before 9/11 it was possible to travel to the US without thinking of it as 'foreign', because you could drive across the border with no more than a drivers license.

It's felt much more distant since entry has required a passport, and it's felt positively hateful since the rise of Trump.
posted by jrochest at 8:09 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


Quite appropriate to use LFC considering most of their fans are tourists

I mean, the city itself benefited greatly from EU funds and is what it is today not just because of the funding but because of its nature as a port and university city. Liverpool has always been a outward looking city, EU or not. Also worth noting its rejection of the Sun newspaper contributed towards a resistance of Leave propaganda. The daily mail doesnt get the same treatment sadly.
posted by Chaffinch at 5:27 AM on October 28, 2019


Quite appropriate to use LFC considering most of their fans are tourists

No problem with using Liverpool at all. But there is when you say 'well suddenly with the EU we didn't have to look west to Ireland and the US and found orange and green can go together also thanks to the EU!' when the thing that is always the issue at hand in Brexit is Ireland and the Irish border, and the UK government cannot seem to deal with that at all. People can write all the love letters they like to France, Italy and so forth, but just bringing up Ireland to drop it as 'not Europe and something we could drop once we got the EU' is, in context, mind boggling to me.

I know people from the UK will still have access to Ireland after Brexit thanks to the common travel agreement (provided the Tories don't get notions about it), so they aren't losing it the way they are losing Europe, but at the same time it feels a bit odd to ignore it altogether in letter after letter. And not realize that it wasn't the EU that made things better between the communities on the island, but the Good Friday Agreement.

I get why they did this approach: it matches their readers' interests and probably general experiences. But imagine reading this as a someone Polish who keeps being told to go home by Leavers - it doesn't exactly reassure you that Remainers are that keen on you either or think of you as really European.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:33 PM on October 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


It may not be obvious until the very end, but these are excerpts from a book coming out Oct 31; the publishing company commissioned personal contributions from 44 British writers.
posted by taz at 4:31 AM on October 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


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