I’ve been pondering the rash of new regulations over the week-end in the US, a country the UK grows more alike every week.
First the cinema chain AMC banned ‘Joker’ costumes, and fake fire arms being carried into cinemas. This apparently is to prevent a rash of copy cat killings in the wake of the Aurora shootings. You can still legally purchase an AK 47, and go dressed as the Priest in The Thorn Birds…but you will not ‘copy cat’ the Aurora shooting. That’s a relief then.
Then the US boy Scouts Association voted to ‘ban gays’ from membership. This will have the desired effect of preventing openly gay campaigners from making a political statement joining the movement, but do absolutely nothing to protect young boys from unwelcome attention.
We did much the same thing in the UK with our CRB checks; great, it stopped those already with a conviction for child abuse from re-entering vulnerable occupations, but it made children even more vulnerable as the world turned its back, satisfied that a piece of legislation was going to take the place of watchful caring.
Somehow my mind wandered from there to the caring issue, and how that is the real class divide in Britain. The sound bites say that class is merely a matter of how much money you have, and that by gaining more money you somehow acquire more class (lottery anyone? It could be you!) – which is very much the class divide in the US. In Britain, if you are a ‘carer’ in myriad forms, you are automatically lower class. The upper class are ‘cared for’ – and have the money to pay for it. Ipso this turns anyone who is receiving money to perform that ‘duty’ into a lesser social being.
It is a psychological distinction which doesn’t exist in France, and it makes a heck of a difference to day to day life. Perhaps believing that they guillotined all their aristocracy in the revolution has made all the difference – for there are certainly still aristocrats in France; there are many exceptionally wealthy people, the political elite lead a rarefied life that must be the envy of British politicians – yet there is not the same resentment towards those who have more than you, and definitely not the same sullen resistance to performing any task that smacks of ‘servitude’. Nor is there the same deep need to deck oneself out with the accoutrements that define your social position – the right car, the designer clothes, the house in the right street. (I exclude Paris from this comment, since that is another country as far as the rest of France is concerned. Different rules apply).
Watch an Englishman walk into a bar in France. He marches straight up to the counter to demand service. He shows them the colour of his money. He places his ‘order’ – he may then turn to his wife and find out what she would like! But the deed is done, he has defined his place in the pecking order of who serves who. He has, of course, monumentally offended the bar tender. Denied him the chance to ‘care’ by noticing this new arrival in his establishment and walking across to his table to find out how he can best satisfy his needs. For being a bar tender here is no ‘menial job’, it is a profession, a respected profession. One that they take pride in. Ditto the waiter in a restaurant.
Even though I was aware of the social faux pas of walking straight up to the bar, I hadn’t really twigged the difference between the two nations in ‘caring’ until I landed up in hospital. I was surprised at the number of male nurses. I was even more surprised at their familiarity with especially a woman. A bed bath from a man? I struggled with that one. A man lifting you onto a bed pan, and then staying with you, gently supporting your back so you didn’t fall off, patting your leg with easy familiarity? Whoa! A man lifting your breast into that infernal mammogram machine, a lone man in an otherwise empty building? I had to rethink my own prejudices. Why did it feel so strange? So awkward?
It took time to sink in that every aspect of caring was seen as something you could and should take pride in – not a menial job reserved for the lowest form of human life, a working class woman. As a restaurant diner, no matter how dressed; as a client seeking coffee, no matter only spending one euro; as a patient, no matter how awkward, you have become someone with needs to be met, and meeting those needs is an honourable profession. As, I might add, is prostitution in France! Or being a Mistress.
The cleaner who cleans your hospital room, does a superb job. He’s not an immigrant happy to take any job – he’s a consummate professional. Lunch arrives, and it is a series of tasty little ‘tempters’, delivered by someone who hangs around to ensure that you can get the top off this, that you don’t require more salt, perhaps you would prefer the pear flavour rather than the apple? It’s not thrown at you with an air of ‘there you go, love’. And those are some of the most menial jobs in the UK.
Garden centres here are the perennial haunt, as they are in England, of an army of the mentally disabled in wheelchairs with accompanying carers. Yet there is a difference; the carers don’t wear that expression of bored indifference – ‘I’m actually a Nuclear Science PhD student and I’m only doing this part time I’ll have you know’. They are engaged with their charges, laughing, joking, touching, encouraging. Taking a pride in their job again.
There is still a class system here, but it is not divided by money. Try refusing to take a job you have been unwittingly voted into by your community (you can add names to the voting list if you don’t think any of the proffered candidates are suitable for a particular job!) and you will soon find out which class you are in. Too proud to serve your community? That is the lowest of the low. Try being an immigrant who doesn’t want to work. Try not looking after your elderly parents.
Perhaps if Britain could drop this American notion that class is all about money, the country would be better for it. We wouldn’t need a regulation which says that carers must proffer a bed pan every 16 hours. You can’t make people care by regulation. You can’t stop mass murder by banning the costume the last mass murderer appeared in. You can’t stop child abuse by banning groups of people who may or may not have transgressed in the past. We need to stop seeing work as an imposition imposed on us by our misfortune in life not to have been born as an aristocrat.
I’m not sure how we do that – is there a kinder way than chopping the heads off the entire House of Lords? Suggestions please!