Wednesday, March 02, 2011

My Big Fat Gypsy Parents

Two men at my gym last night were talking about ethnographic/car-crash tv show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. It's one of those prurient Channel 4 documentaries which feels a bit like a Victorian Freak Show. You're encouraged to goggle at women in kitschy wedding dresses, who make Jordan look shy and retiring.

I'm not really sure what I think about gypsies - I don't know any so I don't feel qualified to comment. I'm glad I'm not one, because I don't think they have much opportunity for career advancement, and gender stereotyping seems to be quite prelevant in gypsy culture. But apart from that, I say live and let live. However, these men were saying things that were more than a bit prejudiced. According to them, gypsies were thieves who took drugs and caused fights... "My friend bought a horse from a gypsy at Appleby Fair," said one man. "It was very docile when she bought it, but when she got it home it went wild. Turned out that the gypsies had drugged it, and she couldn't get a refund because the gypsies had all left by that point." Not really very nice, even if it was true.

Then one of them turned to me and said "You're not a gypsy are you?"

I thought, "Do I look like a gypsy?" So I said "Yes, actually, I'm very offended!" and then we laughed, and I thought nothing more of it.

I didn't know it, but it was a portent.

My parents phoned me this evening and said "We've got something to tell you." The something, is that they're moving to a caravan park. To all intents and purposes, I am now from a gypsy family.

Actually I'm not. It's a respectable caravan park, which doesn't allow children, and is mainly for retired people. There are peacocks, and the caravans are more like bungalows, rather than gaily coloured things that you can hook up to horses (drugged or otherwise). It is true that the site is in the middle of nowhere, and my mother will be a virtual prisoner there for several days a week when my Dad is at work (the nearest bus-stop is a mile away), but I can't see her doing a gypsy jig round a campfire, or selling lucky heather or anything.

But perhaps I should learn a few words of Romany, incase this is just the start.

And I can't get away from the fact that I feel like I just became a character in a sitcom - ultra middle-class snobby gay son and his even more middle-class, even snobbier, even more high-maintenance partner have to cope with parents whose recession down-sizing leads right to a trailer park. Maybe Channel 4 will be interested...


Anonymous said...

MBFGW is indeed a car-crash of a programme, and would be laughable if it weren't so tragically misrepresentative of the Romany community - which, as I'm sure you're aware, is not a monolithic entity. I am descended on my mother's side from Romany bargee travellers, none of whom ever saw the inside of a caravan, or wore wedding dresses which make you look like ten pounds of shite in a five-pound bag. When her family 'settled', many of its members climbed the social ladder quite rapidly, becoming jewellers, factory owners and, in my own generation, university academics. The old stereotypes die hard, though, and "Romany boy becomes Reader at prestigious Russell Group university" can never compete with "I caught herpes from the gyppo on the Waltzers", or the embarrassing shenanigans of the performers on MBFGW.

But then you knew all this anyway. As for being mistaken for a gypsy, while you're undoubtedbly very handsome, you're not quite rough enough round the edges! Grow a bit of stubble, don an earring and a manky leather jacket and then you'll be 'chav' enough to pass muster!


Lubin said...

I think that might be one of my favourite comments to this blog!