We may boldly declare that we are British and therefore European, but on the Continent we are treated as aliens, foreigners, Auslander, etrangers, wogs. I, for example, no longer go to rural France because I am not prepared to suffer the ritual humiliation meted out by French farmers and their wives who think I am Algerian.
In Brittany one year, there was an entire posse of French villagers waiting outside the house we were renting. Someone had told them that there were three Arabs in the party because the names Yasmin and Leila (the name of my daughter and also the daughter of a very good English friend who I was with at the time) appeared on the booking form. They were truly awful, silently suspicious, sullen, making no eye contact. Four more trips and many thousands of francs later, I have given up trying.
Black and Asian children on school trips to France often get hauled out of coaches and interrogated. One mixed-race sixth-former was the only one in her class to be questioned (the police asked her whether she had absconded from local authority care); another was told that France did not welcome illegal immigrants, unlike Britain "which was too kind to them".
Germany is also difficult. I find Berlin a wonderfully welcoming city, and one or two small places, such as Freiburg, are also interesting because we are such a rarity that there is genuine pleasure and open curiosity about us. But the rest of Germany has yet to catch up with anti-racism.
Their massive post-war re-education programme has been based entirely on guilt about the Holocaust. Most Germans think that this national penance gives them a kind of immunity, so that they are not required to look at other forms of racism. There has been little acknowledgement of the damage inflicted by the German empire-builders in Africa, for example. Besides, they think I am Turkish which makes me little better than vermin.
Turkey is a new problem area. If you are a British Asian, you are quite likely to have your passport stolen and recycled by those who could look like you. In Scandinavian countries there is terrible panic about the rise of Islam in their midst, and so, in pubs and cafes, you can end up having exhausting debates about whether immigrants should have their own graveyards.
So where does someone like me go? Andalusia feels comfortable. The people with their Moorish heritage are not offended by black and Asian visitors. Italy is my favourite place. Not once have I been made to feel like an intruder, perhaps because they think I am an Italian with unusually bad fashion sense. But here I speak as an Asian and a woman. Black Britons do face discrimination even in Italy, because it is assumed that they are scavenging Africans.
Asian men have been known to be maltreated in northern Spain. The black journalist Gary Younge has written movingly about how he was racially assaulted in Paris (by the police), openly discriminated against in Barcelona and abused and ejected by the French family he was expecting to stay with on an exchange visit in the Dordogne.
This is not meant to be a tirade against our European partners. It is not that much fun going to the British countryside for most of us, either. Weird looks follow your every mouthful of scones and tea; and a new report, Rural Racism in the UK, shows how backward the white heartlands are in this country. And it is British racism that can sometimes ruin our holidays abroad. The way some white tourists treat Turkish waiters makes me want to kill or die. We must keep away from places such as Torremolinos because among the loud, drunk beach bums there are a good many racist thugs. Two Asian friends who live there tell me how they have been treated by these unpleasant bigots.
What is different about Britain is that we have a confident, increasingly middle-class black and Asian population that is unable or unwilling to show deference or to know their place. Our white Continental cousins (who have kept down their immigrants with greater success and who have voted for extreme racist parties in increasing numbers) find this very difficult indeed. This is why so few of them are able to provide the courtesy we have paid for, and why so few of us bother to go to their countries any more.Reuse content