When I first moved to the UK, I could not believe how trusting people were here about your identity. How delightfully simple it was to do most bureaucratic things! Things which in other countries would take several weeks, lots of additional documents and several trips involving queuing at counters staffed by surly robots who made you feel like a criminal before you had even opened your mouth. Here in the UK, everyone was unfailingly polite, even though I was a non-EU citizen on a student visa who had to go each year to review my status at the dreaded Lunar House in Croydon.
Nowadays I am a British citizen and how things have changed…
Yesterday at passport control at Heathrow I was asked why I had a different surname to my children and that next time I should travel with their birth certificates to prove that I have the right to be with them. I tried to joke that they were welcome to keep the kids, but that didn’t go down very well.
This morning, I entered a shop with my own reusable bag and put a couple of items inside to take to the check-out. As I was paying for them, I was sternly told that I shouldn’t do that, because I might be accused of shoplifting. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?
Whilst on holiday in Geneva, I booked plane tickets online and my husband was called by our credit card company (they refused to speak to me, because I am only the secondary cardholder, so a lesser mortal) and asked about this possibly fraudulent transaction.
I no longer dare to furtively adjust my tights on the street because there’s a good chance that my every move is being captured by CCTV. I have to hurry my children along when supermarket shopping, instead of enjoying a leisurely afternoon tea together, because the licence plate recognition software will not allow me to park for longer than two hours. My olive-skinned husband has also on occasion been extensively questioned about his Greek ID card (which he can use to travel anywhere else in the EU instead of a passport).
All small things in themselves, tiny personal mosaics in the bigger picture of the UK’s gradual transformation into a surveillance society. I, for one, mourn the loss of trust and amiability which made me appreciate British society in the first place. Am I imagining this decline in human empathy and trust? Is it inevitable in complex societies? And why is this change particularly evident in Britain – is September 11th the cause of all this?
Happy New Year!