Joe and Mary are gypsies. I met them today, parked by the side of the road, while I was out cycling the back roads of Oxfordshire. Turns out Joe was born in Chelmsford – the town of my birth too – in St. John’s Hospital.
I am curious about people living slightly outside of the delineated borders of society. I spent an informative half hour with this lovely couple interrogating them about their lives. They were very patient and forthcoming and gave me some fascinating insights into their culture and life experiences. Although they own a house, they take to the road every summer and get back to their gypsy roots, parking on their favourite grass verges and freely enjoying nature.
But, sadly, they are abused by passers-by in their cars who roll down their car windows and cry, “pikies”or “stinky gypsies” and various other rude comments. And the cowards only do it from the safety of their cars as they drive by. Joe said that people generally don’t give them the time of day, appreciating that I stopped by to chat and get to know them. I asked him if he thought people were afraid of them. He thought they probably were. He thinks people just assume that because they are travellers they are criminals. He acknowledged that some of them are, but he also pointed out that some people who live normal lives in houses are criminals. Just like you get all types of people in the world you get all types of gypsies. Good and bad. Social and antisocial.
So gypsies are classified based on them owning a transit van towing a caravan. If they wanted to, they couldn’t just pull up into a normal caravan park; they would most likely be turned away. Sad, really.
They are also defined by their language or dialect. They don’t readily share this language with non-gypsies but I did learn one or two words: they call a horse a gigi, for example. And they have their own names for non-gypsies too: we are called gorgers or country people. It was fascinating.
Why do people abuse gypsies? Fear, I guess. I suppose it is no different from any other kind of racism or discrimination; that which we don’t understand we tend to fear.
All the more reason to get out there in the world and experience how the other half live.