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Changing Channel

July 14, 2010

Yes, this is essentially a post about going on holiday. I’m not a travel blogger, and I doubt I’ve ever immersed myself enough into another culture to even pretend I could be. So what follows is more a collection of observations than anything else.

Dotted halfway between Britain and France, the Channel Islands ostensibly belong to both, and neither. One of the first things I noticed about Jersey (I must’ve been less observant last time) was the strange mix of two cultures that is evident everywhere. Exotic vegetation gives way intermittently to deep woodland that Robin Hood would feel at home in. The suburbs are partly the image of great British austerity, saloon cars gleaming in gravel driveways and boxy hedgerows. At the same time, however, these houses support a sea of ceramic-tiled roofs with Mediterranean ambitions. Bored-looking teens saunter down broad pavements. I sympathised with these; I too know the pangs of a tourist-trap adolescence. The low, rough stone walls that seal off the traditional English gardens could be straight out of Chocolat, and almost every place-name on the island is French.

However, the ingress of the tax-breaking managerial type has certainly Anglified the island. The sea-front resembles every other prosperous port-town along the English coastline; the concrete flatness of Liberation Square wouldn’t be out of place in Portsmouth. Liberation Square itself is intriguing — set down to commemorate the end of the German occupation of Jersey in 1945, this space now acts to seal the Britishness of the island. On every flagpole the Union flag is raised alongside the Jersey cross, but the only evidence of a French influence I’ve seen so far have been strings of triangular flags in red, white and blue, no doubt hung to celebrate Bastille Day. I’ve heard only a few snatches of French spoken, mostly by tourists. I have yet to encounter the archetypal Jersey fisherman, weather-faced and jabbering away in the island patois — a mix of English and French that seems to have been relegated almost entirely to Guernsey.

The greenery and the architecture seem determined to maintain a French connection, but I suspect that Jersey will continue to become a miniature Britain, if only ‘for tax reasons’. My favourite example of British urbanisation on the island is the towering Liberation House on the waterfront, whose steel-lettered title gleams above, of all things, a CCTV camera. What would Orwell have to say about that image, I wonder.

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