Immigrants In Time – Do We All Become Unwanted Aliens In The End?
‘Immigrants in time’ is an expression I heard many years ago. I have no idea who coined the phrase or what they meant by it. However, as I have elderly parents I think I know exactly what is meant by ‘immigrants in time’.
My parents are now aged 87 and 89 and over the last 15 or so years, I have watched with sadness as they become strangers in their own land.
The fault is not theirs; they do not have any cognitive diseases. It is simply a failing of modern life to be kinder and more inclusive towards the elderly.
As a child, I do not remember my many older relatives being made to feel so alien as many feel now. Back then, we really did respect our elders and they seemed to be welcome everywhere. Parties were all about family and we all jammed into the tiniest of houses – young and old together.
What has changed? Is it technology and the instant nature of everything that has made the world so impatient and intolerant of anyone over the age of 20? Is it the growing addiction to the impossible standards of ‘beauty’ pushed by the media and film industry? Have real, ageing faces and bodies become so offensive to young people that they despise them?
When I am out and about with my parents, I am acutely aware of their discomfort and bewilderment at how their town has changed. It is no longer a place they really know that well. And the general population, once respectful and polite to the elderly, seems to have no tolerance for anyone who cannot move at 90 miles an hour.
Immigrants In Time Face Subtle Discrimination In Many Different Ways
The term ‘immigrant in time’ came back to me a few months ago when my mother was the victim of some petty, unpleasant rudeness which I firmly believe was age-related. The incident made me realise what it must be like to be in any group that is on the fringes of society and treated badly by those in the mainstream.
We were in a garden centre. My mother wanted some spring bedding plants and we had enjoyed wandering round a garden centre just outside my parents’ hometown. My mum is the most inoffensive, gentle person I know. To be mean to her would be like kicking a puppy. That did not stop the woman at the checkout.
We stood in line waiting to pay. I had a couple of things too and stood behind my mum. As we stood there, the tray of plants she was holding was dripping dirty water.
When she had paid, my mum asked the checkout woman, very politely as she does, if she could please have something to put her small tray of plants in. A shop assistant would normally slide the tray into a plastic bag but the woman hadn’t bothered.
As the request left my mother’s lips, the checkout woman, who was around 50, looked at me and cast her eyes up giving a little smirk at the same time. The look said, ‘so sorry you are being held up by this stupid old woman who is being difficult by asking for a bag’.
It was intended as a conspiratorial exchange between two ‘younger’ women saying, ‘flipping old people!’ I was meant to secretly smile back to let her know us ‘younger’ people have to ‘tolerate’ the elderly.
It was a subtle, secret exchange over my mother’s head and took no account of her humanity or feelings, should she chance to notice. There was no respect for a lovely, aging woman who was enjoying an afternoon out and spending money which would undoubtedly pay staff wages.
What did I do? I exploded. I went absolutely berserk. I shocked myself, I shocked my mother, I shocked the queue behind me and I shocked the other shoppers who were quietly browsing. Most of all, I shocked the checkout woman who had no idea the woman she secretly insulted was my mother.
I am usually a very quiet, peaceful sort of person who hates confrontation. However, something inside me snapped because I had encountered this snide, silent insult once too often.
In a very loud voice, I asked the checkout woman who the hell she thought she was. I asked her why she had given me ‘the look’ when my mum had simply asked for something to put her plants in. The woman went the deepest shade of crimson I have ever seen. She stuttered out a denial and said she had no idea what I meant. No? Are you serious?
I pointed out that even if the person she insulted with her ‘look’ had not been my mother, I still would not have colluded with this insidious form of bullying. That kind of thing is utterly abhorrent to me.
My poor mum just stood there horrified. My dad and my husband who were waiting over by the exit used it rather too quickly for my liking and went out to sit in the car. Thanks guys! They are English – what more can I say – we don’t do confrontation.
Before we left, I turned and addressed the queue advising them to leave their intended purchases behind and go somewhere where the staff have some care and respect for ALL age groups. The checkout woman’s humiliation was complete.
I was fuming. When we got outside and I was able to explain what had happened, my mum started to talk about other incidents where she and my dad had been treated poorly while out shopping.
People barging past them impatiently because they are very slow. People tutting behind them causing mum and dad to stand back, bewildered, to let rude, impatient people pass them.
Don’t get me wrong, the whole of the UK is not like this, just some people. However, it seems to be getting worse. My parents often feel like strangers in their own land when they go out.
They don’t speak the same language any more and they don’t move at the same speed as younger people. They don’t understand why things are not made to last anymore and they wonder why the good manners that people used to have seem to be a thing of the past.
When we hear of immigrants being treated badly and discriminated against, we tend to think of an immigrant as someone from another country. British born people in their 80s and 90s may not be immigrants in the true sense of the word but, they do come from another time vastly different to this one. They truly are immigrants in time and I am not surprised that they go out alone less and less. There are still kind and gentle people around who realise that everyone has a right to walk on the streets at whatever speed they can manage but those who have no time for the aged seem to be on the increase.
As far as my outburst at the rude checkout woman goes, I have no regrets because I doubt she will ever do it again.
Is this just a UK thing? I would love to hear from people in other countries about how their ageing population is treated.
Visit the Age UK website to find out what is being done to help the aging population in the UK.