Me, an outsider? Not a chance!

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

YESTERDAY I received an email from a friend of mine who had found a Top Tips Guide for Townies online that she thought might make me laugh.

It listed all the things you should be aware of when relocating from the city to the countryside. Don’t decide on moving to a new county just because you went once on a summer bank holiday and had a great time, it said.

Never assume that just because you are breathing in fresh air you are going to be any less fat and lazy than you were when you were living in the metropolis, it continued.

Imagine your new home is in a foreign country, with a different language, customs and sense of time. Plan accordingly.

Be sure you can cope with isolation, loneliness, mud, rain, a lack of entertainment and unpleasant smells.

Learn to live without taxis, a regular bus service, convenient corner shops and broadband.

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But above all, keep yourself to yourself for the first five years.

Do not expect to make friends or feel welcome. Country folk do not like intruders.

Remember – you are an outsider and you will remain so for a very long time.

The guide made me chuckle but I was also struck by the very generalised stereotypes of country bumpkin and city slicker on which it was clearly based.

Stereotypes exist for a reason, of course.

According to psychologists, we create them to bring some kind of order to our complex society – to help simplify the characteristics or expected behaviours of a certain group.

And since the dawn of time, stereotypes have been played upon by comedians desperate for an easily-recognisable caricature.

Who can blame them?

After all, to consider the individuality of every single person we come across would be utterly exhausting (and not at all funny).

So here we go …

All Londoners are miserable. Scousers wear shell-suits. Essex girls love fake tan.

A Yorkshireman never pays for a round at the bar (I should know, I married one). Brummies are not the brightest bunch and in Manchester they walk with a Liam Gallagher swagger.

So does Suffolk have a stereotype?

No, not really. Well, nothing I could find when I searched Google, anyway.

I suppose it would have to be included within the clich� of country folk – those red-cheeked, wind-swept, welly-wearing, tractor-driving types who are terribly suspicious of city dwellers. Which is a worry if so, because I have completely failed at keeping myself to myself.

This, in itself, is a strange development.

Living in London, I often conformed to the fashion for unfriendliness.

I wasn’t rude. I just did what everyone else did. Head down, avoiding conversation with strangers or even meeting their eye.

It would never have crossed my mind to speak to the person sat next to me on a Tube train or to linger a bit longer in the supermarket to ask the till girl how her day had been.

If I had, those people could well have looked at me like I was mad, ignoring me if they were feeling kind and muttering some kind of obscenity if not.

These days it would feel rude not to pause and have a nice long chat with the fishmonger, the butcher, my hairdresser, other mums on the school run or those out walking their dogs.

I suppose when we moved to Suffolk I was aware that people might do things differently.

I had hoped that they would have a greater sense of community, know their neighbours, get involved in local events.

It never crossed my mind that they would see me as an intruder but I did realise I was going to have to adopt a “when in Rome” attitude if I was ever going to make friends. Ignoring people was simply not an option.

Last weekend I helped out selling raffle tickets at the Kyson Primary School summer fair. It was a busy day, with hundreds of people pouring in through the school gates to enjoy it.

At the end of the afternoon, children’s tummies full of burgers and cake and pocket money spent on toys and sweets, my husband remarked on how many people I had spoken to during the event.

Some were parents of children at the school, others teachers. Several I had met through toddler groups and a few ran local shops and businesses.

I knew all their names and they knew mine.

I was pleased he had noticed; and even more delighted that, at last, I was beginning to feel like I belonged.

Rather than wait five years to become a member of the community, it has taken me less than five months.

And this is largely due to the welcoming, friendly and easy-going people I have met. Never once have they made me feel like an outsider.

So do the people of Suffolk conform to the traditional stereotype of country folk suspicious of the city refugee?

I think not.

Living in Suffolk is exactly as I hoped it would be.

But if the world wants to lump me in with the ruddy cheeks and wellies brigade, well I couldn’t be happier. This is home now.

Email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.

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