I know that I am not Jarvis Cocker but I am English and I am happy to have just arranged to have an ex-pat postal vote in the forthcoming ‘stay in or go out of Europe’ referendum. So I am looking forward to plenty of hugs as I walk around the city or the campus. Do you think I should wear a Union flag in the streets of Cork? Would that attract more hugs from Europeans?
Here is what one of my favourite columnists, Tim Dowling, wrote in the Guardian:
Citizens of EU countries who live in the UK – more than 2 million people – are bystanders in the EU referendum debate. They can’t vote, and so have no way of influencing what will be for them a crucial decision. Until now.
A collection of pro-remain Europeans has just formed a group called #PleaseDon’tGoUK, and this month they’re launching a campaign called #hugabrit. Their intention, according to founding member Tessa Szyszkowitz, a UK correspondent for an Austrian news magazine, is to “send a love bomb to the British people, because we think the EU is a project worth fighting for”.
It’s hard to imagine Nigel Farage, for example, responding positively to an unsolicited hug from anyone. You might get better results from promising to leave him alone, or hugging him and then offering to stop.
Along with the hashtag, they have a website (pleasedontgouk.com), and a Facebook page. They don’t actually have a budget of any kind, but the campaign is a simple one. If you want to join, all you have to do is take a picture of yourself hugging a Brit, and send it in. It might help if you hug a British celebrity (someone on the website bagged Jarvis Cocker), but it’s not a requirement.
The big unknown, of course, is the extent to which British suspicion of the EU has a symptomatic correlation with the traditional British horror of being touched by strangers.
“We have encountered some difficulties in our attempts to overcome the traditional British reluctance towards physical contact,” says Szyszkowitz, “but we are happy to take up this challenge for a higher cause. In truth, I think the Brits like to get hugged as long as you ask politely.”
There can be no doubting the group means business: Szyszkowitz immediately offered to send someone round to hug me. I had to declare that, as an American citizen, I had no vote to change.
There is much talk among my friends and family about the pros and cons of staying in or leaving Europe and I find myself to be one of the least patriotic and nationalistic members of my set. My father fought in the Second World War, during which he learnt French and Flemish, and once we were born he took us on annual camping holidays to Holland, Germany, France and Italy to view the art and walk in the mountains (not in Holland, of course, as their mountains are scarce). We never went to Spain as he had an abiding horror of Franco.
So I will be voting to stay in the EU as I believe it is the best way to challenge far-right and fascist groups and replace poisonous xenophobia with friendship and commonality. Don’t forget to give me a hug when you see me.