THIS week, while sitting in a rather confusing restaurant called Spice Quarter in Millennium Square, Leeds, I found myself discussing with a Czech social worker what Scotsmen wear under their kilts.
It wasn’t a very useful discussion because neither of us had a clue, although I thought that, were I about to enter a Braveheart-style battle armed only with my trusty claymore, I would probably endeavour to first find some very sturdy reinforced underpants.
Which reminds me, very much against my will, that my formative sexually-exploratory years coincided with the dominance, in the women’s underwear market, of the insurmountable panty-girdle. This, like the demise of final-salary pension schemes, is part of the curse of being born towards the end of the baby boom, and I wish people would stop telling me how lucky my generation is.
Anyway, back to Spice Quarter. This is a high-quality buffet restaurant, mainly selling Indian food but also able to supply Thai and Italian dishes and kebabs if you can work out where to queue for them.
The food is good – a lot better than you would expect of chefs stretching themselves across continents – and the whole operation is high-speed and efficient unless hampered by slow-witted customers who don’t understand the concept, or indeed the potential dangers, of chocolate fountains.
But enough about me. The restaurant conversation, involving a group of Czech child-protection workers meeting experts in the field from Leeds (plus me, as an appendage of my partner Lynne), naturally moved towards the topic of cultural and ethnic diversity because of the mixed-up nature of the menu. This, as was to be expected by the Leeds contingent but might have surprised the Czechs, contained no English dishes.
The Czech Republic (which I will call Czechland because otherwise life would be too short) is ethnically not very diverse, according to one of the visitors.
He said the biggest minorities were Russians, who moved in after the 1968 crushing of the Prague Spring liberalisation and who didn’t fancy going home when the Soviet bloc collapsed, and Vietnamese brought over as a gesture of Communist solidarity around the time of the Vietnam war.
The Vietnamese didn’t stay Communist for longer than they had to and are now prospering in all sorts of private enterprises. The second generation speak Czech like natives, or often better.
Our informant told us the amazing, he thought, fact that the winner of a national essay competition on the subject of Czechland was a teenage girl from the Vietnamese community. I don’t think any of the Leeds contingent, more used to diversity than the Czechs, found that at all surprising.
And then the conversation rippled out, via kilt-wearing Scotsmen and other important cultural issues, until somebody mentioned that a survey had found that the most disliked and feared ethnic group in Britain was young white males.
Leaving aside the fact that most surveys are worthless pieces of self-serving nonsense, and the difficulties of calling white youths an ethnic group, I found this very depressing.
It surely can’t be healthy for a large number of people to be scared of a section of their compatriots – and it’s generally a senseless fear anyway. You might be scared of a kind of Daily Mail-inspired bogyman called the chav or feral youth, but I’m sure it’s rare to be scared of any young white male you actually know.