Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A product of your environment?

A couple of weeks ago, we started watching a program on BBC3 (from what I have read on other blogs, BBC3 and BBC4 audiences differ widely, please educate me as I haven't got a clue what the difference is between them) called 'Peckham Finishing School for girls'. I know it sounds like a trashy, reality TV kind of program. We started watching it because some of Mr Foodie's relatives live in London and he did find himself in Peckham. I, on the other hand, wouldn't be able to place Peckham on a map, and had never heard of it apart from Mr Foodie's stories. Also, since Glee finished, we need to fill the big void that have become our Wednesday evenings.

Basically, the program centers around 8 girls, 4 upper class, rich girls who have never wanted for anything, and 4 girls from Peckham which I now know is one of the roughest neighbourhoods in London. I believe the aim of the program is to educate one extreme of the society spectrum with the other. The 'golden girls' are portrayed as your stereotypical stuck up upper class person, all about shopping, partying, playing polo, proper etiquette and have never met (it seems) anybody outside of their high upper class social circle. The Peckham girls are portrayed as the opposite stereotype, the somewhat aggressive chavs living on benefits, in a derelict crime ridden estate.

It's full of the usual stereotypes which make me cringe and it feels that none of them really want to learn from each other's life and everything will go back to normal after the show. Some of these 'fish out of water' programs sometimes lead to changes in people but I really think this one is doomed. They won't keep in contact, there won't be any life changing act of kindness at the end of it. It won't make for memorable TV and certainly won't be TV anthology. But, as there has to be a but, it got me thinking (oops, watch that steam coming out of my ears!): Are we a product of our own environment?

Of course, you can't answer this question without generalizing. I don't have enough knowledge and experience of what it's like to grow up on a crime ridden estate, or on the other type of estate (the one with mansions and horses) to be able to answer without generalizing. But I think the program really shows that, to a point, you are. The girls' speech, accents, vocabulary, dress sense, attitudes all prove to be the result of how and where they grew up and what they had to deal with in their life. Now, I don't believe for a second that you can't break free from your environment and are doomed forever to live on an estate if that's where you grew up. But you will always carry with you something, whether it be skills or knowledge from that environment.

What I know for sure us that I, for one, am a product of my environment. I grew up in a middle class working family in the countryside. Although I knew that it happened, I never really encountered drugs or crime until I went to college. I am not street wise. I am somewhat naive when it comes to all this. Where I come from, we are all pretty polite to each other, I never witnessed fights, bar brawls, shouting in the street, public drunkenness etc until I was in my late teens. I am comfortable with my own company having grown up with no neighbours my age. I love food because my mum and dad were into food. I love reading because that's pretty much all there was to do where I lived. I have the same political opinions as my parents. I am not comfortable with aggressive behaviour and name calling because I never grew up with that kind of thing. I am not good at answering tit for tat when being verbally challenged because I never really had to. I was kind of sheltered from some of the hard realities of life. I am, to a point, the stereotypical country girl even though I have lived in an urban environment for more than 12 years now.

I can safely say that Mr Foodie is also a product of his environment. He grew up in a working class urban environment and is a lot wiser than I am. He has seen a lot more than I have. He knows how to react in some situations in which I would only panic and be completely out of my depth.

We were recently talking to someone we know, who happens to live in what would be considered an underprivileged area. And I was amazed (yet slightly uncomfortable) at how they were describing the everyday life there. Police raids taking place, drug dealing, stealing from shops, people in and out of jail, name calling from a young age etc. Yet, they were relating these events in the same way my grand father used to tell me about his vegetables growing in the garden. Things I would personnally be horrified to witness on a daily basis were just 'normal' for them. Not that they approved of them, far from it, but they had developed a 'That's life, it does happen' kind of attitude, some kind of shell that I don't think I could develop. Don't get me wrong, I know it happens, I have seen it happen but it doesn't make me anymore comfortable with it.

I have also seen how children adapt to the environment they are in. Marie has sometimes come back from Noodleland using words we don't use, speaking differently to the way we speak, or with knowledge on some things that we didn't give to her (like how to french kiss age 5, anybody?). Children, in some socio-economic conditions, have to grow up a lot faster than they should. And I don't think that's right.

Which is why I am glad we are moving to the countryside. Some people might say that I am trying to shield my children away from reality and I suppose I am. I am just trying to give my children the best conditions for them to grow in (without making them sound like some kind of fruit or vegetable), keeping their innocence a bit longer. They won't be living completely in a bubble, ignoring even the existence of things like these but they won't get to experience them first hand, day in, day out. They will gain from my and Mr Foodie's experience and hopefully will become a product of our own environment, a mix of streetwise country naivety, if that's ever possible. I certainly don't want them to be like either of the groups from that program, one completely clueless to life outside their golden cage, and the other that has seen too much in too little time.

So what do you think? Are you a product of your environment? Or do you think my theory is completely flawed? Let us know!

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