Shakespeare once asked, “What’s in a name?” Well, quite a lot if we are to believe one company, as it seems that a fine row has been kicked off in the travel world by holiday company Activities Abroad claiming that the trips it offers are “chav-free”.
For anybody not familiar with the word, “chav” denotes a certain stereotype of young person in the UK, somebody clad in branded sportswear and baseball cap (often Burberry), with bling jewellery, and into hip-hop. It is often implied that this person is a bit aggressive, and I have actually heard the term “chav” used to describe anybody of an aggressive persuasion, tracksuited or not, young or old, and regardless of taste in music. But back to the main point.
It seems that it all started when someone at Activities Abroad read an article in that eloquent rag The Daily Mail about teachers stereotyping children (on the Times Educational Supplement website no less), according to their names, with the dear teachers dreading certain names such as Dwayne, Shane, Paige and Britney, which they believe indicate troublesome children.
This was all in the wake of research which suggested that pupils’ names are linked to their exam success, with children that have supposedly “middle-class” names such as Katherine and Duncan being up to eight times more likely to pass GCSE’s (exams taken at age 16), than children with names such as Wayne and Dwayne.
This prompted the guys at Activities Abroad to run the set of names purportedly associated with “chavs” through its database, and I imagine that they mopped the sweat off their delicate little brows when they found that no Britneys, Dazzas, Biancas, Chardonnays or Candices had ever been on any of their trips, but plenty of Johns, Sarahs, James’s, Charlottes and Lucys had.
In celebration of this fact they sent out an email to the 24,000 people on their database claiming their holidays to be “chav-free”, signing off with the words, “Nuff said, innit?”.
But Activities Abroad hadn’t reckoned on the power of the blogosphere, and the stinking prejudice really hit the fan when one of the recipients of the email posted it on her blog. Margaret of A Different Voice had previously had a fantastic holiday with Activities Abroad inside the Arctic Circle in some of the beautiful wilderness of northern Finland, but felt sure that she would not be holidaying with Activities Abroad again, and has had her name removed from their database.
Alistair McLean, founder of Activites Abroad who authorised the email, has added his comments to Margaret’s post, saying “… I simply feel it is time the middle classes stood up for themselves.
“We work hard to make a decent home and life for our families and we pay our taxes to contribute to our society and economy. Unfortunately, everybody else in our society seems to take from us whether it is incompetent bankers or the shell suited urchins who haunt our street corners.
“Last year Activities Abroad paid: corporation tax, income tax, PAYE, national insurance contributions, VAT and contributed to Aids projects in South Africa and other charitable organisations. We make a positive contribution to our economy and watch it all be frittered away by people who simply can’t be bothered (”bovvered”).
“So regardless of whether it is class warfare or not I make no apology for proclaiming myself to be middle class and a genuine contributor to our society.”
I’m not sure how stigmatising people with certain names has anything to do with standing up for anybody – bullying people more like.
Does Alistair really believe that it is only people such as himself who work hard and want a decent life for their families? What about nurses, teachers, firefighters, factory workers, office workers and other people? Are incompetent bankers the type of people he had in mind when he ran the set of names through his database? I’ll keep my eyes open for shell suited bankers hanging around on street corners in future.
Further on in the comments of A Different Voice is the following comment from a lady named Candice:
“Speaking as a Candice myself, I would like to say the following:
“I own my own business, have a Post Graduate Degree an Undergraduate Degree, 4 A-Levels, an Advanced Diploma in Life Skills, a Diploma in Performance Coaching, GCSE’s, speak French and Italian and drive a Merc. Happy slap that you idiot.
“How dare you define and typecast people by their name. I work with the NSPCC and produce communication tools on preventing bullying behaviour and child protection. We aim to help kids grow up in a safe environment regardless of their background. It is hard enough for kids this day and age without applying more prejudice because of their name.
“Your response was also shocking customer service saying that you would not apologise for your views even though you have offended and upset people. 11 it may stand at the moment, but perhaps the others just deleted your message in disgust.
“Shame on you!”
The poor beleaguered Mr McLean has now even been interviewed on Radio 5 Live, saying, “All this publicity has stemmed from one blog written by one person,” – more power to the blogosphere, eh?
The Northumberland-based Activities Abroad, which claims to promote responsible and green tourism, offers trips such as dog sledding, searching for the northern lights in Lapland, and white water rafting in Slovenia. Just the sort of holiday I would go for in fact, but they have truly shot themselves in the foot with this ill-advised little episode.
So what does the word chav really mean? Is it people who dress up in sportswear and baseball caps? The only person I know who fits the sportswear stereotype is one of the most kind and helpful people I know – very public spirited, helps his neighbours – all things I would have thought Alistair McLean might value, (or claim to value). Does it mean working class? Well, if working class means anyone who has to go out and work for a living, then most working class people, (eg: careworkers, call centre workers, shop assistants, health workers, IT geeks, and just about everyone), actually don’t really fit the sportswear-and-gold-jewellry stereotype. I once heard somebody use the term to describe an aggressive bully - her boss in fact. Obviously the term “chav” means different things to different people.
The term chav has so often been used in a derisory and undeserved way in recent years that some writers have happily claimed the name for themselves - for example columnist Julie Burchill has described herself as a chav and feels that anybody who uses the term is really saying far more about themselves than about other people. I would say this is definitely so in the case of Mr McLean.
Political journalist Pat Stack has also claimed the title, though I am inclined to think that most people would not regard the rather patrician Mr Stack as such. But never mind, Pat, it’s the thought that counts.
For anybody who enjoys reading a juicy online debate I highly recommend the comments over at A Different Voice for this post, which cover a lot of angles bringing in everything from newspapers to natural selection, from lists of achievements to torrents of abuse that have had to be partially deleted. To his credit Alistair McLean handles the debate himself, but there is a bit of a mystery: why does he feel he knows so much about “street corner kids” and their aspirations? McLean does give the impression that he somehow feels himself to be under fire from all sides, which is an attitude frequently found with small business people, who do not possess the power and influence of the big corporations, and often feel that they are being hammered tax-wise.
Regardless of how we feel about Mr McLean and his views, his foolishness with the email provides a great lesson in how not to run a travel business, or any business where you are offering a service to customers, and that is not to use your customer base as an audience for the airing of your own personal gripes. If what you have on offer appeals to a wide range of people, your customers and potential customers may well have different views. If you offend people, they will quite happily take their custom to your competitors.
A lot of the debate has focussed on whether certain behaviour is acceptable or not, and I am among the first to condemn mindless aggressive behaviour when I come across it. In this case it is clear that the only person who has indulged in a bit of brainless aggro is Mr McLean himself. Let’s hope we don’t run into him on any street corners.
Nuff said, innit?