Dining across the divide: ‘We do not need more cycle lanes! The only people using them are champagne socialists’

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Nick, 50, Manchester

Nick

Occupation Project manager

Voting record Over the past 20 years he has voted Labour, Tory, Lib Dem and Green. Describes himself as politically fairly centrist, socially fairly liberal

Amuse bouche Nick was once the lead singer in a rock band called Carbon. They almost got signed, then weren’t


Nadia, 49, Preston

Nadia

Occupation Headhunter

Voting record Labour, but wishes Andy Burnham was leader

Amuse bouche When she was “young and naive”, to show a white friend at university it’s what Asians do, Nadia ate two green chillies. What the friend didn’t know was they were salad chillies; he then ate a hot one


For starters

Nadia I was quite nervous, but Nick walked in at the same time so it was good not to be waiting. I was expecting someone more hippyish and socialist-looking, but he was dressed quite conservatively in jeans and a jacket.

Nick I quickly felt at ease with Nadia. We were united by the fact that there were some things on the menu we didn’t understand. I had pasta with shredded braised beef, a kind of posh spaghetti bolognese, and panna cotta. We both had a ginger ale.

Nadia I’m from a working-class background: my parents were immigrants, my dad was a bus driver. I lived in a terrace house in a predominantly Asian area growing up.

Nick I’m from a fairly privileged background; I went to a private school, university. I have never thought, “God, how am I going to pay the gas bill.”

Nick and Nadia

The big beef

Nadia I lived in Qatar for four years. How the media portrays it and the reality are different things. We talked about their views on gay rights, etc; I said, “Most of their law is based on the Qur’an – it’s not just for gay couples; unmarried couples can’t stay in a hotel in Qatar.” They let you get on with life as long as you’re not flaunting it, like smoking cannabis in this country.

Nick It was a mistake for the World Cup to be held there, driven by money. It was great to see people protesting about it. But I also have a great deal of sympathy with the narrative that says you can’t wade into another country and say the white, western way of doing things is best. As we were talking about respecting other cultures, I asked: “What do you think about the banning of headscarves in French schools?”

Nadia I couldn’t see why you’d ban something that doesn’t affect anybody else’s learning. How does a hijab stop others from learning? Nick said it’s because France is based on a secular system, where they don’t allow any kinds of faith. That is something I’ll look up and try to understand.

Nick I’m quite cynical about organised religion. Part of me wanted to applaud when the French said there should be no displays of religion in schools. But when they said you can’t wear the burkini on the beach, I thought, “Hang on, that doesn’t feel right.”

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Nick and Nadia

Sharing plate

Nadia I hadn’t realised it can actually be tough for privileged, white, middle-class men. You don’t realise the fear factor, like when they think they’re using the wrong terminology. Like he said, “Am I allowed to call you Asian?” I said, “Yeah.”

Nick Though we’re from different societal backgrounds, our politics and worldviews are quite closely aligned. We just disagreed about some details.

Nick and Nadia

For afters

Nick The one thing we fundamentally disagreed on was cycle lanes.

Nadia We do not need more cycle lanes! They’re using taxpayers’ money, they cause disruption, and the only people using them are champagne socialists, who have the money to get the right gear. The lower socio-economic groups don’t have bikes.

Nick As far as green infrastructure is concerned, every single one of us needs to be inconvenienced in order to change. I’d be totally in favour of Andy Burnham saying you can’t take your car into Manchester, as it inconveniences people into making a change. Building a load of cycle lanes is part of that, and if it inconveniences drivers – well, tough shit.

Nick and Nadia

Takeaways

Nadia It was lovely. Listening to other people’s views can help you crystallise your own and help you consider whether you’re thinking broadly.

Nick I took away that you shouldn’t be afraid to have conversations about race and cultural identity as long as you do it with a willingness to learn.

Nick and Nadia

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

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