Dining across the divide: ‘She spoke a great deal and I said very little. I’m aware that wasn’t the plan’


Michael, 87, London

Occupation Michael worked in software engineering. He’s retired, but working on a book about cyber-physical systems

Voting record “I’m one of the people who voted for Labour in 97, and who voted Conservative when Jeremy Corbyn was leading the Labour party”

Amuse bouche Because his name is Michael Jackson, he used to receive a lot of phone calls from schoolgirls. “I’d say, the Michael Jackson you want doesn’t have his name in the London telephone directory.”


Rebeca, 29, London

Occupation Digital specialist in the NHS

Voting record In Spain, Rebeca votes socialist. In the UK, she can only vote in local elections, in which she votes Labour

Amuse bouche Speaks three languages fluently: Spanish, English and Portuguese. Learning Albanian

For starters

Michael We both ordered calamari, and I had pasta as a main. I would normally have had a glass of wine, but I’m in the last stages of recovering from a rather traumatic operation a year ago.

Rebeca He’s an older gentleman, very distinguished, very well put together. The restaurant was quite noisy so I was trying to speak very slowly, very politely, to try to get my point across. But I think I did most of the talking.

Michael Rebeca speaks rather fast and volubly. She spoke a great deal and I said very little. I was aware that that was not the plan, but it didn’t seem to be easy to arrange anything else.

Michael and Rebeca

The big beef

Rebeca We spoke about the NHS and the contribution that immigrants like myself make. He was shocked that I call myself an immigrant. He seems to think an immigrant is someone who is not white.

Michael She felt that immigrants were not welcomed and liked, and included herself as a Spanish woman who came over here as an EU citizen 10 years ago. That sounded a bit implausible to me.

Rebeca He said he didn’t notice racism in this country. He said: “Look at the prime minister, he’s of Asian descent.” I said, “There is racism and it’s deeply ingrained even within government.”

Michael I said I’d been in hospital for a couple of months recently and it was quite a serious business. Most of the nurses were Filipino. I remember saying I didn’t see any evidence of prejudice against them. I also told her I hadn’t experience racism as she seemed to perceive it. I’m Jewish, and I think any Jewish person anywhere except perhaps Israel would experience some differentiation. But “racism” seems to denote attitudes and behaviours that I haven’t encountered.

Rebeca I explained: “You have never noticed the racism because you come across as a white person.”

Michael I would have thought she presents as a white person to as great an extent as I do.

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Michael and Rebeca

Sharing plate

Rebeca We talked about immigration and climate change, and we didn’t agree on anything.

Michael It would be absurd to say that all people and all children in this country have equal life opportunities. So in that sense, I agreed with her on that.

Michael and Rebeca

For afters

Rebeca We talked about Brexit. The EU had targets and objectives around climate change which Britain had to comply with. But after Britain left the EU they just did whatever they wanted, and things have got worse. There’s less care for the environment, and more pollution in rivers and beaches across the country. His response was: “I don’t think so, I don’t know.”

Michael I have some thoughts on Brexit, but I didn’t find an opportunity to express them.

Rebeca At one point he asked what I thought about Extinction Rebellion, whether I was a member. I said if they protested in other ways they might get more support. So we agreed that their tactics don’t work.

Michael If I had said anything about it, I would have said that I don’t approve of their practices.

Michael and Rebeca


Michael If “talked about” means that we had an interchange of opinions and facts, I’m not sure we talked about anything. My general impression was that Rebeca talked unceasingly for two hours. I think I could write on a postage stamp the interjections that I made.

Rebeca I think I spoke a little bit too much, and that he was holding himself back because he was afraid of offending me. It was a nice evening, but I think he was uncomfortable discussing a lot of the topics.

Michael and Rebeca

Additional reporting: Kitty Drake

Michael and Rebeca ate at Morso in London.

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