Shazia’s week

“Oh, it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said the cleaner, spotting the tray shorts. “We all wear those

I have been topping up my tan in Limassol, Cyprus, this week. Although I am often mistaken for a Greek man, I was invited there to perform two shows for charity to an audience made up mainly of expats. There are distinct qualities associated with expats. One is that they seem much happier than your average Briton abroad. I suppose it’s because they don’t have to cram all that sunburning into a fortnight; they have their whole retirement to improve on their pasty white British complexions.

On the first night, I met a couple who left England in 1980 and have been living in Limassol ever since. "Oh, it's great over here," she said. "It's like Blackpool but with a beach you can sit on, and we know all about what's going on in the UK because we still get the Daily Mail." It was surreal standing on a sun-drenched terrace overlooking the Mediterranean and listening to somebody say: "They really need to rethink our immigration policy; soon we'll be overrun with Polish people."

The conversation ended there when I made a brash judgement about these racists, concluding that they probably just called themselves expats for the glamour, but were really in exile.

Although my audience didn't seem to miss the UK, they still dressed as though they'd only just left Doncaster in 1942, turning up to watch the show in hats and three-piece suits. One man even wore a monocle. There was something rather sweet about their backwardness. I asked the couple what Cyprus was famous for. "Russian hookers," he replied without hesitation. "That's one of the main attractions."

The venue could have broken the world record for having the most people called Jean in one room. Is there anyone named Jean in the UK any more? Or is Jean an adopted name you earn after six months on a costa, proving you're a genuine expat?

The hotel I stayed at was on a stretch of road lined with Irish theme pubs, English theme pubs, gentlemen’s clubs and pound shops. It’s disappointing to be abroad and see Poundstretcher outside your window.

I was given suite 410, which had two luxurious settees, two bathrooms, two safes, a balcony big enough to dangle a baby from, and a big Humpty-Dumpty with a broken arm sitting on the spare bed. It's amazing what hotels think you need these days. Bare necessities have recently included a Bible, a crucifix, Immac and a bumper book of sudoku. Which I suppose is fine if you are a hairy, agoraphobic Catholic. This one was a lovely room but came with a bizarre cleaner. As I went to put my passport in the safe, I found it was already occupied by a pair of navy blue boxer shorts with a big stain resembling the Shroud of Turin.

I thought of doing a Monica Lewinsky and keeping it as evidence, should I ever have to go to court for refusing to pay for the minibar, but this really was too disgusting to keep.

The cleaner knocked on the door and stormed in with her trolley. "Would you like me to wash those for you, madam?"

I said: "They're not mine."

"Oh, it's nothing to be ashamed of; we all wear those in Cyprus."

I explained that I'd found them in the safe. She advised me to leave them there, as no doubt the owner would be back to collect them. Then she looked me straight in the eye and winked. They were hers.

Still, how short-lived this luxury was. A couple of days later, the sun and glamorous surroundings were forgotten when I found myself in a £25-a-night B&B in Hull, surrounded at breakfast by builders. The only room service I got came at 6am when a man knocked on my door, shouting: “Would you like me to look at your pipes, luv?” For a brief moment, getting a subscription to the Daily Mail and moving to Cyprus seemed quite appealing.

Shazia Mirza is an award-winning stand up comedian. In 2003 she was named by The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. Since 2006 she has written a fortnightly column for the New Statesman, for which she won Columnist of the Year at the PPA Awards.

This article first appeared in the 04 February 2008 issue of the New Statesman, God