Date: Friday, March 27th, 2015
Place: Bus stop in Richmond, Greater London, UK
An older woman (and I am not that young anymore) started to chat to me. Either she was bored or she felt benevolent and wanted to suss out other people’s opinions. Whatever had led her to be friendly changed when she heard my accent. I am Austrian. Sometimes people note a Dutch accent, if they are in a good mood they believe I am French. I never had a thick German accent.
So, after her sensitive ears had been offended by my foreign accent, and she had found out that I was not a tourist, her first question was “Do you work?”.
I was speechless. After 18 years as British resident, this was the first time I had been asked this question, a question that implies that either we foreigners are spongers and jobless or are taking away British jobs. She peppered me with this question. So I stuttered, but found my composure again and told her firmly that I worked in Higher Education and had helped and taught countless British and foreign students. I wanted to convince her that I was a valuable member of society, even as a foreigner who had invaded her little England.
During the short conversation her body language changed from friendly (when she did not realise that I was a foreigner) to defensive (foreigner alert!) to embarrassed/submissive when she realised that I was a valuable working member of society that educated the British youth.
During the last two or so years my status has changed from EU citizen to EU migrant. I do feel this. London is a bit different. It is multicultural and full of people from all over the UK, the former colonies, foreigners who work over here, EU citizens from the old and the new member countries, refugees, visitors.
My status as a migrant makes me into a third class citizen. As an EU citizen I was at least a second class one. First class is only for the indigenous people, preferably white and English (Anglo-Saxon, Norman). As a third class citizen, people assume I might be from a poorer EU country like Poland or Romania. They believe that I take away their livelihood and abuse Britain’s NHS resources. I must note here that countless English bathrooms would still be full of mould and carpets, if Polish craftsmen and builders had not changed the English bathroom and kitchen culture for the better.
The anti-migrant and anti-EU rhetorics of the Tory government and the rise of UKIP have made me, the (EU) migrant, feel less welcome and more uncomfortable. For the last 18 years Great Britain has been my home. The future will show, if the UK will expel me or I will leave voluntarily or I will stay in this still rather freedom loving, open and interesting country.
Music: Klumzy Tung and Beardyman “Little England”