Immigration and Intolerance

For those of you that don’t know, I’m an immigrant, dirty word it seems these days, nevertheless I am and I struggle to be so. It all seemed like a good idea at the time and with my normal nonchalant, laid back, don’t give a hoot, approach, I figured I’d integrate just fine. I thought I’d crack the lingo tout suite and in the mean time relay on my devastating good humour and wit, not so, not so at all.

When one moves to another country, one needs to understand that cultural differences can be immense…even here in France. In the eight years I’ve lived here I have realised that the only French people I will be able to get on with, empathise with, are the none locals, those that are less insular, have travelled, and that are educated either scholastically or worldly. A tad snobbish perhaps but the truth is we orbit different planets, they are men of field and forest, of soil and gun oil and, well I’m not.  That said the locals are polite, well most of them, we exchange pleasantries on the promenade and I wouldn’t have them any other way.

Day to day life can be a struggle, especially with the language. As one commentator recently pointed out ‘the difference between an ex pat living abroad and an immigrant settled in the UK is that the immigrant will eventually learn the language.’ It irks me to agree but I do, my French is pigeon at best. Compared to other British settlers whose French, if we are to draw an Ornithological analogy would be akin to that of the bee Hummingbird, I’m doing ok. Oh it’s not through the lack of trying, well maybe a bit; it’s more to do with an inability to make my mouth do something it feels it shouldn’t.

In our village I’m tolerated as a rather odd, often eccentric, sometimes aloof Anomaly. The locals, who don’t like change or anomalies, tolerate me in the same way they tolerate gay men or women cohabiting, and we have both, well it’s just not natural is it?  Even so nothing is said, there’s just a palpable sense of extreme toleration in the air; some even turn blue with the effort required.

I contribute to the 0.4 percent of immigrants in my village; if the national/European average of around 9 percent of foreign born residents was applicable here too, I wonder what would happen to my community’s tolerance levels? I mention this because in a sense I have travelled back in time, to a time where traditions still matter, where family matters so much you’d marry your sister!   People don’t want their identities, personal or national, compromised by outside influence, foreign influence, just like the England of yore!

In 1905 Edward the V11’s Prime Minister Arthur Balfour introduced Britons first immigration controls, aimed primarily at European Jews. Without such a law, Balfour claimed, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’ Basically don’t mess with the gene pool, I guess.

Two years earlier, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (an ‘alien’ was, in the early twentieth century, both a description of a foreigner and a euphemism for a Jew) had expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’. Vicious products of Europe? Maybe he’s talking about Euro pop and man bags?

There is no end to them in Whitechapel and Mile End’, claimed one witness giving evidence to the1903 Royal Commission.  ‘These areas of London might be called Jerusalem’. The Conservative MP Major Sir William Eden Evans-Gordon expressed the same sentiment through this imaginative metaphor. ‘Ten grains of arsenic in a thousand loaves would be unnoticeable and perfectly harmless’, he told Parliament, ‘but the same amount put into one loaf would kill the whole family that partook of it.’ A Metaphor that Hitler applied in the literal sense! Evans Gordon, much like Belfour was a Zionist and therefore favoured a Jewish state; somewhere the Jews could practice their religion and traditions without infecting the rest of us, someplace where they couldn’t cause any more trouble, a place like Palestine maybe?

Belfour, I’m sure, would be horrified at the multiculturalism now on display in the United Kingdom and Evens Gordon would be brandishing the Daily mail as evidence of the corrosive nature of immigration. But seriously, what’s behind all this scaremongering and anti immigrant sentiment? After all when you look at the facts, the numbers, there is only a positive reading to be had. Immigrants settling in the UK are less likely to claim out of work benefits than white nationals, 5% as opposed to 13%.  They are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing. They put into the system – the coffers – more than they take out, perhaps because they see coming to the UK as an opportunity to work hard and create a better life for themselves and their families. There is no evidence to suggest that they ‘take jobs away’ from the existing population or cause a decrease in wages, in fact, over all they have driven the average wage up!

So what is it? Is it fear, fear of losing a national identity already assigned to folk lore? Fear of foreign ways tainting our own traditions, of new religions or of grafting onto English stock the vicious products of Europe and other more tasteless places? Maybe people just need more time to become accustomed to new ideas, new ways etc, is it all happening too fast?

It could of course be displacement, after all, the Gingers have fought a good fight and, unlike before, you are no one without a ginger friend on Facebook; the gingers are tres rigour now. Where do you put this bubbling cauldron of blame and vexation, who do you point the finger at when things go wrong?

Or perhaps, quite simply, it’s Intolerance?

Recently on the BBC they reported a baby boom, an influx of newborn children, mainly, they said, due to an aging population wanting children later in life coupled with the popularity of larger families and partly, just partly due to immigrant children being born in the UK. The next day the Daily mail hit the street with the headline, and I paraphrase ‘Immigrants to blame for increase in new born children’ followed by a scandalous article on how these immigrants are costing the tax payer! That is hardly impartial, or for that matter, accurate reporting, its scaremongering designed to whip up hatred and mistrust.

What’s amusing is that a lot of these people, these doubters and contesters (I have no facts or figures for this next statement, just a hunch) still visit their local Indian restaurant or Chinese takeaway. Will still stagger out of the ‘Fleece and Firkin, (French owned) after drinking German beer before queuing for a kebab and getting a taxi home driven by a Pakistani, Seek or Pole without a single complaint!

I’d go as far as to suggest that foreign influences in the UK have, rather than degrade the existing culture, enriched it. Historically of course we are all immigrants, so we might as well kick ourselves out too. Julius Ceaser, a Roman geezer, never actually conquered England, least of all with a lemon squeezer, gee the things they teach you at school, he just came for a short city break and complained about the weather. It was in fact Emperor Claudius who led the campaign/invasion that paved the way for 400 years of Roman rule; and what, you may ask, did the Romans ever do for us?

Other than Roman influence, the Brits have of course been invaded by the Germans, the Nordic Vikings, and the Normandy French. On top of which we have had the Romani, Jewish, Huguenot, African and Indian settlers that make Great Briton… well… Great.

Now the other thing is this, why do only certain immigrants get the blame? It used to be the Indian and Pakistani communities but since they have done such a good job of integrating it’s now the eastern European lot that get the condemnation. No one ever complains about the Irish anymore even though they make up for 470,000 of the UK population, there are 297,000 Germans, 200,000Americans and 211,000 South Africans not to mention 137,000 French! In contrast there are only 87,000 Romanians and 42,000 Hungarians and it has to be said a fair number of Polish 600,000. Ok there are a lot of polish people but so what? They are hard working, family orientated people; it’s not as if they are trying to poison the water supply with Vodka or anything. And, when you think about it, a lot of Poland’s great minds are arriving on our shores, bad for Poland but good for us. They are the Nation that gave us the bullet proof vest, the first motion picture projector – no really – the mine detector and err the golf cart, innovation like that is priceless.

The only argument for restricting immigration to the UK that makes any kind of sense is that of over population, it seems that the UK is busting at the seams. On the other hand if young people actually used condoms for birth control rather than making water bombs ( good times) or families were means tested before banging out number four, five or six who knows what impact that would have on the population figures. On the other hand (how many hands do I have) if all the Ex pats living abroad were to come home – unlikely- all 4.5 million of us, there would be a serious problem. Just as well we are happy to live abroad; in fact we are making room for new comers, which is nice.

The Question: Are we all so different?

What really matters to most of us Earthlings, from the furthest reaches of the Amazonian rain forests to the bleak mean streets of Tunbridge Wells? After years of travelling the globe, from Long Dong in China to the desolate wastelands of Cuckoos knob in Dorset I have found the answer.  I have found that most people, no matter their religion, beliefs, culture or hue care about the same things. Work, family, food on the table and friendship is all that really matters, and we all have that much in common which is just about everything.

I’m not suggesting that the onus lies with the host country to just tolerate new comers, the immigrant must make his or her mark too, they should not be afraid of sharing their culture and of experiencing the culture of their new home. There will always be differences and that’s fine too, diversity is the spice of life after all. When you move to a new country you have to respect their laws and ways of doing things, it’s for that reason many people move in the first place! I’m not going to try and make France England but I will introduce the peasantry of Ariege to Pasties and Apple crumble, that’s my gift to them.

What I don’t like is intolerance, distain, mockery and hatred, this only leads to bad blood, violence and misconceptions on a, well, Nazi scale!

About CageWriter

Englishman Living in France with my wife and bilingual son. I'm a struggling writer as in I struggle to write even though I feel it's my calling. I get easily side tracked, this blog being a case in point!
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