Sunday, 9 May 2010

Immigrant Punk

This whole election drama got me thinking about myself as an immigrant. It started a few weeks ago with the tragic episode of the infamous plane crash. The cream of polish government killed in a cruelly ironic accident (they were travelling to Russia to pay their respects to the thousands of polish officers massacred by the Soviets at Katyn during the Second World War). I was shocked, but didn't quite know what to say when people started offering their condolences. Asking me how I felt. I was baffled. Did they really expect me to feel any different? I was sorry for those who died, but I was certainly not grieving. I'm very sceptical of, and disillusioned by, politics and politicians in general. I didn't harbour any strong opinions about Mr. Kaczynski. He wasn't a monster, he wasn't a hero. I wasn't very impressed by the deceased president's state burial amongst our kings - that just smacked of cheap theatre. Surely it takes more than death by accident to warrant a burial with the monarchs? He wasn't an outstanding civil servant and definitely not a martyr. Sadly polish people have a tendency to project martyrdom (or should I say “martyrdoom”?) left and right (that in itself is a topic for another discussion). So there we are. Suddenly I was reminded I was polish. A polish citizen; an emigrant who does not vote, because she couldn't be bothered to organise it abroad, because she cringes at the idea of doing actual research to decide who to vote for, and finally, because she really doesn't think her vote matters. Not because she is a drop in the ocean, but because she doesn't believe she'd ever have her facts straight and sufficient evidence to make an objective decision. Because every politician lies. It is just so painfully obvious. Politics polarise to black and white only in times absolute crisis.

A part of me feels bad about it, but not bad enough to change. I know democracy doesn't come cheaply, but I also know it doesn’t really exists anyway. People vote for faces, ads and spin - not facts. When somebody tells me that in their country people die for a right to vote, I feel a pang of guilt for my unfulfilled civic duty. And then I think - yes, my ancestors fought too. What they essentially fought for was freedom. And I’m really good at freedom. I just think that for me, it is more of a private matter. I do not think myself a patriot; possibly because I haven’t met many polish people that were patriotic without being nationalistic. I know where my motherland is, where I grew up, where my roots are. I love Poland, but that love isn't blind. I had my reasons for leaving, after all. Here in the UK I am an immigrant, in Poland - an emigrant. And these two aspects of my identity are equally important for the person I’m growing up to be, for my future freedom.

Polish immigrants to this country have been an issue for about six years – just about as long as I’ve been here. In the recent months, with the elections looming I’ve noticed the subject of Eastern European immigrants (predominantly Poles) picked up more than usual. It doesn’t really bother me what people say about Poles. What bothers me is human stupidity and lack of imagination. It is a fact that people within Europe make use of the economical freedom. British people emigrate too. Poles come over here and take tough jobs that nobody else wants and more often than not their language barrier means they get used. They deserve our respect for their hard work. They pay taxes and fuel local economy with everyday expenses. And, being young and fertile, provide an antidote for the aging population crisis. It didn’t take long for polish people to get a reputation for being decent workers. Their expectations are much lower, they are fighting for survival rather than for the right career path. We have a saying in Poland: “rzadna praca nie chańbi” – no work demeans you. I have found this does not resonate well with the UK’s “indigenous” population. And I say “indigenous” very mockingly – it is a ridiculous BNP idea, as everyone knows Great Britain hasn’t had an indigenous population for centuries. Anyway, what I’m navigating towards here is my bizarre experience as an immigrant in the system as opposed to “out” of it. Anyone who hears “oh your English is really good” or “yeah I don’t really want polish people here, but you’re different” on a regular basis, knows what I mean. Even when I had minimum-wage jobs, I was at university, doing a degree, I wasn’t a “regular” immigrant (/scum). My friends and colleagues often forget I’m polish. My accent can be deceptive at times. I pay my tuition fees (well, my dad does:) and taxes and have British friends. I love QI and Black Books and listen to Radio 4. I like scones (jam on top of the cream), Sunday roasts, Guinness and black and Pimms. I know that tea is a meal. I don’t understand cricket and frequently complain about trains. I am domesticated.

This is all the more ridiculous, because I am, in fact, the embodiment of what anti-immigrants fear most. I am a smart, independent individual who will compete for well-paid jobs and good training. And I will be good enough to push others out of my desired seat. I will not settle for less and I will not be kicked out of this country either. If I leave, it will be on my terms. I do not intend to drown my savings in a ridiculously overpriced mortgage. And I don’t plan to pop any babies for the betterment of the economy or otherwise. More over, I am probably going to spend a huge chunk of my earnings travelling abroad.

But xenophobia has never been a logical passtime, has it? So I just smile a tired smile and watch the person in front of me relax as I joke “why thank you, your English is not too bad either”.


  1. My cousin married his Polish fiancée a year or so ago and we all went over there for the wedding, I must say I'm pretty fond of your country too! (well, the bit I saw anyway. And the food)
    :) XxX

  2. Thanks Fran;) Well, if you ever go again let me know - I'll point you in all the right directions!:)

  3. Hmm, upon re-reading what I wrote last night, I have a feeling I came across more upset and frustrated than I actually am. On a daily basis I rarely experience being perceived other than as an individual. And that means people like (or dislike) me for all the right reasons.
    And that's... well, that's just cool.
    But over the past few months there's been this buzzing in the backgroung, getting louder and louder, which sometimes makes me hesitate slightly before telling somebody where I come from. These days I wander if it will change their perception of me.
    But, indeed, what (insignificant) others think doesn't really matter and never has:)