The continent is laughing. How can a whole nation be so stupid?
Reading media comments from across the Channel, I sense a hint of a sigh of relief at the prospect of a British EU exit. To many, the British have always been more like an annoying mosquito than a valuable contributor to project Europe: always happy to take take take, yet seldom there to make an actually useful contribution. While Milan is daydreaming about providing a new home for some of Britain’s financial services industry, some, like the commentator above, are already chilling the bubbly.
Living surrounded by Inselaffen of the worst kind, I am trying not to let the “Vote Leave!” posters that “decorate” so many windows and lampposts in my neighbourhood get to me. But it’s harder every day not to feel resentful and depressed about what’s happening to the country that I once happily chose as my home.
I am not going to go over the EU pros and cons and any of the facts and figures here. I shall leave that to those who are more qualified to comment on those things. Besides, there’s nothing more I can add – it has all been debated to death already.
I don’t even know why I am wasting my time on this post, to be honest. Perhaps it’s the bitterness of not being allowed to cast my vote in the referendum that will decide my future. Despite having lived in the UK for more than half my life I am not given a voice on an issue that can quasi overnight destroy everything I’ve lived and worked for over the past two decades. It’s upsetting and unsettling to say the least.
This post is difficult to write because by its nature it’s full of broad generalisations and stereotypes. I don’t wish to poop on my host country, and I don’t wish to insult or offend friends and colleagues who this is most definitely not aimed at. At the same time, this is the only voice I have in matters Brexit / EU, so please bear with me here. When I talk about “the English” or “the British” I mean those who still think that Britain is Great because – “D’oh! It’s in the country’s name, stoopid! Great Britain, yeeaah” – and those who have never spent any significant time living or working elsewhere in Europe. – Mind you, having said that, even some Brits who have spent lots of time immersed in another European culture and should really know better seem to struggle with mindset (*cough* Rachel *cough*).
I’m having a pop at those who think of continental Europe as pretty but quaint, those who seem to be unable to see beyond stereotypes, those who don’t really engage on a deeper level to seek cultural understanding. So really I am hitting out at those who have never made the effort, you know, the ones who still think British is best and who stick to chips and brown sauce with everything, no matter where they happen to travel to – if indeed they have ever actually travelled at all. People with Inselaffenmentalität.
The UK has been good to me. Since arriving here in the mid-1990s, I have never been out of work. I’ve worked some shitty jobs, especially at the beginning, in sometimes unreasonable conditions and on wages that just about afforded survival. Yet I’ve stuck with it and made it work for myself. My European education with its broad curriculum and sink-or-swim approach has served me well: I pride myself in the fact that I’ve managed to switch career paths multiple times in the last 2o years, and I’ve always fallen on my feet. I’m on a well above average income and own my own home.
In my more than two decades in and around London, I have (amongst other things) educated your rowdy teens, given disadvantaged adults another chance to learn new skills and looked after your elderly when you couldn’t be bothered to do that yourselves. So when Dustmann and Frattini talk about the positive contributions migrants are making to the UK economy, they are talking about people like me. Over the last two decades I have paid taxes, but I have never …
- taken up your precious social housing
- popped out any kids that would have entitled me to all sorts of financial benefits
- stolen your nursery or school places
- received any job seekers or disability benefits or tax credits
- enjoyed legal aid
I have also tried my very best to avoid clogging up your laughably craptastic NoHelpService, and I’ve certainly not overindulged in any other so-called “service” that my taxes have helped finance. And yet despite all of this I have no say about my future in this country. And I am not supposed to feel angry about that because after all I am not British. Right. Ok then.
I wouldn’t be half as wound up about the whole Brexit thing if it weren’t for the fact that this referendum will largely be decided on the basis of propaganda and ignorance rather than actual informed opinion. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is for any half-intelligent European to have to listen to the nonsense that’s being spouted about the EU every day? It’s painful. It’s embarrassing – and you don’t even realise just how we cringe every time some so-called EU fact or figure escapes from your ignorant faces!
It is infuriating that many English people’s knowledge of Europe doesn’t stretch beyond getting hammered on a cheap booze fuelled package holiday in some godforsaken awful Spanish or Greek tourist resort. The majority of you have no idea about actual European culture or what really goes on on the other side of the Channel. For example, do you know why fruit farmers are struggling in Poland? What do you know about the education crisis in Croatia? Why have Spain’s Podemos recently been compared to IKEA? Any idea about the stink in Rome? No? Of course you have no idea. How would you know about these things? Your media is more likely to cover what the Indian prime minister had for lunch or the colour of the Queen’s pyjamas than, say, a train crash in France or Sweden or Italy or some such other place in that Europe. – Of course most of you don’t speak any foreign languages to an adequate level, so reading European papers, watching European news channels or listening to continental radio stations is not an option for you either. All you have is the narrow reporting and propaganda of the British media. And besides, even if you could follow European networks in their native languages, why would you do that if it’s not relevant to Britain…? There’s that Inselaffen mentality again. No interest, we’re British. Shame on you!
Thing is, we Europeans care very much about our European cultures and our national identities. At the same time, we are open-minded and interested in what our neighbours are up to. We generally value our togetherness and help each other out in the face of adversity. We treasure our European diversity, the richness it adds to our lives, and we jovially poke fun at each other’s mentalities and quirks while at the same time recognising our similarities. It’s all part and parcel of sharing a continent. For the British, project Europe is all about economics and laws; for us Europeans, it’s far more than that: for us, it’s about cultural exchange and understanding.
Yes, it’s not easy to negotiate anything with so many different agendas and mindsets around the table in Brussels, but the fact that we manage it on a daily basis is an amazing achievement that doesn’t get enough recognition and praise, if you ask me. All the good that has come out of the EU is being enjoyed and taken for granted, while every questionable decision and compromise causes huge irrational anti-EU outcries! It’s tiring and misguided. Do you not enjoy the peaceful stability we’ve had over the last seven decades? Is that worth nothing to you? Do you even realise just how many (UK) charities and projects would simply not exist without things like the European Social Fund? Are you not benefiting from the revision to roaming charges? The fact that everyone of us can so easily live and work anywhere in 28 different countries (!) offers countless opportunities – look at Erasmus+! And if that sounds all just a bit too happy-clappy to you, here’s a challenge for you: find me a single European who is not at least a little critical about the EU! We all know it’s not perfect but yet we grin and bear it because the positives outweigh the negatives by miles.
“It will most certainly stop me from engaging in any postgraduate study in the UK,” said one 22-year-old Italian in the second year of an archeology degree at a Russell Group university who had hoped to continue his studies here. “I will not associate myself with any country in Europe that does not recognise the importance of a united continent. If the referendum fails to keep the UK in Europe, despite my love for its academic institutions I will gladly move elsewhere.”
When I was 18, I couldn’t wait to study in the UK. The degree was financed out of my own savings (i.e. no grants or loans), with the EU contributing £850 for tuition fees per year. I put a lot of effort into learning about your culture and learning your language. Consequently, I can blend in to such an extent that I’ve shut up many a London cab driver when their assumed British cargo turned out to be really just one of those pesky immigrants who come ‘ere and steal our jobs, innit.
I’ve mostly loved my time here, but the climate has changed dramatically over the last six or so years. It’s a country and a culture I no longer recognise. There is no warmth or care anymore. Curiosity has been replaced with animosity. People like me, especially those who are only just starting out and are now where I was in the 90s, have become the scapegoat for all that’s not working in a country that is being crippled by a clueless, uncaring government. “Oh but I’m not talking about you”, they’ll say when I point out my immigrant status to someone ranting about migration. “You have a job. You contribute…” – as if I was some kind of elite minority in a sea of EU scroungers! It’s truly depressing.
Talking to other London Europeans, I get the feeling that many of us are already working on our own Brexit strategies. There’s considerable disillusionment and resentment in their voices. But we’ve moved countries before. We’re hard working, resilient, multi-lingual people. We have options. And we are not afraid of starting again. Elsewhere.
Go on, Britain. Go it alone. See if you can so easily fill all the gaps that your skilled European workforce will leave behind. Watch your universities’ research budgets shrink and your ESF financed initiatives disappear. As for “We are the 5th largest economy in the world”, sure you are. As part of the EU. You also once had an empire, remember? Circumstances change. Economies are fickle. Pride famously comes before a fall. Your financial services industry will migrate to Frankfurt or Paris or Milan (if Milan is very lucky) or even further afield and your tech sector is going to abseil to Berlin, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Your economy will flounder and the EU will most likely make an example of you.
Or you could just listen to Norway’s advice and not leave.