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Monday, 10 March 2008

Try This

Twice in the last week, I've had Brits complaining to me about how immigrants don't even try to integrate and get too many social services. They don't mean me, of course, they mean other immigrants. I think they might be missing some crucial data points when they make these allegations, so therefore, I encourage everyone who thinks this (regardless of their country) to try the following:

Apply for a visa to move abroad. You'll need a mountain of paperwork. Also time and money. Start well ahead of time. If your target country speaks another language, try to also squeeze in language lessons.

Try to find a place to live in your country of destination. Write to any friends or friends of friends or friends of friends of friends to ask for advice on this. They might invite you to stay with them while you look. This is good, depending on visa requirements. Otherwise, look on the internet. Expect to pay 10-20% above market rent to anybody who is willing to rent to a foreigner via the internet.

Pack up things that you can afford to move. Sell, give away or store those that you can't. Don't know when or if you'll have those things or things like them again.

Say goodbye to all your friends, coworkers, family, drinking buddies, fellow choir members, congregation and everybody that you interact with on a day to day basis. Promise to write and visit when you can. Don't actually know when or if you're moving home.

Arrive in the foreign country and have interactions with the police and foreign bureaucracy immediately while trying to register as an immigrant.

Immediately contact any person with whom you have any kind of connection in your new country. Hope they introduce you to all their friends.

Try to have conversations with new people around you who speak too quickly and use a lot of slang that you've never encountered. Hope they are willing to try to understand your odd accent.

Get used to being the alien other all the time. Best case: harmless and quirky. Worst case: dangerous. Many people will feel they already know everything they need to know about you based on your nationality. Any changes you make regarding their perceptions will be applied to your entire nationality, not just yourself - unless they know a lot of people of your nationality.

Try to integrate: feign enthusiasm for terrible food and nonsensical customs. If you try to retain your own customs or spend too much time around other expats, you may be failing to integrate fully and thus be responsible for discrimination against your nationality as group! Remember, everything you do reflects on your entire group! (Get rid of the idea of being an individual.)

Apply whatever funds you can to getting a whole new wardrobe in the style of your new country. Otherwise, you may be failing to integrate. However, be careful not to buy clothes of the wrong social group. How to determine which clothes go with which social group? Try really hard.

If you're seen as quirky, play it up. Your failure to conform (accidental or not) will become charming. If you're dangerous, well, try really hard to conform, but in a non-threatening manner.

Do you have a job? If not, start collecting all the mountain of paperwork you need to get one. Did you know immigrants are taking all their jobs? Since that's true (hahahaha), it should be really easy for you to find something despite your limited language skills, strange accent, and wrong interview clothes.

Try not to miss all your friends and family too much. Remember, this new culture you're living in is much better than your old one. If you don't think that, you're the wrong sort of immigrant and no good and should probably leave. You new language is better. Your new clothes are better. The new food is better. Your new leisure activities are better. The new weather is better. You should acquire some self-hatred, especially in regards to your culture, but don't be too blatant about it or you'll make people nervous.

Do you still have that accent? Why don't you just go home? Can't you even try to fit in?

How was the first year? Novel! Interesting! Ok, how the second set of holidays away from home? The ones they don't even observe over here? How's the third set of missed holidays? Did you know your best friend just got married to somebody you've never met? But isn't this adopted culture just super, bloody, fantastic? You're the right kind of immigrant now! Not like all those other immigrants who are much less quirky and aren't even trying to fit in!

So, why are you doing this? On a lark? To get better opportunities for your kids? Because your home country discriminates against you? Because of warfare at home? Because your new country has a stronger economy? For educational opportunities? Because you really love pasties and wanted to be near more of them? For nicer weather? Because you really wanted all these government services that immigrants are getting (but obviously don't deserve)?

Although I'm turning into a bitter expat, I actually really like living abroad. I get to see and do all kind of things. Sunday morning, I was completely lost, biking through the English Midlands at 1:00 AM - on a Dutch bicycle. I like the novelty, for sure. And the educational opportunities. And to know more kinds of people. And, as an artist, my economic prospects are somewhat brighter here. There's some kind of Catholic penance aspect going on at an unconscious level too. Also, I thought maybe Europe had all the answers. I mean, they have nationalized healthcare and mass demonstrations for progressive causes. But they also have right wing politicians getting into office. They have xenophobia. They have greedy big businesses and corruption. Sometimes they have mass demonstrations for regressive causes. Europe is neither better nor worse than America, although some European forms of government are more democratic than the American system. But people are the same everywhere. As one Algerian-French woman said, to me a couple of years ago, «il y a des bons et des cons.» There are good folks and assholes wherever you are. This is true of countries and it's true of immigrants.

I don't know why people would think it would be appropriate to attempt to engage me in conversation regarding the worthiness of other immigrants. Because when I'm around, they're thinking about immigration and I'm the "good" kind? Because I subconsciously make them nervous? To make certain I know I'm not entirely welcome? (Your government has already made that entirely clear, don't worry.) But seriously, if you think immigrants have it too easy, you need to go abroad for a while. Not a semester in Spain while you're an undergrad but something more protracted. Then we'll talk.

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