Friday, May 22, 2009

Who's full of what?

"London's changed so much," lamented the roast beef-hued elderly Englishman beside the pool. His kindly, obese wife reclined next to him, bobbing her head in agreement. She was one of the few women at the resort to conceal her mountainous breasts from the sun. For the purpose of conversation, I was grateful. It's not that I'm offended by the human form, but heaps of oiled, cascading flesh is nothing short of completely distracting for my relatively conservative Canadian sensibilities.

"I hate to say it," he continued, "but it's full of immigrants now". It was the second time he'd said it. I wondered which time he hated saying it more.

I thought about how any friendly banter I've had in London has been with the immigrant population and how in contrast, the English had for the most part successfully avoided me. Then I thought about the Canadian jokes I've endured, all involving some mispronunciation of 'about' and using 'eh' as a suffix for everything, and finally, pretending to mistake me for an American and expecting me to be offended. Usually in that order.

"I'm an immigrant," I said. Sure my great-grandparents emigrated to the United States, then to Canada and then I emigrated back to England, but that just makes me an immigrant to the power of three.

The rest of my family was from Poland – a group particularly disliked in England – but I like to wait until someone says something disparaging specifically about the Polish before mentioning that portion of my DNA. It's a weak sucker punch, but a jab all the same.

The Englishman stuttered and rubbed his hands together before clarifying, "Well, we don't mean people like you."

People like me. Outspoken, agnostic, half-Polish liberal humanist environmentalists from a nation built on immigration, and one of the world's most successfully integrated multicultural cities, Montreal? Or white, English-speakers from the Commonwealth?

Three months since my emigration to London, I'd finally settled in enough to want to get the hell out. So, my boyfriend and I decided to celebrate the occasion with a super cheap 4-hour flight to Cyprus – a hot, dry island flooded with English ex-pats. Seven days on the coast in Paphos and save for the service staff, there were no obvious signs of Greek Cypriot life anywhere – just traditional English breakfast, pendulous English breasts keeping time with the sun on the beach, and daily papers flown in from London. I learned more about Pete and Katie Price than the local culture.

"Cyprus has changed so much," I imagine an elderly local lamenting simultaneously. "I hate to say it, but it's full of the English now."

This is me on Coral Beach in Paphos, Cyprus, feigning surprise after a Cypriot piƱa colada. That's my shark-master partner in crime in the reflection of my sunglasses. He's the reason I'm in this part of the world at all.


Sam Manley said...

I would be very wary of the views on immigration from obese people sunning themselves in Cyprus and much prefer opinions such as this: for a more informed insight into immigration in the UK and Europe. Also worth noting is the relative difficulty in obtaining right to remain/right to work/right to reside in America and Canada. As someone who has been involved in immigration processes for both of these countries and waiting on a Green Card right now - I'll tell you this - becoming an immigrant in North America is at least 50 times as difficult as it is becoming an immigrant in the UK. And much though the stuttering Englishman may have had some not altogether sound views on immigration, when he said "Well, we don't mean people like you." Maybe he meant not an economic immigrant', 'not a first generation immigrant' or maybe 'not a eastern immigrant'.
I also have to pick up the idea of the Polish not being liked in the UK. As the great grandson of a Polish immigrant from WW1 the UK actually has a distinguished history of welcoming Polish immigrants ( The recent influx of economic immigrants from Poland in big numbers, without any intention of attempting to engage with the English culture (such as it may be) and without any interest in staying has admittedly infused an uncomfortable resentment but I wouldn't say the British dislike the Polish…..I, for one, love our mental Polish cleaner Grace – especially when she tells me to make love to my girlfriend.

wyliekat said...

Ain't that the way? You're a desirable immigrant because you're from a nice, tidy little commonwealth country.

Oh, and you're white. I'm sure that's only a sidebar, right?

Kate Savage said...

Sam - That's it, Manley. I'm starting a blog for you.

I know emigrating to Canada or the US is no easy feat. And I have a lot of issues with how that's done, too. What I meant was that the entire country's populated by immigrants – except for the small First Nations contingent ... those who survived the bloody, small pox-infested arrival of the first European settlers.

wyliekat - "People like us/you..." as the start of a sentence, gives me the same taste in my mouth as, "I'm not sexist, but..."

I'm just not sure anyone knows what "people like us" really are.

Sam Manley said...

I think in this context “people like us” probably meant people able to speak fluent English and people willing to go to Cyprus and cook on a beach for week surrounded by a load of other Brits.
Question: When do you stop being an immigrant and become an indigenous person?

Kate Savage said...

Sam - But I wasn't even topless!

Indigenous, hmm. That might take a really, really, really, really long time. Or entirely different context. I think the best you can hope for is "landed". Though, I might argue that my "kind" is indigenous to Nova Scotia. But that's only in reference to how much trouble we can find on Friday nights when we run in packs.

Erin said...

Brilliant blog post! Thanks for this.

Kate Savage said...

Erin - Thanks! And I take it you might just feel the same...