Friday, July 17, 2009


For a few of us it is a lifestyle choice, for most of the world it’s a ‘issue’. The UK witters about it all the time, what with being full up, and it would appear that Canada is beginning to fret about immigration too. Only this week the Canadian government has slapped visa requirements on Mexicans and the Czech Roma, to try and stop unsuccessful refugee claims from tourists. There have been minor outcries. Apparently it costs insane amounts of money to look after people for the years it takes to process an unsuccessful claim, and Canada looks after people prettily, that’s why they come. It’s ok of course if you are a real refugee, but the chancers and tryers-on are a drain on resources.

The other category that we love to hate, of course, is your economic migrant. These cheeky people are the lowest of the low on both sides of the Pond. Not even pretending to be in fear of their lives, they move around the world with no finer motive than to try and better their family’s lifestyle. The phrase economic migrant is one that is difficult to say without a little sneer, something to do with the consonant sounds... try it.

Both countries like to celebrate diversity of course, that’s a different thing. Diversity is colourful and inclusive and tolerant and is about being polite around strange customs and interested in weird food. There are festivals about it. But where does that leave me? I am an economic migrant who is not diverse. Who cares? The system has no pigeonhole for me...I am not welcome at the local Immigrant Employment Centre (trust me, I dropped in for a bet). I am that invisible, uninteresting sort of immigrant who appears to be able to cope. I am here for reasons that have nothing to do with visible hardship, oppression or need. I am prosperous and articulate, an economic migrant who even speaks a sort of English. I am fair game for hanging out to dry.

It's an interesting characteristic, a BBC accent, an asset and a liability. "I love your accent." I hear it in stores and at interviews, it makes instant friends in restaurants and supplies work for which I am in no way qualified. An English accent inspires confidence. I am clearly honest and charming and although I sound as though I might think myself a little superior, that's kinda charming too. I am everybody's mascot; just opening my mouth makes someone's day. Being quaint as a career move.
Government and big business see me differently though. To those outfits who own the inalienable right to make the rules, handle my money, sell me utilities and insurance, I am one enormous gravy train. Totally vulnerable; I have no choice but to walk head-first and eyes-open into scams so blatant they can't possibly be legal.
"As a foreigner you may not understand how insurance works."
"You might not know how to pay utility bills."
"You could have forged your credit history."
"You probably didn't understand your accountant's advice."
And every time it costs me just a little more than anyone else. What am I going to do? Go home? Complain? To whom?

I'd like the powers that be to know that we are not stupid, those of us who move around the world. An institutionalised fleecing of us just because you can is really rather un-Canadian. Whatever colour our skin, whatever language we speak, whatever our reason for being here, and whatever initial assistance we may or may not appear to need in order to settle; let me tell you here and now that the people who choose to make their home in Canada are really rather bright. We understand how to pay bills and we know what banks are for. The dumb ones don't come.

Don't get me wrong, I love this region's people. I chose them. When I opted to stop being a struggling single parent in a UK slum and make a bid for prosperity and new opportunity; when I sold everything I owned and sunk every penny into one final chance to turn life around; K-W was my deliberate destination. And anyway, the few who chose to take advantage have fallen by the wayside, replaced with the finest friends anyone could ask for. The ones who learn with me that one of us doesn't speak English. The ones who are first to join in a good laugh when I mess up again. The ones who pass other English-speaking migrants my way for advice.

It amuses me greatly that I get my electricity from the hydro company and my water from the gas supplier. That flower beds are gardens and gardens are back yards. It is all part of the fun of emigrating, life just-a-little-different. I explain happily to newcomers that the pavement here is the bit you drive on and that, should you require air in the tyres of your car, you can't go into a garage and ask to use their air line. They will look at you a little oddly and direct you proudly to the new Waterloo Regional Airport.

I tell everyone to be a mascot in their local shops, revel in their accent and anticipate an exciting education for their children. I tell them that Canadians are the warmest, most welcoming people in the world. I also warn them about the label on their forehead that says "bleed me dry". I tell them to expect the small print to have more, smaller print and to expect that the smaller small print will include things they thought were illegal. I tell them to count their fingers after signing anything and to tolerate losing the odd one with a rueful smile. It will mean they have settled in a little more.

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