I have a confession to make, and it may surprise you.
I… am a dirty immigrant.
Yes, yes I am. My husband is an immigrant. My children are dirty immigrants and even my sister is an immigrant in yet another country.
“Oh. But we don’t mean you when we talk about how much we hate immigrants and how they singlehandedly ruin our great country.”
It’s not difficult to figure out which immigrants they do mean then – you usually just have to keep quiet and listen. Or hand the person a shovel to help with the hole they are digging themselves into.
We once stayed near good friends close to Bath, England, at a lovely little B&B cottage in the country. The breakfast was lovely and as the charming, elderly owners filled our plates with scrambled eggs the topic of immigrants came up (as it does over orange juice, apparently) and how they are ruining Britain. My husband coughed and made his accent more noticeable – they were oblivious. The woman asked us where we were from and my husband answered London.
“No, where are you originally from, dear?”
“Oh! Lovely country! London is lovely too, well it was, before all the immigrants took the place over.”
“They’re here too now,” the man interjected, “they’ve taken over Little Crossing now as well. Filthy immigrants and their gangs of purse snatchers – the lot of them should just be sent packing to where they came from.”
“Um… we are immigrants.” Offered my husband.
“No you’re not. You’re Canadian.”
We’ve since gotten used to the blatant racism and vile ignorance that most people display when discussing immigration in any country or context – they don’t mean us. Of course not. Just people that don’t look like us. But regardless of this we are still treated as ‘dirty immigrants’ and even have the deportation letters for myself, Paul and each of the girls to prove it, sent accidentally when the Home Office had cocked something up.
Many people don’t realize that immigrating to another county isn’t a simple matter of making a decision and getting on a plane. That other country has to actually want you – and this is hard to come by. Visas are a necessity of life, and we have, in the five years we have lived here, spent just over £12,000 on visas alone for a family of four. Should we wish to get citizenship in another year it will be yet another £4,000.
(that's $27,000 USD in six years, paid to the UK government just to be here)
And our families wonder why we still rent.
To add insult to financial injury, we have had to pass the dreaded Life in the UK Test of the United Kingdom – a test of 24 random questions about British history, politics, sporting heroes, literature, culture and laws. These are important, critical things that one must know in order to integrate into British society.
Such as at what age Victoria became Queen. Or at what age children can start on alcoholism.
These questions made no sense to me and have so incredibly little to do with actually integrating into British society.You know what makes me a good British person? I'm nice. I help people, often going out of my way to do so. I don't drink, but I keep that a shameful secret. I don't like football but I'll watch it if I have to. And I believe in what this country stands for, as well as my own.
But nooooo..... it's clearly more important to know that Scotland got its' own parliament in 1999.
So we went for the test - which we had to pass before spending this new ridiculous amount of money on more visas to stay here.
The testing centre was terrifying. A tiny computer learning centre in Harrow, London, surrounded by pawn shops, chippers and chicken shops. We didn't really want to touch anything and the waiting room reeked of cat pee. The room quickly filled for our allotted test time with Americans, Indians, a Saudi Arabian woman, a Chinese woman and another Canadian - all looking nervous and anxious to get our tests over with.
We were corralled into another room full of computers that smelled somewhat less of offensive cat urine and were given our instructions. We were not to talk, for any reason. Our ears were checked for blue-tooth systems. Our phones were checked. Our bags were stored away and we were silent - waiting for the test to start.
The Chinese woman looked distraught, signalling to one of the test invigilators.She tried explaining in broken English that she couldn't see - she had forgotten her glasses. She could barely see a thing - but the invigilator didn't understand her.
She switched to Chinese, frantically explaining that her glasses were just downstairs, she just had to get them. The invigilator wouldn't let her leave, and both were getting heated and upset with each other. I looked at Paul - he was shaking his head at me as if to say 'don't do it'.
I did it. I had to.
I turned to the distraught women, interrupted them and in Chinese asked the woman what was wrong, translating for her to the invigilator.
Both the invigilator and the Chinese woman were shocked into silence. NOBODY in that room was expecting me to suddenly speak Chinese. Me, the tall and very white blonde woman there with her very white husband. Western people and Chinese language don't usually mix.
The Chinese woman was the first to recover from her shock and jumped into the typical 'how do you know how to speak Chinese?' spiel that I hear so often. I told her it didn't matter, we weren't supposed to be talking in here and let's just help her and then take the test. The invigilator recovered and scolded me, in front of everyone, that we weren't to speak to anyone in the exam room. I apologized and turned back to my computer screen, waiting patiently for the test to start.
The two of them started fighting again, until the invigilator who had just scolded me then asked me to kindly help them to translate.
So to the awe of everyone in the room, I translated for them until the Chinese woman's glasses were retrieved. The invigilator then thanked me but scolded me again for speaking in the testing room. WTF lady, make up your mind!
I then spent the rest of the test muttering to the Chinese woman beside me to shut up, we can't talk - as she wanted to know where I was from, why I spoke Chinese, what the answer to number one was...
Paul was right. I should have just kept quiet - like a good dirty immigrant.