A British guy walks into a bar. He sits down and orders a coffee. The Polish waitress returns with his flat white and a polite smile.
‘What are you smiling about,’ says the British guy, ‘You’re leaving soon anyway.’
His mistress seems quite entertained by his answer as their laughter immediately erases poor Agnieszka’s smile.
What clearly started as a joke is becoming a reality.
I first came to London a year and a half ago to stay for a weekend. The first people to greet me on the airport were an Romanian guy checking my passport, an Indian woman making my espresso and a Spanish girl selling bus tickets to the city. I immediately fell in love with all the diversity that seemed to thrive so nicely. I enjoyed sitting at cafes just observing people from all these different corners of the Earth. Three months later I packed what remained of my luggage and moved here. I can’t say it was easy from the beginning but I felt welcome. I was left alone and treated the same way as any other person trying.
Soon enough I met enough people with similar interests to start a web series, its’ main message being the celebration of diversity of London and it’s people. We would interview people that moved here for one reason or another and almost all of them said the thing they enjoy most is the city’s diversity.
Everyone I met was just so incredibly open.
And then the referendum happened. No one believed it would turn out the way it did, even people voting pro exit. Some people still don’t believe it did. I wasn’t taking it seriously from the beginning saying that not much will change anyway. It was only after I found my girlfriend in tears, reading tweets and news stories about what is happening to people around England that it struck me. My girlfriend belongs Britain’s second biggest ethnic minority: Poles. You can imagine that the fact that people started leaving leaflets at Polish people’s houses saying they are scum insects and that they will finally leave didn’t exactly brighten up her day. The Polish community building was sprayed over with hateful remarks, not to mention people bullying immigrants verbally, regarding their nationality and even race.
Now I’m not the biggest history buff in the world but I do remember seeing pictures in our history books with similar content in the ‘Nazi Germany’ section.
I found it really hard to cool my anger and find reason in all this. How come that now all of the sudden this haven of diversity that I fell in love with turned into such an unwelcoming place.
We had a similar situation in Slovenia a couple of times. Not so long ago we had a referendum about same sex marriage and soon after that we had waves of Syrian refugees coming to our borders. The hatred and hate speech these two events sprung in some people surprised me a great deal. The referendum was voted against anyone marrying whoever they want to, comparing homosexuals to rapists while photos of Syrians with extremely negative comments were spamming Facebook walls and emails on a daily basis. Some of them even coming from people very close and dear to me.
And yet the majority of people I know and spend time with would never do such a thing and they even tried to put some reason into other people’s minds. This was not the Slovenia I knew. But this was and is the Slovenia that those people saw and see.
And the situation here is pretty much the same. Everyone I know condemns the Brexit turnout. Some British people I know are even considering leaving Her Majesty’s island. People who voted exit are now admitting #regrexit because they either didn’t know what it’s all about or were lied to. It’s not a coincidence that the Leave campaign removed majority of their claims from their website.
However, any tea that’s cooked in the morning gets cool by lunchtime. And I’m pretty sure the situation will calm down soon enough.
So if you are an immigrant, I urge you to not be judgmental towards the British. At the same time also try to not live in fear and continue as you have until now. I know it’s not easy after all that is happening right now but there have always been and always will be closed-minded idiots who will start barking at every opportunity they get. Just keep smiling as hard as it seems to be. As the so famous and over-abused saying with the crown on top goes: Keep calm and carry on.
And if you are British, please don’t stand by and do nothing if you witness bullying. Stand on our side and just be a human being. I don’t want to be patronising, but your politicians just drilled rather large holes in what’s left of Her Majesty’s once great naval fleet.
So when Agnieszka smiles at you the next time she brings you coffee, smile back and give her a tip. You’re going to need all the coffee you can get, rowing this boat out of the depths.