Oi! You! Immigrant!

There was a lot of chat on FB over the past few days about this article  about ex-pat Brits in Spain.

This has prompted me to reveal a teaser from my memoirs “Knitting With Eels” about my life in France over the past 25 years.

Although I have met many Brits over here who integrate, learn the language and are perfectly civilized, there is a hard-core of ex-Empire mentality ones who seem to think they are doing the natives a favour just by gracing them with their presence.

In desperation, when in Brittany, I invited some of the female members of this “rather die than learn French” group over to my house for regular coffee mornings, during which I tried to teach them what I call “first aid French”. This involved useful things like phoning a doctor or garage, exchanging the small pleasantries with neighbours that get one accepted in a community. I did my best. At the time I was employed teaching English to French people so I knew my stuff. It was hopeless. As long as I was doling out coffee and allowing them to chat in English, they were fine. As soon as I asked them to try out a couple of words of anything else, they went a funny colour and clammed up.

In desperation, I finally asked them why they were in France at all. The usual reasons of better weather, exorbitant profits on sale of UK home to buy French one and much cheaper booze were trotted out. So, intrigued, I demanded to know why they wanted to leave Britain.

“It’s the immigrants. Around our way it is full of them. Don’t speak English, eat funny foreign muck, open shops selling it too. Oh did I tell you I found Shredded Wheat in Leclerc last week?”

No – they couldn’t see that the very thing that had driven them out of their own country was what they were practicing on the Breton, along with driving house-prices through the roof, meaning that local kids could not afford to buy where they were brought up. No wonder the locals hated us.

I eventually got branded as “gone native” because I spoke French and worked for a living. This was considered “showing off” and on hearing that, we decided to move. Where we are now there are still non-French residents but they are mainly well-integrated.

Me? I went native big time – applied to take French nationality and now have a French passport and ID card. This will be funny if the “No Immigrants” parties get voted in – Britain will leave Europe, my ex neighbours will be invited to go home and I will sit here singing La Marseillaise and waving my flag.


18 thoughts on “Oi! You! Immigrant!

  1. Great post, Ailsa! An English friend of mine lived in Lyon for several years because her husband worked for a multinational chemical company and he was transferred there. She told me the very same tale. Many of his colleagues’ wives didn’t try to learn French or mix with French people and formed their own little English club. There was still a Marks and Spencer at the time in Lyon’s town centre and they only shopped there! As a French person who has lived in England for the past twenty-five years, I have made my home, worked and raised my family here. I have never thought of myself as an immigrant and have always felt very welcome…until the past two years or so. I still have quite a strong French accent and these days when I shop at the supermarket or in town I often get frowns and tuts. I can’t explain it very well but I feel something has changed. I will never forget when my daughter panicked as she listened to some politicians on television who were advocating leaving the EU and sending immigrants back home. She started crying and promised me she’d come with me!

    1. Yes I DO know what you mean, Marie. Just driving a French car in the UK has entitled me to some very ripe language and gestures. No idea why, only that when I wind the window down and give them full-on Glaswegian foul-mouthed replies, their eyebrows shoot up.

  2. I can’t understand not learning the language if you live in another country. How isolated from the area , you must feel. When we go on holiday I try to learn first aid (their language ) words. Good description , by the way 🙂 . I try out my splattering of French and German learnt at school hundreds of years ago. I can count to 10 and be polite in Italy. And in other countries I ask the first few locals who serve me how to say Thank You, hello, goodbye. … And it usually goes down well, that at least I am trying, that, in turn, tends to please the people that I am dealing with. At least the lazy Brit is making an attempt. These days the memory won’t retain English words, let alone foreign ones, but I shall carry on asking in the hope I can remember for the few days I am away from home in someone else’s country.

  3. All I can say is, whatever happened to live and let live, not to mention a little respect for other people’s lives and customs?
    Keep up the good work, Ailsa, spreading the ‘entente’ around. Life is just too short for anything else!

  4. The sheer stupidity of some people is mind blowing.How do you expect to survive as an immigrant unless you make some effort to integrate. You’ll never know what’s going on, will miss important events and end up being shunned (understandably) by locals. If we in the UK complain that immigrants don’t try to ntegrate we have to expect the same from the places we move to.
    Well done Ailsa for trying to drum the notion into some thick heads.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

  5. Absolutely true, and so ably put! Parochially speaking, we West Country inhabitants were similarly treated by an influx of Cockneys, not so many decades ago. Hell hath naught to show more crass than a wealthy Cockney, believe me. If you have them in France, too, I do not envy you. There should be some sort of spray, or something….

    1. Seen booth, Frederick – I lived in Mousehole as a child and remember the high speed train links and all the houses being sold to people from Newbury (why Newbury???) and the local not being for locals any more. xxx

  6. *nods and laughs along* Oh boy do I know these people! So many of them near me, but then to be honest I refuse to go native, I hate it here (but as you know I’m not here by choice.)

  7. I moved to the UK because of work, in the first instance, but hopeful that I would improve my English and learn. Nearly 23 years later I must say I can’t quite understand (if you choose to live somewhere else, that is) why you wouldn’t try to see what the place has to offer and what you can learn. It’s a two way street for sure but…

  8. I think it’s amazingly rude to move to a country and not integrate or learn the language.

    Marie Laval, it will revert. People are using immigrants as an excuse to explain a poor economy. It’s not and they will learn and it will pass. Stick with us, we are stupid but many of us detest the hateful rhetoric of parties like ukip.



  9. Thanks everyone for your comments. You have just re-assured me that it is plain RUDE to refuse to learn any of a language. Just a few words when on holiday go a long way because the Basil Fawlty school of foreign communication (stand closer and shout at them) doesn’t go down at all well. xxx
    Today I’m still in France. In a couple of days I’ll be in Spain where my skills are limited and I have to resort to entertaining people with mime to endear myself when I run out of words.

  10. Reblogged this on Wendy Anne Darling and commented:
    My family moved from England to South Africa when I was 12 and I became fluent in Afrikaans before moving back to England. I always loved the challenge of learning to be understood when visiting France, Spain and Germany and I really never could understand why on earth people would holiday in such wonderful places and whine about not being able to find fish and chips! For me, when it came to food, it was a case of total immersion!

    25 years ago I moved from England to the country that has been my home ever since. I’ve become reasonably fluent but never quite been able to pick up the accent and I’m sad to say that there are definitely days when I could kill for a banger or a decent loaf of bread but, all in all, I love my adoptive country.

    Ah well… God bless the USA! 😀

    Thanks for a great post, Ailsa!

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