Fronting Channel 4’s An Immigrant’s Guide to Britain, a programme for immigrants by immigrants, has been an eye-opening experience. Mainly that the makers consider me an ‘immigrant’! Bloody cheek!
I see myself as many things. Westphalian, German, European. These days definitely also Londoner and, at a push, Cockney. Not once during my thirteen years of living in the UK have I considered myself an ‘immigrant’.
I asked myself why not and it’s probably down to the lack of hardship in my story. I’ve always felt to qualify as an immigrant you must have spent at least some of the journey clinging on to a banana boat or hiding in the back of a lorry. Not just getting on a plane at Flughafen Dortmund and an hour later land in Luton Airport.
There was also never any expectation of me becoming a success so my village could afford a second goat. And being interested in football and drinking beer I felt immediately at home in Britain. Also my hometown of Hagen is closer to London than Glasgow is. By 20 miles. (And 40 years. Bom-tish!) And whenever I feel a lack of social acceptance I remind myself that up and down the UK (particularly down), Scousers and Irish are far less welcome than Germans.
This might be a technicality, but deep down I always thought being an immigrant involves moving somewhere decidedly better, rather than a slightly inferior version of your own country. Moving somewhere worse I associate with being an ‘ex-pat’ or in more serious circumstances ‘relief worker’.
Either way, what I really like about the programme it mixes light-hearted issues (the job market), with more serious ones (trouble of having two water taps instead of just one) to the ultra serious (the British class system). Particularly now that immigration is such a laden topic, not that it ever isn’t, it’s excellent to look on the bright side of immigration and what a bonus they, no, hang on, what a credit WE are to the country. By definition us immigrants are aspirational. I simply refuse to believe there’s many people with enough of a go-get attitude to up sticks, and relocate to the unknown just so they can claim benefits.
Mind you, I equally don’t believe people join political parties at grassroots level, and give up their evenings and weekends so that one day they can wrongly claim for a second hoover. You could argue this statement proves that my assimilation process to British life and attitude is far from finished.
An Immigrant’s Guide to Britain airs tonight (Sunday 3rd May) at 10.05pm on Channel 4