I feel a “foreigner” in my own country.
When Freedom of Movement happened in Humberside, the whole region bloomed. Hundreds of happy, enthusiastic hard-working families, filling our empty communities. It felt like when I was a little girl. Thriving. Inclusive. Everyone belonged. Ex-pat executives, au pairs, refugees, hairdressers, academics, bus drivers… suddenly everyone felt equal. I started seeing BAME faces in our small towns, villages and churches. I felt I belonged too. Single, forties, ex-Londoner. I bought a small house in my home town ready to settle down.
But I felt an undercurrent. People I’d been to school with would give a double-take, then look straight ahead and walk on. Ok, I’d had a mixed time at school but I expected to be welcomed as a local. No. When I entered a room, meeting hall, church, I could feel a resentment, a sort of “what are YOU doing here?” I had to order the Guardian, Private Eye, I listened to Radio 4…. after six months in my perfect little home, a loneliness hit me that I couldn’t explain. There were pubs, restaurants, cafes, but every weekend I sat alone. No one “looked” like me or felt like me. For the first time in my life, I realised an outsider can try and join in as much as possible but you’re just rebuffed, like a foreign body. People would say, hello, goodbye, but never come round, let’s meet for a drink, drop in …
And this is my story for my forties. I worked full time in a college. My EFL students loved me but outside of work I had no friends. I started to question myself, my looks, my figure, my personality. I tried dating, adverts, online, but when I entered “graduate” the filter would come up “there are no matches” in a hundred mile radius. The men I met: shaved heads, hard-faces, BNP voters, sneerers…. I remember seeing a good looking man in a suit with a briefcase walking from the station and realising this was a professional, like me, but they hid away in the prosperous villages near the grammar school.
I lost my job, my private pension, my savings and eventually my house and moved to Germany with two suitcases and my EU passport. I had to find a job and I settled in a strange country, whose language I’d only studied at A Level.
And that’s why I’m fanatically European. I realised a deep meaningful thing. My home town didn’t want me, my county didn’t want me, men didn’t want me, my country didn’t want me, but my CONTINENT wanted me. Thank you EU
Penny G., English, living in Oman since 2017
First published March 2020
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