Tuesday, 18 January 2011

'Europeans' and what they bring

When I started writing my blog at the beginning of 2010 I thought that the only people who would read it would be those die-hards who clicked on the link I provided in "I'm still alive" e-mails. However, after a while I started to realise that other people had come across it as well, people I guess just surfing or searching for some information about Budapest.

Most of the strangers paying their respects to the site have been Hungarians, often keen to help me with my understanding of what I have described, adding extra information or putting me right. But one visitor was Marta, a Hungarian living in Sheffield.

Our role reversal always interested me. Here I was from Sheffield trying to make sense of Hungary, and there was she, making sense of Sheffield. And then she came home.

So we arranged to meet in a cafe one evening. Marta turned out to be a very chirpy character - she had lived in Sheffield for four years, arriving speaking no English but by day working in a factory canteen in Chapeltown and at night studying English by reading textbooks and watching ITV. I realised that she was one of the 'eastern Europeans' that I knew had come to Britain to find work, but about whom I knew little.

Eventually she knew enough English to find a job doing the administration in a scrapyard in Attercliffe. She was the only woman working there, and the only foreigner. She quickly learned how to understand the special language of the scrapyard business, particularly how to swear in a variety of British dialects. She told them about Hungary and even showed them my blogs and its pictures; that a Brit could survive in Hungary seemed to offer her colleagues some reassurance that civilisation had penetrated beyond Doncaster. By the time she left it sounded as if they had taken her to their hearts, and they had even said they might pay a visit.

But after four years she was missing her friends and family too much and has decided to come home. It's not easy; the jobs market here is very competitive, with over a hundred applicants for one job she had just been interviewed for. But she is bright and has a warm personality and I hope that will shine through, so that she can prosper in her homeland. I know from my own experience that an interesting job and good salary do not compensate for separation from friends and family.

Marta is just one of the people from this part of Europe who went to Britain to see what they could find. In doing so she opened up the world for many people in Sheffield and showed them how industrious and capable 'foreigners' can be. Now she has returned and, I think, will spread positive news about the British, despite our funny little ways. Better mutual understanding has to be our way forward I think, and I'm glad that my blog has played some tiny part in helping that.

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