“So, when are you going back home?”
“This is my home.”
“Yeah but really, you won’t ever go back home?”
“Well, maybe if I get very sick or for some reason needed to rely on a welfare system… I wouldn’t choose the British one. That’s the only time I can imagine going back to Germany.”
This is the kind of conversation I would have frequently with people after living in the UK for a year or two, and it never offended me in the slightest. It’s a valid question. A year of two in the UK, or London, is apparently the upper limit for somebody from a wealthy European country. Why would you want to work some where for about the same amount of money but a much lower standard of living than “at home”?
My answer used to be: Because I feel home here. Because Britain is more multicultural, more open minded, more accepting. Because London, expensive and competitive as it is, has been good to me and offers more opportunities than any other place on earth.
Things have changed very fast in the past 2-3 years. Especially since the Brexit referendum, I feel no longer welcome. Suddenly, I am a foreigner, whose value is due to be determined in the upcoming negotiations.
Am I valuable enough? Am I integrated enough? Do I contribute enough?
AM I ENOUGH?
Now, I get defensive when somebody asks me where I am from, automatically assuming they would rather have me leave. I hide the cover page of my passport while queuing for immigration, after people have repeatedly whispered „German!“ to each other, pointing at me.
I am German, and that now seems to make me the enemy of 52 % of the British people, at least if you believe the media.
Germany, Britain’s long standing enemy, the country that people believe has ALL THE POWER in the EU.
In the past two years, I have looked far and hard for a new place to call home. While it is true that the grass is greener where you water it, and nobody is kicking me out of the UK (yet), I no longer feel like I want to contribute to British society.
I could fight back and be the „perfect“, contributing, integrated immigrant. Turns out that makes no difference to how I feel. I can keep paying taxes to a government that constantly makes the poor poorer and the rich richer. A government which spends my tax on nuclear power and weapons. A country and a government where every little thing is at odds with my values.
In the meantime, Germany has changed, too. Sure, you have read the news about all the danger, attacks and craziness that supposedly have taken hold of the country since GAZILLIONS of refugees have been taken in. I call that bullshit. Germany is still a much safer place than the UK. And oh hi, Middle Eastern food...
Society has been changing diametrically to the opposite. Cities that were once all white are now melting pots. Places that were never open to the idea of alternative lifestyles have been forced to accept them. And unlike the UK, I have the power to help make things change for the better (because yes, it’s not a wonderland of tolerance and acceptance, and right wing groups are gaining more traction there, too).
Most Germans look at the UK, the US, France, Poland, Russia, Turkey in wonder, and it seems that in protest against all the hate in the world, many are opening up, becoming more welcoming.
I have been looking for a place I can call home again, a base. Maybe – most likely – not for forever. I am not a bargaining chip. I don’t need the House of Lords or anybody to determine my value. I don’t need to beg for permanent residency.
I have been a minority all my life. Working class, female, lesbian, immigrant. High school dropout, youngest on just about any team I have ever been on. I know what being powerless feels like. And never, not once in my life have I chosen the easy way out of anything.
But I won’t hang around to watch this sinking ship, see my voice and my power being diminished day by day. I won’t be judged and measured by any but my own standards. There are several lifetimes of energy, options and dreams in me. I am taking them somewhere where I don’t need to waste them just to preserve my sanity. Where I can make a difference.
It looks like I will return very soon.
Call it defeat, "giving up on Britain", if it makes you feel better.
To me, it feels like a decision made out of nothing but power. For the first time in my life.