I, Migrant

Immigration is constantly in the news these days but the focus is always on the migration of people into the UK. The plight of the internal migrant is never considered. Most people aren’t even aware that such a phenomenon might cause problems for those involved. After all, we’re all British, aren’t we? We share a common language and identity, don’t we?

Superficially, this may be the case, but the internal migrant will be faced with an unexpected culture shock when moving to another part of the UK.

Internal migration is a feature of modern life. We are no longer hatched and despatched in the same cosy village but often forced to move away from home for a variety of reasons.

This can have advantages, of course. It should give us a more cosmopolitan outlook, bring us into contact with different cultures and perhaps make us more tolerant. I am the first to admit I have made some very good friends during my time in Peterborough, and some of them are immigrants, mainly Poles. They work and study, they set up businesses, and they do all this using a language not their own. I admire these external migrants and empathise with them too because, to a lesser degree, my experiences have similarities with theirs.

The North-South divide is one example of the boundary that separates two very different worlds. As a Northerner moving down from Cheshire’s green and pleasant land to the flat, featureless Fens of East Anglia, I very soon realised it wasn’t only the landscape that was different. The first thing that struck me when I moved here was how long it took me to get to know anyone, even people I worked side by side with every day. I felt they were suspicious of me, resentful somehow. Perhaps they saw me as a rival in the house and job markets.

There were considerable language differences too. I had been prepared for the change in vowel sounds when I moved further south: plant would become plarnt and master, marster, for example. However, a few days into my new life I had an embarrassing encounter in a cake shop – (Do they call them cake shops down here or something fancier, like patisseries? Gosh, the pitfalls of a badly researched blog). I quickly discovered that one does not simply walk into a Peterborough cake shop and ask for a barm cake in a Northern accent.

A baffled face behind the counter: “A what?”
“A barm cake.”
“What’s that?”
I tried again: “A batch cake?”
“A what?” Giving me that you-ain’t-from-round-here-are-you look.
I pointed to a tray of baked goods and the assistant suggested, “Baps?”
“Sorry, what?” I said. Baps? Isn’t that a euphemism for breasts?
Exasperated, the assistant pointed to the tray. “Did you mean bread rolls?”
I nodded, face surely the colour of a sun-dried tomato, and tried to ignore the stares of the other customers who were probably wondering why I hadn’t bothered to learn English before I went shopping.

There were more differences to contend with and at my new job my workmates were extremely keen to point them out. For example, I had no idea I pronounced the endings of words so emphatically. I realise it is something we do up North. So while my workmates would be dooin’ something, I’d be doiNG it.

Finding your way around a strange city, negotiating its transport system, dealing with public bodies and navigating unfamiliar streets – and all the while battling homesickness – all these things are stressful and bewildering. Even the TV and radio stations are different. It would have been so much easier had I moved within my own area, say to Manchester or Warrington, where I would not have had to try so hard to fit in. I wouldn’t have had to deal with language differences. Nor would I have been left waiting for people to telephone me after they said, ‘I’ll ring you later”. Where I come from ‘later’ means ‘later today’, not ‘some unspecified time between now and Doomsday’.

Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling, and it isn’t a feeling I have experienced during my three decades of living in Peterborough. Sorry, Peterborough, but perhaps it isn’t you, it’s me. Perhaps I should have tried harder.


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8 responses to “I, Migrant

  1. agnieszkacoutinho

    I absolutely loved the last two blog posts Carol. Partly because of migration and writing is big part of me, partly because you write in such an interesting way.

    I think the area where you live/used to live in Peterborough could contribute to your negative view about the city… When I lived in some other parts of this city I also didn’t like it. Now.. I don’t think so it is the best place on the world but I got used to it and I feel good here. Although as you said- home is not a place, it is a feeling. I feel at home in my homeland in Poland, I feel at home in Brazil, where my husband comes from.. and I feel at home here. I don’t think of it a lot. I think more about me being migrant when Im among British people (what doesn’t happen often lol).

    I don’t remember if I asked you- why did you move here and why you didn’t go back?

  2. agnieszkacoutinho

    oh dear, and I’ve just noticed a mistake.. Why can’t I edit it loool xD

  3. I have also been an “internal immigrant” at times during my life but did not find the north-south divide or the language a barrier. It did make people notice me more because my Scottish accent stuck out like a sore thumb, but it usually made them more friendly and helpful towards me. I remember describing someone as “bonny” to an English colleague in London (he was from the north of England) only to be told that, instead of a compliment (in Scotland it means lovely to look at), I was describing them as fat! I think it helps if you can laugh at yourself and be genuinely interested in, and friendly towards, those you come in contact with. Maybe internal immigration could be compressed into one word: “integration” then!

  4. I’m sorry, I made TWO mistakes in my comment which I couldn’t edit out! Make that “internal migration” and not “internal immigration”, tch. And the last line should read: “Maybe then internal migration could be compressed into one word: ‘integration’.”

  5. Don’t want to get on high horses, but you should have tried living in the Methodist North of England in the 70s with an Irish accent. I don’t know whether it’s restricted to the English, most people have problems with internal migrants. Unless they have to contend with a lot of foreign ones too. Anyone who’s different is either a threat or a figure of fun. One of the pettier sides of human nature maybe. It’s like that here too. Our kids were ribbed at school because they brought Picard expressions and accent with them. It was a case of lose it or die 🙂

  6. I was brought up in the Methodist North(-west) of England, Jane, but lucky to have an English accent. My mother had Irish RC neighbours/friends who got picked on and ostracised. My mother’s angry reaction to this is one of many reasons why I have never been racist; it’s stupid. You do surprise me with the ‘Picard’ stuff! I would have thought that would be cool. Don’t the French like Star Trek?

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