Take a piece of white man; wrap him up in black skin. Add a touch of blue blood and a little bitty bit of red Indian boy; so the song goes. Did you know there are now more people in this country who were born in Poland than in Pakistan? That’s a finding from the latest census, and it’s a surprise, because although we’re all familiar with the stereotype of the Polish builder, this isn’t a community that interests us very much. Yet it should, because it represents a fascinating and very 21st-century style of migration.
A lot of them know very little English, this isn’t laziness: lots of young Poles don’t need language skills because they’re networkers, forever finding jobs from or for their fellow countrymen. Have you ever noticed how, overnight, the staff of a coffee bar will turn Polish? Also, mobile phones and Skype keep them in touch with family and friends back home – whom they see pretty often anyway. It’s not unknown for Poles to freelance more or less simultaneously in London and Warsaw.
Although they may not be able to converse fluently in our language, young Poles fit comfortably into English working-class society, the men especially. Football, pubs, and cars – what’s not to like? Not for nothing did “Swiat wedlug Clarksona” reach number one in the Polish best-seller lists – yup, The World According to Jeremy Clarkson.
As a former travel writer I have had the pleasure of visiting Poland on a couple of occasions, I loved it especially the area around Krakow and the Tetra mountains. I always make a good effort to learn some of the language of the country I am visiting but Polish? Give me a break! I came home still unable to say any more than “Dzien dobry” (good morning) “Czesc” (hello!) and “Na zdrowie” (cheers!). However, I got by and had a lovely time and met such a lot of very charming people.
One of the surprises I discovered in Poland was that it is on the face of it it is one of the most religiously homogenous countries on earth. In spite of the early years of the communist regime and the brutal oppression from the Stalinist state almost all Polish children are baptised into the Roman Catholic church (99%) and 93% of marriages are accompanied by a church wedding. I was astonished to find during my visits that church services are so well attended that people had to stand outside the church doors while the service was relayed over loudspeakers.
Add to that the large number of Polish airman and displaced persons that I met over here during the war and who fitted in very well, I am now very biased when I meet Polish immigrants and I try to make them feel as welcome as I was in their country. This is helped by the fact that they look very Anglo Saxon and aren’t easily spotted.
Having said that there is quite a deal of muttering to be heard when I go to our local Boot Fair about hardly hearing English spoken and “bloody poles taking our jobs” etc. I have spoken to a number of these ‘bloody poles’ and discovered that a lot of them are from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It’s true that nearly all of them are working unlike a lot of their detractors. Could it be that they want to work? This hasn’t endeared Poles to self-anointed champions of minority rights. Amusingly, one Lefty critic was cross because they fail to bellyache about the minimum wage.
The BBC appears to be on a bit of a mission to portray Poles as racists: Jonathan Ornstein, executive director of the Jewish Community Centre of Krakow, told the Economist last year that a Panorama documentary on racism in Polish football “manipulated the serious subject of anti-Semitism for its own sensationalist agenda; in doing so, the BBC has insulted all Polish people…”
I can’t imagine the ‘Beeb’ fussing about non-white racism. The truth is that white immigrants who effectively commute from their homeland don’t match the Left-liberal template. There have been attempts to turn Poles into grievance-mongers who can be marched into a Radio 4 studio for a three-minute moan, but with little success, and so the Polly Toynbee’s of this world tend to forget about them. Except, of course, when their boiler conks out in January, in which case there’s this simply marvellous chap called Tomasz who’ll come out at a moment’s notice… mind you, I also suspect that the Poles being mostly devout Roman Catholics would not be viewed favourably by the Guardianistas.
I found it amusing when one of my close friends, who is of Indian descent muttered about a bunch of Eastern Europeans, saying “These bloody poles have no manners they just push you out of the way!” This from a guy who gets quite apoplectic if someone calls him a Paki; “ I’m not a bloody Paki I’m from Africa”. My lovely friend was born in Kenya and has lived here for over 50 years. He supports the English Cricket team, sent his three daughters to Public School and is more English than I am. Perhaps I should say probably less of a mongrel than most of us who were born here. Mind you he is certainly more of a racist than I am.
What we need is a great big melting pot; big enough, big enough, and big enough to take the world and all it’s got; keep it stirring for a hundred years or more! Mind you if immigration and their birth rate keep on rising we will soon run out of room. Stop the world I want to get off! Now I know of a lovely little town up in the Tatra mountains near Krakow . . . . . . . . . . . .