By William Mills
The plane’s engines suddenly rose to their take off roar. The passengers were pushed back into their seats, further and further back as we accelerated down Gatwick’s runway.
The stranger sitting next to me was polite but formal as I asked her what the second language was in the airline magazine. She shrugged. She didn’t
know. Why should she? Maybe Russian perhaps. I later learned that all three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have their own separate languages which are nothing like Russian.
The jet engines eased back as the plane finally broke cloud cover and at last we were in clear blue sky with sunshine glinting off the wings. Elena eased back too and introduced herself. She was Lithuanian flying to Latvia because it was easier to fly to Riga and drive for two hours to get home in neighbouring Lithuania. A four hour round trip for good old Mum who was meeting her at the airport. The roads are not good with many roadworks and no cats eyes for driving in the dark.
To pass the time of the 2 hour 30 mins flight I asked her for an interview. Elena accepted. This is her story.
Elena grew up in Lithuania where the school is free until the age of 18. She studied Latvian Law at University before heading to Italy for a year in Modena. Two years ago she despaired of life at home in the Baltic so headed for London. Now aged 24 she’s emphatic she won’t return to her native land.
Her first months in England were difficult. Lonely and homesick she adjusted quickly helped by a network of contacts she had built up at University and from new friends she met through the local Lithuanian church in London. Her Lithuanian landlady helped her find her job at a Sushi restaurant where she has worked ever since.
“The travelling was so much.” She said referring to the London rush hour. “The Baltic states simply don’t have cities anything as big as London.” But she grew to like it.
“I was surprised to overhear English girls talking in the cloakrooms. They have more freedom of speech than English men. Far more than Lithuanian girls back home. What the girls talked about was unprintable. The quantity they drink is astounding, as is seeing a girl lying drunk on the toilet floor. Also seeing a black woman selling hair sprays and perfumes at five goes for a £1.”
Life got better when she met her boyfriend, an Italian. They now share a flat together. His mother has also moved over to London to join them. Her mother on the other hand is worried about the future and whether she will ever see her grandchildren. Elena’s brother now lives in Germany.
Wages are like Siberia and prices like Switzerland
Her brother in law moved to England six months ago. He’s aged 34, a psychology professor who used to have his own business translating
manuscripts, now he packages CDs into boxes. The saying in Lithuania is ‘the wages are like Siberia and the prices like Switzerland.’ Taxes are also rising making London a better prospect.
Canada, Green card
So much so that in June Elena’s sister,32, moved to London with their two children who started school in September. They want to eventually settle in Canada but the Green Card is difficult to get, so England will do for the time being.
I asked if they mix much with English people outside work. “No.” She said. “We all speak Lithuanian in the house and go out together. We once went out into the countryside away from London to a Lithuanian festival at a country house.”
When asked about visiting Brighton she was dismissive. “My friend[another Lithuanian ] visited there. The beach was dirty and full of stones. Also it is a Gay city so don’t go there.” She relented a little after I said I lived there. “Another friend went to university there. Nice people.”
Her first choice of country to permanently settle? “Italy.” She smiled. And mother? She looked serious, then said; “Maybe she have to come too.”
Andrew Mitchell MP
Two years ago former International Development Aid Secretary Andrew Mitchell told the House of Commons; “Only the very best young immigrants are coming to Britain.”
That may be so, but is it ethical to strip out the young population from the East European countries which are so desperately poor already? The older generations there, just like here, are dependant on the working age generation to care for them in their old age. As pleasant as each individual is, the UK government needs to be more realistic in their expectations, otherwise Britain is in danger of becoming a vast semi-permanent transit camp for people seeking a better life anywhere but here.