Being an expat tends to make you look back at your home country with rose coloured glasses, and after living for such a long time in the Czech Republic, I have become much ‘prouder of being British’, with all that that stands for, than when I lived there.
The thing is, I am not that British! When my father was a child he was sent from his native Austria by train (not a boat…) to England, where he (and everyone else) was given a family to go and live with; not speaking any English, and coming from a grand Viennese family, he found himself in the middle of the countryside in (what was occasionally mentioned by our mother) a not very friendly farming household.
Returning after the war to look for his family (and failing) he eventually met my Mum and soon after decided to move back to the UK, get British citizenship and, as a final move, Anglicize our name (having had some problems with being both Jewish and having a German name … not all English people understanding the difference between Austrian and German…)and then had us kids.
Many stories later and we became adults; my brother’s first partner was Polish; her family had also moved to the UK after the war and her father built up quite an empire; her mother still, to this day, speaks very little English. My brother’s second wife was Israeli. He met her very soon after splitting from the Pole and we all felt that the main reason for marrying her rather than just living together was in order for her to get a British passport (apologies to all concerned that I revealed that!).
My sister was also married to a Pole for a short time, and then a member of a grand Portugese family; they had settled in the UK after the first world war.
And now, here am I, living with a Czech for the past 19 years who, himself, went to the UK in the 80s, got political asylum and stayed there until he returned to Prague in the early 90s. And, by the way, his own father’s family had moved to Czechoslovakia from Yugoslavia after the split of the Austro Hungarian empire.
The point of all this? If we go back far enough, many of us are immigrants in some shape or form; and we just can’t tell everyone to go back from where they came from (as is often mooted in the UK) or decide that ‘we’ are not going to allow anyone else to come and settle in ‘our’ respective countries. It seems to me, anyway, that these statements are made a little bit selectively; I doubt that anyone is surprised that the Czechs would like to seal their borders right now in order to stop any of the present wave of immigrants from entering (Czechs not always being that welcoming to those with a slightly darker skin…!). But, at the same time, the Czech Prime Minster was keen to tell our Mr Cameron last week that he doesn’t want to do anything that would harm Czech nationals living elsewhere (i.e. presumably, those Czechs that are making a nice living in the UK now).
Perhaps if we all wanted to have the chance to live in Syria we would be more welcoming to the Syrian people who want to come to our own respective countries. But right now, I guess that that is a bit unlikely….