Monday, 28 May 2007

Reading out loud

I saw a woman walking in the street this evening, reading from an A4 notebook, and speaking the words aloud, or at least (I was on the bus) mouthing them. I saw a different woman doing the same thing (from a magazine) the other day on a subway platform.

These women are immigrants, and far from coming here to soak up benefits at the expense of everyone else, they're going to or coming from work, and at the same time doing something that most mature adults find so dauntingly difficult that they'd just rather not: they're learning a new language.

It's long been my position that anyone who has the courage and initiative to come here is exactly the sort of person we could use. The debate on immigration flares up here every once in a while, and with the elections coming up on June 10 this is one of those times.

I've lived in two cities, Glasgow and Brussels. I speak as an immigrant, though the debate is never about fair-skinned people like me. Both cities have been made better by their immigrants, and continue to be added to by those of the latest wave, whatever that may be. Inner-city deprivation is a social problem; youth crime is a law and order problem; it's no answer to say that the relatives or compatriots of people you deem most reponsible should be stopped from coming here. The answer is to do something with the ones who are here other than blame them for all of society's ills.

I lift my hat to those two women, both going to jobs, I imagine, that are unpleasant and ill-paid, both working on the way to improve themselves, to improve their lot and their families: maybe better French leads to a better job; maybe it just helps to understand the teachers at the children's school.

I've know many people who came here over the years and do nothing but sit around sucking up benefits at the expense of the public purse, and who never went out of their way to learn a word of French, let alone a word of Dutch. Ah, but they work for the EU Commission or the European Parliament, and they're British, not Polish or Albanian, so the onus is on the rest of the world to do the old lingo work. Somehow their possession of a passport issued by Her Britannic Majesty makes it okay. But I know which one I prefer.