THE BLOG
24/02/2016 06:06 GMT | Updated 22/02/2017 05:12 GMT

The Baffling World of Integration

Sponging fucking immigrants, speaking just about enough of their newfound homeland's mother tongue to request the forms to milk a welfare state they have never contributed to.

Yip, that about summed me up, what with having ticked the boxes on the least desirable immigrant checklist: no job, tax-sapping ongoing chronic health issues and no discernible language skills.

Still, it's easy for the Average Native to oversee such flaws when the immigrant in question is white, cheerily waving a British passport and speaking with a borderline-plummy English accent.

Some five-integrating years on and here I am, a permanent resident of Sweden - albeit still nonchalantly in possession of a British passport. And, as it stands, paying into the Swedish tax coffers.

Meanwhile, back in my 'hemland', the UK's relationship with the EU hangs by a fraying referendum-tether, with the weight of fear-mongering rhetoric tugging with all its might. The notion of 'integration' is being banded around willy-nilly and, seemingly, given disproportionate attention, all other EU-things considered.

Speaking from my own experience, integrating, I can tell you, ain't as easy as you might like to think.

As a fresh off the boater - a proverbial boat, rather than a leaky one sponsored by an organisation best known for lopping heads off for the means of propaganda - I did my utmost to fit right in and learn the sing-song dialect of my adopters.

But...

I don't consider myself entirely stupid, I managed to graduate with a Mickey Mouse social science degree, I have worked in journalism and I just about have the smarts to play the role of partially-informed devil's advocate at a dinner table, it's just... well, I am a bit crap at languages.

I always have been. At school my French lessons were distracted by rumours Miss Hancock had sunbathed topless while on a school trip and Ms Fisher, a nigh on pin-up in comparison with her frumpy female colleagues, often wore a side-slit pencil skirt while authoritatively dictating German grammar tables. But even beyond the teenage lechery of life at an all-boy's comprehensive, others managed, while I dropped the Eurospeak subjects at the first given opportunity and performed a one-boy Brexit without a sniff of negotiations or foresight.

In Sweden, I continue to plug away; I have the advantage of a Swedish wife with a linguistics degree and an office of native colleagues for the ultimate immersion experience, I go to evening classes twice a week yet still the crappiness plagues me.

So why is it we assume that asylum seekers and immigrants (many of whom will have to decode the alphabet before learning English) are all blessed with an equal ability? Why is this ability dismissed as an 'it's the least they can do' hurdle? And if languages are so easy, then why is the average Brit's multilingualism limited to 'baguette' and 'omelette'?

I live in Malmö, a city where some 43 per cent of residents have a foreign background. Although as it has transpired, not many of them are British. I wasn't really expecting that to be the case, but if there was a community of tea-sipping, over-apologetic, socially-awkward Brits doing their best to help one another, you can bet your last jar of Marmite, I'd be a payed-up member, sitting in the corner at meetings, sipping tea and apologising for not talking to anyone.

If I were to crawl into the head of an anti-immigrant supporter (and I am guessing there would be room in there for me to do so), I would have thought that segregation would be a happy compromise: 'if you have to be here, then live in this shitty estate and keep yourselves to yourselves', etc.

We do seem to pick and choose what we celebrate and what we denigrate; complain that a neighbourhood's shops now only sell foreign muck, then head off to Brick Lane for a curry; moan about ghettoisation, celebrate your anniversary in a Little Italy.

Meanwhile, in another corner of Europe...

There are more than 300,000 British expats sunning it up in Spain, a sample survey found that one third of them rarely met Spanish people other than in the service sector, and 60 per cent haven't learned the language.

I've heard a steady stream of 'it's the least they can do's' in relation to speaking English, fitting in with 'our ways' and all-round integration. Isn't it time we stopped telling people what the least they can do is and consider the least WE can do is have a little understanding?