12 Feb 2018

Three Painful Questions for Migrants

Where are you from?  Do you like it here?  Do you like it there?
These questions said with the best intentions, often as a conversation opener, repeated often enough can eat away at migrants and make them feel isolated.

Where are you from?

Accent, appearance, language, make it obvious a migrant is different to the native born. The question 'Where are your from?' although may be said with the best intentions, is a reminder to the migrant that they are not from here. In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, Harari suggests Homo sapiens  default to an 'Us and them' social structure. You are with us or not. He points out that in many cultures the word used to describe any one not born in the area or country to being similar to a description of non-people. 'Where are you from?' can be taken as you don't belong as much as me. Other perils of the question where are you from is discussed more in an earlier blog. Read more here.

Do you like it here? 

When this question is asked the migrant is doomed. By the fact the migrant has lived in two countries, they have a comparative point of view. Transport networks, climate, housing. they have experienced both and can see the advantages and disadvantages of each.

If the migrant is honest, and some cultures are more honest than others, he/she may say something like, I love the climate, culture and people, but I think the transport system or lack of it is frustrating. The criticism sticks out. Even such a cushioned honest reply from the migrant may cause the native born to think or say, 'Why don't you go back home then? '

Why is criticism not taken well? Because the migrant can be likened to a guest, and guests don't insult their hosts. Imagine you are invited to dinner, your host asks you whether you enjoyed the meal. If you reply that it was lovely except the main course was a little underdone, there will be unease.  A guest has expected behaviour. Often migrants have to accentuate the positive. And until they find someone who can receive the migrant's honest observations or criticism, they may have to bottle up any negative feelings about the country they have chosen to live in. A migrant, you are a guest in your host country.

Do you like it there?

When a migrant visits their homeland, they may yearn to be honest with their loved ones. Again they have a comparative opinion, and they have chosen to 'give up' their homeland. One of my sisters once said to me, "Where you are living better be a great place, because you have given up so much to be there."

The question 'Do you like it there?' should be treated with caution. Every positive of your host country is a negative score for your homeland. If you point out all the host country negatives that you can't share with native born of your host country, your loved one may wonder why you are still there. It can be safer to accentuate the positives of the things you miss in your homeland, and even be prepared to be told it is not like that any more. As a migrant, you may have to behave as a guest in your homeland.

These questions are a constant reminder that you are don't belong, and although you have a comparative opinion, it is not always welcome.You are a guest in two homes.

What can you do?

  1. Talk to other migrants, as they are unlikely to take offense when you are making comparisons. 
  2. Accept that like a permanent traveller, you will always be reporting on the positives.
  3. If you are never able to speak your mind, seek someone who you can offload to. I have come across two women who bottled up their grievances for over twenty years, so much so that they became sick.
  4. Journal your observations.
  5. Research on line for other migrants. There are often country specific blogs that you can post your feelings on and feel you are heard.
  6. Reviews and comments about my book have focused on the relief a migrant has felt in knowing other migrants felt the same way.