I can’t understand all the fuss about immigration. Most of my best friends and family are immigrants. I’m an immigrant myself. Putting aside the subtle distinctions that some immigrants and anti-immigrants make between expats, migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers, let’s just think of immigrants as those who settle in another country indefinitely, whatever their purpose, whether in search of opportunity or sanctuary.
Let me itemise a few of those who populate my business, social and family life.
I am a British immigrant to the Czech Republic, where I’ve built a business in IT, software and consulting – LLP Group. I’ve been made welcome, despite my lazy failure to learn the local language. Serious cultural mismatches have been few, and the most serious have had to do with the proper making of tea.
My business partner, Barbara, is an immigrant, the daughter of Hungarian immigrants to the United States. I couldn’t have built the business without her. Her husband is an immigrant from Serbia.
My friend and colleague Darina is an immigrant from Slovakia to the Czech Republic (though it’s true these were constituent parts of the same country when she made that fateful journey). I couldn’t have built the business without her, either.
My partner is an immigrant from Moldova, now a British citizen, working in Prague.
My friend Jo, who has built a PR and Marketing business in Prague (JWA) is a British immigrant, and her partner Jan, an immigrant to Britain in the late 1960s, has returned to Prague as one of the few lawyers qualified to practice in both countries.
My friends in Prague are immigrant French, Georgian, Romanian, Slovak, and so on. And I have some local friends too.
My brother is an immigrant to Switzerland where he married a Swiss French musician. He was made to yodel at his wedding, but otherwise has faced no particular indignities.
My partner’s sister Doina is a recent immigrant to the United Kingdom. She qualified as a pharmacist in the summer, sent herself on a crash course in English in Plymouth, walked into a dozen pharmacies in London and landed herself a job inside a week.
Immigrants are hard working, determined, ambitious, tolerant, appreciative. The overwhelming majority enrich the life of the countries they live in, culturally and materially. They are rarely bent on destruction or social benefits, or the slaughtering of animals in the gutter, forced marriage or female circumcision. They have fled or sought new opportunities to avoid such things.
I write this today because I met the best taxi driver in Prague yesterday. He drove me from my office to the airport. Mr Linh (his card doesn’t give his first name) is Vietnamese, and has been driving a taxi and working with tourists in Prague for four or five years. He spoke English perfectly, and (as far as I can tell!) speaks Czech well too. He underbid his rivals on Liftago (the taxi App I always use), bidding 18 CZK instead of 28 CZK per km. He was just around the corner, and with a keen sense of market opportunity he grabbed the chance for a longer than average journey. His car was clean and he drove with care. No hints of ash or unwashed clothes.
And when he dropped me at the airport he offered me a gift from a basket of Christmas presents he’d wrapped for his customers. I had to take his word for the fact that none was explosive but after thirty years of business travel I am a good judge of taxi drivers. I have never before been given a gift by a taxi drive, assuming you can discount those cards that point you in the direction of striptease.
Mr Linh – +420 702 348 888 – the best taxi driver in Prague.
I wish immigrants the world over a very Happy Christmas. And the rest of you, be glad of us!