“Hello! Three medium cod, a battered sausage and two large chips please.”
The lady serving the chips was young – about 25 – and was also grinning, but not quite so broadly as Farage. She was joking with the fish-fryer – who was flicking my fish this way and that in the batter. I couldn’t hear an awful lot but they seemed to be having a good time.
“That will be 7 minutes. OK?”
I took in a foreign accent before nodding my affirmation. She started scribbling on the fish and chip paper. I considered the mushy peas. And then, because of Nigel Farage and UKIP, and because there wasn’t anyone else in the shop, I maybe over-compensated and dispensed with British reserve.
“Where are you from?” I asked, hesitant rather than abrupt. “Western Poland,” she replied, “Wroclaw. Near the German border.”
Wroclaw sounds very foreign even by Polish standards so I chewed over the word for a moment trying to work out exactly where she meant. She went on to say that she’d been in the UK 9 months which was a bit less than her sister and that they lived together in Ashford. Her sister too worked in the fish shop.
I explained that I’d been to Poland. We discussed the Baltic coast; the distance from her home to where I had been in Poznan; and the smell of Polish coal-fires. I’m not sure if she knew what I was on about here. I wrinkled up my face and she did too but I think that was the extent of the understanding.
Then the fish arrived and I headed home.
I felt afterwards that there was actually plenty to celebrate here. There was the uplifting experience of meeting someone from abroad in one’s own neighbourhood with whom one can establish some connection – however hesitant. There was the enterprise and bravery of a young person who had travelled so far to find work. There was her faulty English. There were my own memories of working in Italy, Greece, France and Poland. And there was the wilful ignoring of the election result that had been announced the day before.
That result, as far as I am concerned, was not something to be celebrated. UKIP polled 751,439 votes in the South East, compared to the Conservatives 723,571, Labour 342,775, Green Party 211,706, Liberal Democrats 187,876.
This regional count was mirrored in my local borough of Ashford where UKIP polled 12,212, the Conservatives 9,492, Labour 3,900, Greens 2,373 and Lib Dems 1,745. (Full Ashford result: EU-parliamentary-elections-results-May-2014)
So what does one make of this? Do we really want to cut ourselves off from Europe? Are we really an intolerant nation saying ‘Please go home. We don’t want you here.’
I choose not to think so. I think the result last Sunday was as much to do with the failure of the three main parties as the success of UKIP. The novelty, rantings and inconsistencies of Nigel Farage himself were things that the media couldn’t resist. UKIP voters, who had something to prove, would have been out in force.
Many would agree with them that immigration is out of control. Many foreigners wants to learn English. Every young person is familiar with British culture and wants to experience it first-hand. British music. British justice. British health service. Ours is viewed as a humane and civilised society. That’s why people want to come here. But would we really have it any other way?
Maybe, instead of complaining about immigration, we should encourage our own youth to take advantage of the EU by stepping forth in the other direction, taking advantage of websites like this one to gain experience working abroad, where even the most mundane task can seem fun purely because one is ‘abroad’. Is this not a great merry-go-round where the young and unattached take glorious advantage?
While doing such work abroad, the youth of today may even learn where Wroclaw is and how to pronounce it – and therefore have more a comprehensible conversation in the chip shop of the future. I do hope so.
(I voted Green last week. In doing so I voted for a party that calls for three yeses: yes to a referendum; yes to EU reform; and yes to staying in a reformed Europe.)