Confessions of an Eastern European Living in the Western Wonderland
Yes, I came here to steal your jobs
When I left my home country - Poland - almost a decade ago to study and work in France, I wasn't expecting to go through a cultural shock.
After all, I've seen the Western Wonderland on TV many times before.
It was a world full of shiny shopping malls, dildos on nightstands, rich people on yachts, penis-shaped skyscrapers, and women rushing to work with a cup of coffee in their hands and a pair of heels in their bag.
But after spending the first couple of weeks abroad being treated by everyone around me like I crawled out from under a rock, I realized I was deeply wrong. And yes, I do speak fluent French, but that didn't help as much as I thought it would.
One year later, I moved to the US for a while, then back to Poland, then from there to Belgium, then from Belgium to the UK - where I currently live. And in all that madness and packing and finding apartments and moving, I realized this will always be the Western Wonderland for me.
I might understand it a bit better with each passing year. And that's helpful. But it will always remain a place full of social habits and customs so different from the ones I grew up with.
Here are some of the most significant differences I've noticed over the years.
I never knew so many polite ways to tell someone to fuck off
In my home country, when we want to tell someone to fuck off, we usually tell them to fuck off. Simple and easy.
But it has been my experience in various Western countries that if you want to tell someone to fuck off, you'll probably say anything but that. Your face and body language might be telling me to go back to where I came from, but your words tell an entirely different story.
Unless you're Italian, of course. Because these people have way too much espresso in their bloodstream to care about not offending you.
I've also noticed that speaking your mind is a rarity in general. Which is even weirder considering how much nonsense you talk about. Don't get me wrong; I think the concept of small talk is fascinating. Even though we have an equivalent of 'how are you?' in my native language, we're not big on using it.
We might say hello, but we just jump straight to the point after that. Say what we think. Or want. And if we don't like you, you'll know it instantly. We don't fake niceness or friendship. What's the point in that?
You, on the other hand, tend to avoid saying what you really want to say, go round in circles, and drop subtle hints here and there to steer the person you're talking with in the right direction hoping maybe one day they'll get whatever it is that you're trying to say. And if they don't, you continue with your phony smiles and compliments until the day you die. Nice.
Before I've noticed and understood that little fake politeness dance you do, I didn't understand why people kept telling me I was rude and cold. Or even uncivilized.
But now I've gotten so proficient in it, I know how to tell someone to fuck off in such a polite way they'll get excited for the journey to come. Yay.
There's way too much toxic positivity in here
Growing up, I loved Disney movies and everything Walt Disney-related. I even had one of his quotes - 'if you can dream it, you can do it' - hung as a poster in my bedroom.
When my mother saw it for the first time, she laughed and said it was a stupid quote. Even though I disagreed with her as a kid, I agree with her now. It is a silly quote.
But this is the kind of shit many Westerners - particularly Americans - thrive on. Inspirational quotes. Self-help books. Positivity. Motivational TED Talks. Smiling through pain like idiots while the whole world is crumbling around them.
Some time ago, I actually made the mistake of buying and reading a book about productivity written by a hyper-privileged American bro that turned out just to be an ode to toxic positivity.
You got this! Just smile! Look on the bright side! Good vibes only! Stay positive! Think happy thoughts!
Sometimes you can't just think 'happy thoughts' and smile. Sometimes all you can do is sit your ass down, pour yourself a shot of vodka or other liquor of your choice and be sad or angry or scared or disappointed or miserable. Because that's a part of life. To feel all of that and allow yourself to really feel it. And not pretend everything is all sunshine and roses at all times. It isn't.
'Good vibes only' might be a nice motto when you're living off a trust fund on a beach in Mexico after being coddled in private schools and gated communities all your life. But for the overwhelming majority of people living in the real world, that motto is just unhelpful. And toxic.
Every so often, life sucks. And that's ok. No amount of 'good vibes' and 'happy thoughts' can change that.
Even the most open-minded of Westerners are not really open-minded
Many Westerners - in particular of the liberal kind - like to think of themselves as highly open-minded, anti-racist, tolerant, and accepting creatures. You know, because they enjoy ethnic food, share posts about poor people in third world countries on their Instagram story, and sign a petition for some worthy cause now and then.
But for some reason, that way of thinking goes out of the window when it comes to Eastern Europeans.
Whenever a Westerner finds out where I'm from, it usually goes in one of three following ways:
- They'll act all polite and excited and say they've been to Russia once or that their great-great-grandmother was Ukrainian. Not sure what that got to do with me, but at least they're trying to be nice.
- They'll mention their family's cleaner was Polish, but they had to fire her for stealing, or that they once went to a brothel with many Polish prostitutes in it, or something else along these lines. You got the idea.
- They'll more or less politely tell me to go back to my home country because I'm stealing their jobs. Or men. Or doing too much crime. Or infecting their precious culture with my 'uncivilized' ways. Or taking advantage of their country's hospitality and living off benefits.
As you can probably imagine, it's always fun to be stereotyped, looked down upon, and have all kinds of assumptions made about you before you even open your mouth. Yup, this is exactly why we're all coming here in such great numbers. And not because our countries are, I don't know, impoverished and less developed than the West after decades of Soviet regime.
Sadly, those stereotypes and assumptions tend to follow us around our whole lives. Because we can't escape our names, surnames, and accents. And we often face discrimination and violence because of that.
But when we dare to talk about the xenophobia we face in many Western countries, we're gaslighted about our own experiences by the righteous Western crowd of the self-proclaimed anti-racists.
But… but… you can't face discrimination, you're white! White privilege! You're not a 'real' immigrant! You're just trying to steal the spotlight from people of color!
Cool. Too bad we didn't qualify for the Oppression Olympics this year. Maybe we'll have better luck next year.
At the end of the day, we're not that different, you and us.
You hide behind a cloak of fake niceness, toxic positivity, and selective tolerance. We hide behind a cloak of cynicism, sarcasm, and grumpiness.
You look down on us. We make fun of you. And ourselves. Because we know we're no better than you, and you no better than us.
But it will clearly take you a bit more time to figure this one out on your own.
This story was originally published on Medium.