When landing in a new country, we are generally full with expectations. Our mind is filled with images of landmarks or fragments of a “typical” landscape. We have learnt bits and pieces about that country’s culture or have heart about rules of behaviour to respect. Nevertheless, when one arrives with the purpose to pursue studies or – as overwhelming majority of the respondents we talked with – to work, earn money or start a new life, such images and imaginations are challenged and enriched by every-day experiences. In this post we will share some notes and stories from the interviews which illustrates how Hungarian migrants perceive the United Kingdom in general and London in particular.
Most of the people we talked had landed in one of the airports of London (mainly Luton). Expect few of them, that was their first journey to the UK, or even the first time they sit on an airplane. When recalling their arrival, many burst out at laugh how they undervalued the size of an airport or a train station in London. Amanda arrived to London in February 2013 to become an au-pair. The host family could not pick her up at the airport, but sent her detailed information how to reach the Victoria Station, where they would wait for her in front of a certain exit. Amanda took it easy and believed that the hosts are too worried about how she could find orientation: “I behaved as there would be only ONE exit in the whole f*ing airport. I had no idea at all, that the airport is, well, f*ing big. But eventually, I just set off, like there would be no tomorrow. And then I left the [Victoria] Station exactly through that gate! I somehow ended up at the place we had agreed before, and she could pick me up there.”
In general, they are more than satisfied with the public transportation in London, but have limited experiences with travelling in the countryside. This is in part due to their sometimes extreme work overload (many work two jobs, 60 or more hours/week) and family duties, but they also mention the high price of train tickets as a burden to explore other parts of the UK.
Majority of the respondents live in London, which they like a lot for many reasons. We often hear about the well-organized public services and the friendliness of residents. As Mark, who arrived to London at the age of 21, remembers to his first day: “Everything was well signposted [in the city], people were ready to help, whatever I asked, they responded promptly where to find what.” Mark was born and raised in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, but London is the city which today he calls as home: “(…) by now [London] has become the home. When I return [to Budapest], I return to my homeland.” Living in central London opened the world for him: “[in UK] the ‘national culture’ is that you can be from anywhere and nobody cares about it.” By now he has friends from numerous countries around the globe, and learnt a lot about different religions, languages, cultures. This encourages him to travel to discover distant continents, as he will have friends to rely on wherever he goes. Moreover, his experiences changed his worldview and attitude. In his view Hungary “is a closed society, people don’t meet a wide variety of foreign cultures, hence they are afraid (…) and everything which is foreign culture or other culture mustn’t be good and must be locked out. (…) In the beginnings, I had in my mind, that never before I had been in a community where such amount of cultures, skin colors, religions blend, and in the first period I felt a bit awkward, worried. (…) Then I got used to it, I got to know my neighbours, the people, everybody was kind and I asked myself ‘for what reason do I feel awkward, why am I afraid to go back home in the dark…?’. I am more afraid in Deák Ferenc square in Budapest now, than at my home, I mean in London.”
Nóra works with a food delivery company, thus she travels a lot in and outside London. She has been living in London for more than a decade, but she is still amazed by various landscapes the United Kingdom offers. During the lockdown, when everybody must remain at home, she was driving the truck and shared her photos of the road with friends to hold their spirits up. What she likes the most about living in the UK can be encapsulated in the word freedom: “I feel absolute freedom. When I walk along the street nobody looks at me, as if I was not even there. (…) I can be myself, I can live in absolute freedom. There is no need to hide that I’m homosexual, I don’t need to hide.”
One of the well-known stereotypes about the UK is the unfriendly weather. Interestingly, we rarely heart any complain about the weather, on the opposite! The winter is milder than they expected and some said that they prefer the English summer than the hot Hungarian summer weeks.
All in all, the people who shared their stories with us have positive image about the UK and especially about London. For many it is a reliable, comfortable place to live, with wonderful landscapes and friendly people. In London it is easy to get by and if somebody wants it offers unlimited option dive into various cultures, whilst it grants anonymity and freedom.