This whole blog is about the experience of immigration to the UK and what its like for you if you didn’t grow up here but of course, there is another side to the story, what happens when you go home? What assumptions do people make about you? Yacov writes here about going home to Africa and encountering a subtle and important difference in how people reacted. We would love to hear other experiences of going home.
….but you’re rich now
By: Yacov Ben-Avraham Mar 201
I have been living and working in the UK for the past 16 years and I am very happy and content in my new home. It has not been without its ups and down and as such, I hope that sharing some anecdotal stories, that it may lessen the burden for other travelling the same journey.
I came here from South Africa in 1999 and initially lived in Surrey as we did not know anything about living in London, or how to go about the property market at all. One of the most odd experiences at the time I recall, was that friends and family members who came here many years before we did, kept on insisting in telling us ‘you’ve got to buy a house as soon as you can’. It became quite annoying, but in the end we did.
It is only with hindsight that we now understand the pressure exerted was to turn into the best investment we could have made ever in our lives. I am sure this would not resonate with everyone, but I thought I would tell it anyway.
The story I really want to share is not so much about coming here to the UK, but rather about going ‘back home’ as people refer to it. I remember clearly my emotions as we set out on our first journey back home, the apprehension of what we may encounter, filled with feelings of trepidation regarding the changes, or lack thereof that may reveal itself upon arrival. Things were very pleasant and although the absence of two years very quickly revealed the obvious changes, it was also as if time stood still. Same conversations were held; we want to leave, we are leaving, oh G-D we need to get out of here, etc. All the while, the conversation also drifts towards entertainment and going out for the evening or whatever occasion.
Initially we though nothing of it until we realised that we always ended up paying for everything. It seemed as if there was an unspoken attitude of “…but you’re rich now, so you can pay for us all!”. We felt very awkward in certain circumstances. These moments of awkwardness grew the longer we stayed and we just thought to ourselves, hang on a minute, normally when friends go out together we tend to share the bill. Minimally we offer to contribute if the bill is not split.
In the end I felt that it actually had very little to do with the money or transaction at all. It was more about a cultural decay that spread seemingly un-noticed through a society that I have been part of for decades, building resentment which I never felt when I lived there and which I failed to understand. While I lived there, we went out with the same people and friends and it never reared its head.
The minute we returned as ‘ex-pats’ we were branded ‘..but you’re rich now’ and this lurking attitude manifested itself. It was rather shocking and I am wondering if other immigrants from other countries and cultures experience the same changes when they re-visit home after an absence?