Finding myself queuing at Kew Gardens, I chatted to a Swedish man who had lived in London for nearly 20 years. He was visiting Kew Gardens as he has discovered one of the hobbies that many British people really love, gardening and was looking for inspiration.
Well, never one to miss an opportunity to find out what it’s like to immigrate here, I asked him some questions and here are the insights I gained in our ten minutes of queuing.
Gustav told me that he had lived in many countries and thus thought he spoke English well when he first came here, and then he realised he needed to work much harder at it. When writing documents for work or giving presentations, people expect a really high standard of English.
This is something that he hadn’t fully realised and it’s a common theme from many of the people that we have spoken to, that they wish they had worked harder on their English.
He also found that English is a rich language with many nuances. For example, when he was asking for decisions in meetings, people would say, ‘I don’t disagree’ and it left him wondering if they were saying ‘yes’ or giving a qualified agreement. It is indeed true that the English will find subtle ways of saying what they think and it takes time to understand this.
He also said that when people are asking, ‘how are you?’, they don’t seem to want to know how you feel. In Sweden, you only ask if you want to know, whereas, in the UK, it’s a greeting rather than a question. When people do answer, Gustav found that they tend to say ‘not too bad’ whereas in the States people might say, ‘pretty good’.
I asked him what advice he would give to people coming to the UK and he said to integrate with your local community – his wife had worked out how the school system worked through chatting to local people. He also said ‘Don’t worry about Brexit – it will be ok, at least in London’. So, he has picked up that for many the decision to leave the EU is deeply worrying but he thinks that at least in London which he sees as one of the great cities of the world and very multicultural, we will be fine.
Let’s hope he’s right!