Us Europeans

Through European eyes

Manchester, UK (View on map)

Manchester is the second largest city in the United Kingdom. Starting out as the capital of the industrial revolution, Manchester has since then transformed itself into a modern British city, home to many different nationalities. The largest population of immigrants in the UK is of Indian descent, but I am limiting today`s research to three temporary European immigrants and ask them which differences with their own country struck them most.

Elena (23, photo) from Estonia arrived in the United Kingdom in November of last year, after having spent two years in Melbourne, Australia. `My boyfriend Dennis and I moved to Australia because Estonia was getting a bit too small for us. We are ambitious and wanted to see beyond the borders. Back in Australia, Dennis was working as a software engineer, while I was working as a singer and dancer in an R&B band. We enjoyed Australia but the weather was very hot and it was difficult to stay in touch with our friends. We did not consider returning to Estonia an option and instead chose to move to the UK.`

Estonia-UK differences
Elena has clearly defined her goals for the time she spends in England. `I want to form my own band, write and record some tracks and perform. I am confident it will work out well, because there are plenty of musicians in Manchester and it`s much easier to meet people than back in Estonia. In a week`s time, you can meet just as many people here as you could do in half a year`s time in Estonia. My ambition is to set up a sustainable business, and after that maybe expand my activities to the United States.`

`Living in Manchester has been pleasant so far. It does rain a lot but I don`t really mind. Speaking English forms no barrier at all, and I think the Mancunian accent is funny. I have also heard people speak Estonian in the street. Otherwise, they don`t really stand out or clot together. I did notice the large Polish community in Manchester, mainly because of the different Polish newspapers and Polish shops. Even my bank displays huge signs in Polish, next to small ones in English. I thought they were exaggerating a little, but they said that most of their new customers were actually Polish.`

`It`s only by going to Australia and England that I realise how advanced Estonia is on everything related to the internet. In Estonia, anything can be arranged by internet. It`s interesting to see how much the UK is struggling to get people to use E-banking. Information systems are so poorly organised here, it`s almost hilarious.`

Apart from her friends and family, Elena misses Estonian blueberries `which are actually blue on the inside rather than white as they are in Britain` and the taste of fresh vegetables. When comparing young English people to her Estonian compatriots, she remarks that the English seem less decided and less ambitious than. `Many young Estonian people have a sparkle in their eyes, they are heading somewhere and they are willing to chase their dreams. I have seen much less of that with English people of my age.`

Germany-UK differences
Thomas (22) from Germany came to Manchester as an Erasmus student and is planning to stay for a year. `I am studying European Cultural History and chose to come to Manchester because I am Kloot, my favourite band, is from here. I like the music scene her, so it was a choice easily made.`

One of the first things that struck Thomas was the dress code for girls on nights out. `If girls in Germany dressed up like that, I would call them sluts or prostitutes. English girls put on a lot of make-up and exhibit a lot of bare skin, up to the point that they make themselves ridiculous. I do like the fact that it`s much easier to talk to people in England, than it is in Germany. Or how people are used to saying thanks to a bus driver when they get off. But in Germany, you are allowed to drink anywhere, anytime, while public drinking is prohibited in the UK. The high number of CCTV surveillance cameras was another difference. I don`t think we have as many in Germany, but at least their presence is not as noticeable back home. In the UK, they even put signs to mark where the cameras are located.`

Thomas is sometimes taken for a Scandinavian, but takes that as a compliment rather than an insult. `Most people are interested when I tell them I`m German. Many people spent some time learning German in secondary school and they will be more than happy to share their knowledge with me. Many people claim to have visited the Oktoberfest or say they will go there in the near future. One guy stumbled Ich möchte eine Tankstelle, which means nothing except I want a petrol station. Fortunately, few people joke about the Second World War.`

Thomas is trying hard to make the most out of his study exchange. `I live with English people and only speak German to my German friends. About music: I go to 7/8 gigs a month and will have a dream week in February. I am going home in April, so I try to go see as many gigs as I can.`

Cyprus-UK differences
When I meet Constantinous (21), he is on his way back to Cyprus for a quick holiday back home. It`s his first return to Cyprus since he disembarked for his studies in Manchester. `I am studying Accounting and Finance in England, because education is much better here. I can get my degree in 3 years, whereas it would take me up to 6 back if I went to Greece. Studying in the UK is much more expensive, but my parents are paying and I hope to get a government grant by the end of the year.`

Compared to Cyprus, the UK obviously has a different language and it`s not as sunny and warm as Cyprus. Also, England has buses and trains, while we have neither. People travel by car or by taxi, but taxis cost the same as in England.

Constantinous further tells me that Manchester has a large Cypriot and Greek community. `I have not become friends with any English people so far.` Nevertheless, Constantinous insist that Cypriot and English people are quite similar to one another.` Given the geographical distance between both countries, I do need more evidence to check whether I agree. Coincidentally, I am flying to Cyprus on the same flight as Constantinous and will use the next 10 days to further investigate the Cypriot identity.

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