This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Friday, September 29, 2006

September 7, 2006 - immigration not just US issue

My wife, son and I have just returned from a trip to Europe. It was part family vacation, and part a sobering task: dropping off our daughter at university in Germany.

Our first stop was London, where we'd rented a room at a bed and breakfast. We did some touristy things: a trip to the enormous Ferris Wheel of the London Eye, the Globe Theatre, the British Museum, an Aquarium by the Thames. But mostly, we did a lot of walking.

I guess I thought I was going to hear English accents. There was certainly enough opportunity: it's been a long time since I've been in a city that crowded. Everywhere we went, at almost any time of day, the streets teemed with people.

Since we often took the Tube, or the Underground, we had lots of opportunity to eavesdrop. Mostly, we heard young people, in their 20s and 30s.

But few of them spoke with an English accent. Instead I heard Hindi, Pakistani, Turkish, Kurdish, Polish, Bulgarian, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and many others I couldn't even identify. The occasional Cockney or BBC accent almost jumped out at you.

Later, we spent a few days with relatives who live not far from Oxford (which is quite aways outside London, into the English countryside). And that's as close as I got to thinking about libraries -- we toured Oxford's Bodleian Library. In addition to being the university's key research tool, we learned, the Bod was also the location of three scenes in Harry Potter movies (the infirmary, a classroom, and of course, the library).

Later, one of our relatives told us that it was anticipated that in just the last year, Great Britain might see something like 40,000 immigrants from Poland. They got 400,000.

But not just from Poland. In France, there are so many social protections for workers that some companies are reluctant to hire young people; they can't get rid of them if they don't work out. So the entrepreneurs were leaving France, and coming to England to set up shop.

We also saw countless groups of Muslim women, traveling, usually, in dense packs, fully garbed in black. But often, as the women would step up a curb, I'd get a surprising glimpse: under the nun-like habit, I saw more than one pair of sequined high heels.

I couldn't help but notice that England and the United Kingdom were dealing with far greater issues of immigration than anything in the United States. In our case, "immigration" mainly means the influx of Mexican workers, who speak just Spanish. But in the UK, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of people, every year, from all around the world, with a rich stew of languages and cultural traditions.

As I discovered later in Germany, not everybody speaks English, either. It's a humbling experience to try to negotiate a train schedule, or even order a sandwich, when my confident, "Bitte, sprechen Sie Englisch?" was met with a "Nee."

Educated people should speak at least three languages. I've got some work to do.

I also heard some interesting things about the United States from others. In particular, I was fascinated by the perspective of our Kurdish taxi driver (who escaped from Saddam Hussein's regime 16 years ago), and a former German police inspector, who now is my daughter's "foster dad" in Bremen. But that's another story.

No comments:

Post a Comment