Written by Joanne Lau


Immigration, Actually

With immigration a hot topic in the election run-up, Canadian Joanne Lau explains what drew her to the UK. And it wasn’t the benefits system.

Illustration of Joanne standing in front of a palace

Illustration by Laura Swaddle.

As an immigrant to this great nation, I’m here to tell you that the number one thing that could have prevented me from emigrating to the UK would not have been tighter border controls or another legal hurdle. The number one thing that could have prevented me from moving to the UK would be if you had banned the release of any Richard Curtis film EVER outside of your borders.

I grew up in Calgary, Canada, a beautiful city where if you’re not hiking, you’re skiing, and if you’re not skiing, you’re going to the Calgary Stampede – our giant annual rodeo. Unfortunately, I was more what you’d call an ‘indoorsy’ child and all the natural beauty and cowboy culture was wasted on me. I was a Calgarian who liked their Janes more Austen than Calamity and, to me, mountains were meant for only three things: to house dwarven realms, serve as the backdrop to The Lumberjack Song, or to walk up in the rain so you could stare tragically off into the distance saying, “Willoughby…Willoughby…Willoughby…”

Spending my days hiding from UV rays and mosquitos, I had plenty of time for Monty Python, Are You Being Served? and The Avengers reruns, and reading any British literature I could get my hands on. As I sighed into my stacks of books, it seemed I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time and it was something I’d just have to accept. Then one year, everything changed…

“I began living my life with the motto WWEBD – What Would Elizabeth Bennett Do?”

Yes, 1995 was a big year for me. The BBC adaption of Pride & Prejudice came out. Reading an Austen novel is one thing, but being able to binge-watch six hours of it straight is entirely another! The greatest moment though was yet to come – we got a copy of Four Weddings and a Funeral on VHS. Going from old books and TV reruns to getting news that English wit, charm, and eccentricity was still happening today was like finding the Loch Ness Monster! It blew my little Canadian mind. My sisters and I would watch both videos over and over and over. We’d quote them till our friends and family got annoyed, at which point we’d sneak in the more subtle quotes like, “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.” or “Mary, pass the potatoes to your Aunt Gardiner.”

I began living my life with the motto WWEBD – What Would Elizabeth Bennett Do? The answer, by the way, is always to arch an eyebrow and sally forth into the rain to get one’s petticoat covered six inches deep in mud like a TOTAL BADASS.

Fast forward through my teens and early 20s where I added Sense & Sensibility, Notting Hill, Emma, Bridget Jones, and Love, Actually to my quote repertoire and you’ll see me arriving at Heathrow, bright-eyed, optimistic and believing that love actually is all around. I had but one mission and one mission only: to become a mildly neurotic, self-deprecating but charmingly witty singleton in my mid-30s, with a group of eccentric friends who are always up for getting shitfaced. Oh, and to say the word ‘fuck’ as much as possible.

It’s now been 10 years and, well… I’m someone’s eccentric friend who’s always up for getting shitfaced anyway.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Dream: All British men are Hugh Grant or Mr Darcy.

People always seem surprised when I tell them I thought Jamie Oliver on The Naked Chef was the sexiest thing ever. I could’ve listened to him say “capersthhh” for hours. Stop laughing. Shut up. The thing is, he just fitted that sweet, slightly charming, self-deprecating British guy stereotype that was all the rage in the late ‘90s, early ‘00s. SWOON!

Reality: All British men are Hugh Grant or Mr Darcy.

Unfortunately, what all that blinking, stammering, self-doubt and inability to articulate emotions confidently really amounts to is an emotionally-constipated wreck who takes six years, or six pints if you’re really lucky, to lean in and kiss you, then chicken out and awkwardly catch your ear at the last moment. It’s a wonder anyone reproduces in this country at all! Thank goodness for your strong, intelligent women.

Dream: Everyone lives in a stately home in the countryside that has a drawing room.

Obviously, you don’t know why you still call it a drawing room when it’s used for everything but drawing! Aw haw haw! How droll!

Reality: Rent.

Welcome to London, where a four-bedroom flat costs £800 a month…but only if you share it with five other people each paying the same amount and one of the bedrooms is just a screened-off portion of your kitchen that you sublet. The guy in that room only pays £700, obviously. Bargain.

Dream: Everyone has a housekeeper, butler, coachman, lady’s maid, cook and scullery maid, or at the very least a personal valet.

He’d wear a formal suit, pour you drinks while you sit by the fire in your dressing gown and slippers, and be as old and loyal as he is sarcastic and dry.

Reality: Frankly, you’re lucky if you walk into a shop and get customer service, let alone service at home.

Louis CK did a show in London a few years ago where he summed up his experience of British customer service with the line (and I’m paraphrasing), “Oh. I’m sorry to be bothering you here AT YOUR JOB.” Personally, I adore British customer service, or rather the lack of it. No, seriously. I hate walking into a shop in America where by the time you walk out you know the cashier’s name, number of children, shoe size, hobbies and latest medical condition. In the UK, it’s more like: I want this, here you go, monetary transaction, BAM! You’re done. Magic.

Dream: Courting rituals involve society balls with expertly choreographed dancing and someone on the pianoforte.

Bonus points if you’re dancing with the wrong person, but steal steamy glances at the one you wish you were dancing with. Extra bonus points if you’re dancing with the person you loathe/love while having a sharp duel of wits.

Reality: Courting rituals involve social network stalking with expertly choreographed Whatsapp replies and someone on Tinder.

Bonus points if obviously it’s just totes like a casual thing and you’re just having fun and not looking for anything serious right now or whatever, I mean, unless you know, like maybe you want to?

Dream: You have suave, sophisticated spies and brilliantly eccentric detectives. All of them are ridiculously sexy and hot.

Mrs. Peel, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond. In that order.

Reality: …not ready to accept yet.

Please contact the author directly through her Twitter page.

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Written by Joanne Lau

Joanne Lau is that tired-looking Chinese-Canadian girl on the tube scribbling in her notebook and staring into space a lot.