A British expat shares her experiences of what it's like to be a Brit abroad, post-Brexit...
‘On Friday, June 24, 1.2 million British citizens living in Europe awoke to worry and uncertainty, following the news that Britain was leaving the EU. These expats, are desperately worried about what will happen to them. I know because I am one of them.
A lot happened the day Britain left the EU: the Prime Minister resigned, the pound plummeted and incidents of hate crime spiked across the UK. It also happened to be the day that a stranger threw clothes pegs at me – and my family while we were in the street – just for being British.
When you move to another country, you want to fit in, you want to make friends, and you want to be accepted. I came to Bulgaria 8 years ago, and although my experience hasn’t always been 100% positive, I had felt accepted, but recently something has changed. It’s not something I can put my finger on, just a mood, an atmosphere of hostility. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, I feel like an outsider.
People stare at me in shops when I speak and talk about me in earshot, because they assume I can’t understand what they’re saying. There’s a prevailing sense of ‘’if you don’t want us in your country, we don’t want you in ours,’’ Last week, my sister got pushed by a waitress in a cafe and another woman asked me accusingly, ‘’Were you part of the 52 percent that voted out of Europe?’’
When I first moved here with my family, aged 13, we lived in a remote village. We came in search of a new life, in a bid to escape the somewhat chaotic lifestyle of the UK. And it was eye opening. We met some of the most extraordinary Bulgarian people. We learned how to grow vegetables, how to stay warm in the harsh winters, how to survive during 5-week water shortages. Above all, we learned that the little things like food, water, warmth and love really do matter most.
All I ever wanted like any immigrant in a new country was to was to fit it in and be accepted. Instead, I will always be ‘’the English girl.’’ overcharged in shops and in taxis. The foreign girl that ‘’friends’’ don’t want to introduce to their ‘’friends.’’ There will always be a sense of isolation.
Post Brexit, the atmosphere has got worse. Last week, a Bulgarian woman on her balcony told us to be quiet because we were speaking in the street. I thought it felt like a dig at us for being British. She then started throwing stuff at us and shooed my family away as if we were vermin. It was after that that I felt the clothes pegs raining down on me from above.
This incident in particular may seem like a small and rather trivial detail but it was unprovoked and intimidating. What I came to discover as I went home that night was that this woman wasn’t shouting and throwing stuff at us because we were speaking too loud (because we weren’t). She was doing it simply because we were speaking English.
According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council in the UK reports of hate crime in Britain increased 57 percent following the EU referendum vote. From signs saying ‘’Leave the EU, no more Polish vermin,’’ to people shouting ‘’’Go back to your own country,’’ the wave of racial abuse towards migrants in Britain is drowning any hopes of racial unity.
But what people don’t realise is the knock on effect this is having on Brits like me abroad.’