Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A deadlock

Probably gonna write some thoughts about immigration sometime soon, and here is a somewhat absurd conversation as a prologue to them.

A few years ago my old friend S. has visited me here in Helsinki with her family. We hadn't seen each other for 15 years. They still live in Russia.

We had a pretty good touristy time, and then came over to my place for food and drinks. All that time S. herself, her husband and her parents sounded very excited about Finland and the West in general and kept talking about how bad it is in Russia and how the real life is here.

I happen to share this opinion, and a lot of other people do, too (some don't). But then I am here, and I sort of assumed that pretty much everyone who wanted out of there has already gotten out of there. But they really sounded like they wanted out of there. What made the situation really mysterious is the knowledge that S. had been offered jobs in two European countries, and decided not to take them.

After a few glasses of wine I asked the natural question: "Why are you guys still living there, then? Or are you trying to get out?"

The temperature in the room seemed to drop a few degrees, and they gave angry looks to each other.

"We are ready anytime," - said the parents, - "but the kids don't want to go".
"I'd go anytime," - said the husband, - "but S. does not want to go".
"I'd go as soon as my husband learns English," - said S., "otherwise he is not gonna find a job".
"I'd start learning English as soon as we move," - said the husband, - "what's the point of learning it now?"

I took a deep breath and pointed out that a) learning language before moving is in fact quite useful and tends to save time, and b) S. can support the whole family on one salary in the West better than on two salaries in Russia. This started a new round of complaints about the deadlock: S. not wanting the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner even for a short while, the husband not wanting to study language in advance, and both wanting to live in the West anyway.

"Ever considered going as refugees?" - I asked. At the time some countries still accepted Russian Jews as refugees.
"No," - said S. firmly, - "if you move somewhere as a refugee you end up washing floors for the rest of your life".

This made my jaw drop. This is undoubtedly true for uneducated third-world people, at least in some places, but S. and I know pretty much the same set of Russian/Soviet refugees, and none of them spend their lives washing floors - all the working-age ones are employed in some kind of professional jobs.

"Do I look like I am washing the floors for the rest of my life?"
"No. But you were much younger when you left."
"My parents were much older, and they are not washing floors either."
"Yes, but they are smart."

Well, what can you say to that? I shut up, which I should have done half an hour earlier anyway, and they continued to talk about how nice it would be to live in the West.

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