Monday, 6 January 2014

The tissue salesman

As I sat on the tube today, headphones clamped to my ears, I became aware of a man passing through the carriage, depositing something on all of the seats. At first I thought he was some sort of crazy Christian, spreading intolerance and bile, but at a second glance, I realised it was a young Eastern European, handing out little parcels of Kleenex tissues, with a note which read, "I need to support my family. Please help me by buying some tissues or offering me some work."

Applauding his courage and entrepreneurial spirit, I immediately gave him a couple of quid for the tissues, if for no other reason than to wipe away the tears that came after witnessing such a strangely pitiful sight. I was immediately reminded of the First World War soldiers who returned from France with no jobs, and ended up selling trinkets and bars or soap in the most undignified circumstances.

The Eastern European thanked me profusely and carried on with his work in the next carriage, whilst around me everyone else pretended he wasn't there.

I got off the tube at Tufnell Park and almost immediately bumped into a gang of young lads, possibly wagging school, in their fancy-brand sports wear, sitting in a heap, drinking cider and making everyone feel uncomfortable.

...And it suddenly struck me that, when we moan and whine about immigration, we conveniently ignore a number of inherent contradictions. Whilst our indigenous population of dispossessed hang about rather threateningly on street corners, spending their benefit money on fancy trainers, shunning hard graft because they've been brought up to believe the world owes them what they demand, Eastern Europeans, who can't or perhaps even choose not to claim benefits, are getting off their arses and trying to support their families by any means, even if it means humiliating themselves in the process.

Obviously, in all of this there are shades black and white. I'm sure there are Eastern Europeans who come to the UK expecting an easy ride, as much as there are indigenous Brits who long to find a job - whatever that entails.

The government, of course, must be held accountable for creating a sub-class of Eastern European who the law has allowed to be paid less for doing the same jobs as Brits. But I was shocked and genuinely fascinated by the contrast in the behaviour I witnessed today. There appears to be a genuine work ethic inherent in Eastern Europeans which is not necessarily apparent in UK residents. I therefore wonder if a period of recession in this country won't end up being rather good for us, if not simply to show us that good times can't always be taken for granted, and that initiative, hard work, empathy and a lack of complacency are the tools needed to nurse this nation of ours back to health.

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