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Integration/Great Britain

Konstantin Pinaev: "By the time the child reaches the age of 18, the average English family will have spent about 250 thousand pounds"


Konstantin Pinaev is one of the most famous Russian-speaking bloggers in London, and  recently  hosted the author's column in Ilya Varlamov's project "What's Happening".

Pinaev talked about the peculiarities of life in London, the expenses that hit the wallet the hardest, and the crisis of adaptation in an interview with Media Loft.

- You have been living in London for almost 20 years. How often during this time have you regretted that you moved to Britain?

- To say that I regretted it, not once. I moved of my own free will, at a relatively young age. Of course, there was plenty of stress. But I did not catch myself thinking that 'I need to move back'.

Now I realise that 17 years ago I left at the right time. I got off with a minor scare then. Today, many people change countries of residence, but it is only partly their choice. People are forced to leave their homeland: some, like the classic refugees, were prompted to do so by the war. Russians and Belarusians, for example, have been driven by the atmosphere within the state and the heightened toxicity.

- London is often called the most expensive city in Europe.  Which prices would make unprepared immigrants faint?

- Everything is affordable here, except housing and childcare costs. Most groceries in the supermarket cost the same as in Europe. Some things are a little cheaper, some things a little more expensive, but the difference is 5%-10% at most. The price of meals in restaurants  won’t drive you crazy either. But housing is off the scale: it is expensive to rent, even more expensive to buy.

Expenses for children hit the pocket equally. Here it is a dubious pleasure, for which you pay exorbitant amounts of money.

When we had a daughter, I came across some amusing information: by the time the child reaches the age of 18, the average English family will have spent about 250 thousand pounds. But we seem to have completely exhausted the limit in just five years.

Nurseries and schools are very expensive here.

- London is considered a melting pot where all cultures merge. What have you been deprived of in this cauldron?

- A very apt definition, but with a caveat. Here you can choose what you want to lose from your national identity and what you don't. According to the last census, 40.6% of those who live in London were born outside the UK. So in London there is no expectation that you will become British - it is more important to accept the rules of the game, to live by the local laws. And what to borrow from the local culture and way of life - everyone is free to decide for themselves.

Unfortunately, the children in our family have "lost" the language. I would like to say that they are bilingual, but they don't really speak Russian very well anymore.

Probably, if we put our minds to it and have a goal, we could try to teach them. But to be honest, we realise that the moment has passed. My wife and I communicate more in Russian, and with our daughters - in English.

- You have two children. When did you realise that they are already first generation British, and not second generation immigrants?

- When I saw that they were just as hardy as the British. In London, no matter what the weather, someone is sure to walk around in shorts. There's also a  popular joke on the subject.

In the local fountains, children are officially allowed to swim. And as practice shows, whatever the temperature,  many children will be found splashing wherever there is a bit of water.

There was another funny moment when we were sitting in a restaurant. Our daughter was probably three years old. She ate, but left half the portion on her plate and, pushing the plate away, asked: "can I be excused?" meaning "I'm sorry, I've had enough and I won't eat any more, if you don't mind." And my wife and I were like: "What? That's quite a turnaround!" She definitely didn't learn that from us - we couldn't express it so articulately in English. And this at three years old.

- Judging by  reports from various sources, the health service and the police  - are  objects of constant criticism in England. Is it really that bad?

- It used to be better, but now it's really bad. And in many areas of British life. The fact is that the Conservatives have been in power for 13 years. These are the guys who routinely cut public services, from schools and the police to medicine. And now the effects of all the methodical cuts are being felt most keenly.

I always say: if you don't do your homework for several years in a row, at some point you will fail the exam, no matter how smart you are. And then it takes a long time to catch up.

That's the kind of failure that hurts everyone today.

Let's look at the hospitals that have had their budgets cut. Young professionals are not excited about the prospect of working in the health service, to slave three times longer than average, while listening to patients complain about their work. It is logical that the most talented and intelligent doctors go to private clinics, or out of the profession altogether. There remain those who are passive and accustomed to go with the flow, and probably not so good at their job.

It is just as bad with the police, because the workforce was reduced by 40 thousand. In addition, a huge proportion of people in this area are inexperienced - with less than four years  experience. What claims can be made about them? The guys do what they can, although often it is not enough.

Figuratively speaking, the situation today around "public services" in Britain resembles a punctured tire. It has not burst completely, but it is slowly going flat. You do not notice it, but the discomfort gradually increases - the speed of the car drops, the steering wheel begins to rattle. And when the problem becomes evident, there is a risk that it is already too late to fix it. We are at this stage now.

- Is there a guilty pleasure in London, which is really shameful, but impossible to refuse?

- Warm pubs! It's hard not to get drunk here, because British social culture revolves around alcohol.

In many countries, alcohol helps to loosen up  communication with family and friends. But in Britain more so, because people here are a bit shy.

That is why they bring their social life into a comfort zone where you have a helper in the disguise of a pint or two.

Certainly no one will insist on drinking. But sometimes it is hard to refuse temptation. After all, when it's warm and bright, all your friends are around, and there's good alcohol at hand, you might not notice that you spend  the whole week in the pub.

- You know London like the back of your hand. Let's pick out three reasons why it's the best city in the world and why it's the worst?

Let's start with the positives. London's biggest plus - unlike any Soviet city - is how different it is internally. If for some reason you don't like it here, you're in the wrong neighbourhood. In London, there is bound to be a district that perfectly matches your lifestyle, world view, income, and surroundings. As a result, you will feel like you were made for this place.

Secondly, London has a lot of history, and it's cool. It influences behaviour, by the way.

The city pushes people to behave with dignity and conform to expectations. You realise it when you buy a new coat, and then you need a wallet, a tie, and trousers...

It's the same with London: you come here and everyone in the city is cool, they've achieved something. London obliges you to conform, all the more here, if anything is measured, it's not by money, but by achievements.

Finally, London has a wonderful sense of village life, in a good sense. Localization helps a lot, because here you can find your own district and leave it only if you want to or if you really  need to. In other words, you live in the metropolis, you get the "benefits" of the big city, but you don't have to go from the outskirts to the centre because of some little thing. Life is concentrated within a small location - and that's great. It's like going back to the roots of humanity, when you know everyone and everyone knows you.

Now for the reasons why London is difficult. It's expensive and it's focused on capitalism: no matter how much money you have, it's still not enough.

You can climb the ladder of prosperity endlessly, and the steps never end. Because of this, London makes you run and jump.

In any other city in Europe, people's work-life balance is skewed toward taking care of themselves - "pleziers" in France, siesta in Spain. People there can afford much more from the money they earn.

The second reason not to like London is the poor quality of public services today.

The city has grown, but the police force is bad. It's not corrupt, it's just not there. It's the same with schools - there's crazy pressure on kids.

For example, to get into a good school, you have to bend over backwards. I know this from personal experience, because I just went through this with my daughter. She just turned 11, but she's been working with tutors for two years now to pass her exams. She did well, even getting into a few good schools in terms of grades. But they are by no means the top schools, there are much more prestigious schools in London. That said, the good ones will be very different from the bad ones.

Finally, London is a bad place to be, in that it is now plagued by the backlash from the globalisation era. By and large, it's a city that's still eager to welcome new people. But I feel much more like an outsider in some places than I did before. In 2006, when I first arrived, the economy was growing, the borders were open, there were enough jobs and options for self-fulfilment. But after Brexit and the global trend toward isolation, people started to talk, and tabloid newspapers began to grumble louder about 'newcomers'.

But ironically, the "damned immigrants" who were either taking jobs away from the British or sitting on welfare suddenly went home. Then they found that there was no one to work as waiters or labourers.

And now no one can think of what to do about it, how to restore the economy, how to renew the broken ties.

- Kostya, our traditional last question. What's the main advice you would give to a foreigner planning to move to London?

- Not to try to transfer all your previous experience to the British reality. If you move and think that your life will be like before, only in English - I hasten to disappoint. You have to be prepared for things not to go the way you expect. Nevertheless, look forward, not back, and look for something good in the new environment.

Understandably, any move is stressful. And the most obvious reaction to stress is the desire to curl up in a ball and remember the past. After all, the past might seem better than it was  at that moment, glossing over the negativity from which one was moving away. This is a mental trap that it is important not to fall into.

The success of any endeavour in life is the ability to look forward and do so with optimism.

Because a lot depends on a positive attitude, too.

Interview by: Dmitry Gertschikov

Photo: Instagram

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