The new world
IT WAS while sitting in church that Robert Burns watched a louse "strut rarely owre gauze and lace" on the bonnet of the fine lady sitting in front of him. His wry amusement led to the famous lines: "Oh wad some power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!" The words were caustic and cautionary. Cut through our own conceits and pretensions and we save ourselves from foolishness.
But perhaps, when it comes to nationality, the opposite is also true. We can be too negative about our own backyard. Travelling round Scotland to talk to the families of immigrants was uplifting. It changed the way I saw my own land. It seemed bigger and kinder. It had more heart and more pride.
For so long the word 'immigration' has been hijacked by a political agenda. Fears about asylum-seekers have been whipped up, about incomers taking jobs, and the resulting violence and negativity has been depressing. Sometimes, I felt as if my country's reputation for generosity had shrivelled. But that's not the whole story.
Every country needs a sensible immigration policy, but a country that closes its borders to strangers closes its eyes to other cultures and possibilities . It becomes insular and mean-spirited. That's not the picture of Scotland that emerged on my journey. Certainly there were moments of uncomfortable, national self-recognition when our litter-throwing habits and our hard-drinking culture were highlighted. But outsiders mainly viewed this country positively.
It's easy to grumble about our own problems. But when you talk to those whose lives have been scarred by war, or blighted by hardship, you can only admire the spirit that makes people dream and aspire and reach for something beyond their own borders.
Scotland has a long tradition of immigrants who have contributed to who we are as a nation, sharing the best of their cultures and reminding us of the best of our own. The Irish who built roads here. The Italians who built businesses from ice-cream barrows. The Asians who changed our cuisine. The Poles who now offer a boost to Scotland's declining youth population.
Scotland is still a country that other people want to come to, to live in, to have children in. That's a reason to be proud.
FEW things fuel human initiative more powerfully than poverty and the sense that beyond the limits of one's own austere existence is a bigger world, more plentiful, more beneficent. In the late 1950s, Jahangir Hussain's father Alah left his home in Bangladesh to join the merchant navy. He left behind few material possessions: a small home; a bed; a cow for milk. But he also left behind a wife and two sons – one a baby, the other a toddler. His family would not see him again for 15 years.
Alah sailed out of Calcutta and simply did not return, though he sent money when he could. When his ship docked in Britain, he never got back on, working here illegally. But during the labour shortage of the 1960s, he applied for residency and was accepted. Only then did he return to Bangladesh, a stranger to his own children. The reunion with his wife was to bring about a third son, Jahangir, born in 1971 during the civil war between east and west Pakistan – the labour pangs from which the country of Bangladesh was born.
The day we meet is the anniversary of the death of Jahangir's father. Now 36 and a businessman, Jahangir lives in Inverness, where he has two boys of his own, Ryan, eight, and Adnan, two, with his Bangladeshi wife Abida. Jahangir was 11 months old when he first came to Britain, though the family would move back and forth in the following years. His early memories are hybrids of different cultures: the BT tower in central London near the family's flat, combined with the coconut plantations of Bangladesh; riding with his father to the bazaar on a three-wheeler bike; cutting mangoes, bananas, pineapples and papayas from the trees of the estate his father was able to buy with his earnings.
Jahangir's family story is one of hard work and enterprise. His brothers Mahmud and Mashud had no English when they first came and worked as kitchen porters and waiters in the fledgling Indian restaurant industry. In the early 1980s, they moved from England to Inverness to buy the Rajah restaurant.
"Scottish people born over here can take a lot for granted," explains Jahangir, who now part-owns the Rajah with Mahmud, and also rents out residential and commercial properties. "People who come from somewhere else work that bit harder. We have four Polish boys working for us and their work-ethic is brilliant. We couldn't get people for the lower-paid jobs like kitchen porters. We've been saved by the Polish."
The family's success meant they could also expand their interests in Bangladesh. When he was 14, Jahangir's parents retired there. Offered the choice of two lives, Jahangir chose to remain with Mahmud, who had always been a kind of surrogate father. "My father was quite a reserved character and my mother was very culture-based, faith-based. It wasn't really her, just things that had been passed on for generations. My brother was open-minded and liberal, and I always felt I got a more relevant answer from him."
His mother encouraged him to learn Arabic and read the Koran but he chose not to follow Islam. Ask now what nationality he is and he says the question is irrelevant to him. "You get questions in forms about ethnic identity – I don't fill them in," he says. "If you really want to put yourself in a category or a box, you can do, but it's not important to me. I think the human identity should be above everything else. If you have the human identity you are more open, and you come from the heart and approach everything as another human being."
Visiting Bangladesh makes him feel an outsider and he sometimes struggles with the different humour, the different codes of behaviour. Corruption disturbs him. Advised there to offer someone a bribe, he simply thought, I can't do that. "The same things that would be a culture shock for you are for me," he says. But his trips have always been poignant. "I see the poverty, see a lot of different things, and it is a humbling experience. Those days that are bad at work, when the weather is cold, and I am feeling a bit miserable, I think, well, life can always get worse."
Racism depresses him, but he has had few problems. Anyway, it exists both sides and boils down to the same thing: ignorance. "The Scottish people are, on the whole, generous and kind." He speaks Bengali but English is his natural language, and Ryan and Adnan will inevitably be less aware of their Bangladeshi roots. He laughs as he recalls hiding girlfriends from his mother at school. "I'd have to rush to the phone and shout, 'It's Chris…' but it wouldn't be Chris, it would be a female companion. I couldn't explain to them why my mum wouldn't be happy." Jahangir will be more liberal, but with the same concerns as any parent.
He came close to marriage here a couple of times, but in 1996 his life changed. His father died, followed just ten months later by his mother. Mashud returned to Bangladesh to look after the estate. Jahangir visited, staying almost a year. He spent time with Abida, the daughter of his parents' neighbour, and when a match between them was proposed, he thought carefully and accepted. Arranged marriage is not forced marriage, he explains.
He didn't take the view that white girls were for friendship and Bangladeshi girls for marriage. "To me, that's all silliness. If someone falls in love with someone from a different background or colour and wants to marry, I agree with it. But there are a lot of pressures and I would say your love would have to be strong." He would like Ryan and Adnan to retain the strong sense of family Bangladesh taught him, but he also wants the openness of the Scottish society for them. People here, he says, can question whatever they want to question.
Ryan has been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum and Jahangir knows life will be better for him here. Adnan has never visited Bangladesh but Ryan got sick there once and Jahangir didn't trust what the doctors told him. It made him feel so helpless. The practicalities of life – education, healthcare, law and order – make it hard to imagine moving back. Bangladesh is the country of his forefathers. It will always have a part of his heart. But his father struck out for a better life and Jahangir's success is a tribute to that ambition.
After long stretches of moorland, the descent into Inverness by road comes from the hills above Daviot, the city spread like a bright planet in a dark universe, the lights of the Kessock Bridge arcing across the firth. "I realised recently," says Jahangir, "that any time I have been away, I come down that hill and see the Inverness lights and feel like I've come home."
IF YOU want to know the difference between Japanese and Scottish culture, think of a hammer and a plank of wood with a row of nails in it. In Scottish society, the nails stick out at different angles, at different heights. In Japanese society, says Masa Noguchi, a lecturer at Glasgow School of Art, the nails are tapped in uniformly, the heads flat against the wood. "In Japan, we respect teamwork and always consider other people. You cannot show your identity. You just hide it. Individual knowledge is to enhance group knowledge. Happiness is shared. Everything is shared. Here, there is far more individualism."
If that makes us a more selfish society, Masa would be far too polite to tell us so. "No, no," he says. "There are good things and bad things. At company level, group knowledge is better than individual. But in creative work, art must be individual. You have to present your ideas. This is the reason I feel so comfortable here."
Masa is an engaging man: smiling and upbeat, with the beautiful manners that typify Japanese people, whose society places such emphasis on respect for others. But his life has not been typically Japanese. It is easy to be an individual in a society that encourages you to do your own thing. But it is a far bigger test of personality to be prepared to be the nail that pops out of the wood when all others around you remain hammered flat.
Masa grew up in Tokyo, leaving school at 18. He worked as an engineering assistant for Toshiba but at 20 felt directionless. "I was still struggling to find the way to go, to know what kind of job would be suitable for my character." But language fascinated him, so he travelled to Canada on a one-year working holiday visa to learn English.
Unable to speak English, Masa learned a little introduction by heart and literally knocked on doors asking for work. It led to being hired as a volunteer carpenter in a summer camp for handicapped children in return for board and lodgings. He ended up building houses there, and this, combined with his love of art, made him realise he wanted to study architecture. His English was still too basic to study in Canada, so he returned to Japan and tried to earn enough money to put himself through university as quickly as possible. "I didn't sleep," he laughs, "but by the age of 24, I had 50,000."
After qualifying, he returned to Canada for postgraduate work, and in 2003 he was granted Canadian citizenship. But his travels were not over. Returning to Japan on a visit, he met his wife Oxana. She is from Kazakhstan, where she ran a boutique. She wanted to buy kimonos to sell there, so Masa showed her around. When each returned home, they wrote to one another every day. Oxana was refused entry to Canada but just before the couple married in Kazakhstan in March 2006, Masa was appointed to Glasgow School of Art as lecturer in architectural technology, teaching students about environmentally friendly products and building systems. The Noguchis now have a nine-month-old daughter, Sophia Misota, who was born in Scotland. Misota means 'beautiful country', a name her father chose to remind her of her Japanese roots.
In the library of the Art School, Masa points out the Japanese influences of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's work, the wooden sticks and latticework. Sophia, wriggling in Oxana's arms, is the human embodiment of different cultural influences, the almond-shaped eyes of her father, the creamy skin of her mother.
The family have been touched by the Scottish welcome they have received. "My love," says Masa, "tell the one pound story."
Oxana smiles quietly. "In shop, one grandma came in and give me one pound and said this is for your baby. Scottish tradition. And after this, two other people. A grandpa came and gave me one pound from his pocket."
Oxana bends her head when asked how her own family feel about her being here. Her father died some years ago and her mother – who died suddenly just a month or two after visiting her in Scotland – was happy for her and Masa. And now when Oxana is asked if she would like to return to Kazakhstan, she says: "For visit. It is very different here but I like it."
Scotland is their home now. Masa feels fortunate to be here. In Japanese tradition, the eldest son stays close to the parents, but Masa is the second son. He has been allowed the freedom to leave his country. He has a Japanese passport, a Canadian passport and now a permanent job in Scotland, so he hopes eventually to become a permanent citizen. There is only one thing he doesn't like here. "Garbage," he says. In Japan, people keep public spaces clean. Here, he says, they throw litter everywhere. "It's a shame. Scotland is such a beautiful country. But it can be changed."
Masa's fascination with language has remained. Language breaks down barriers, makes connections between peoples. He wants Sophia to speak as many as possible: English, Japanese, Russian. The family live in Cumbernauld now but used to share a flat with a very Scottish janitor, who was delighted when Sophia was born. A Scottish baby, he kept saying. Will they be happy to have a Scottish daughter? "Of course," says Oxana. Masa smiles. "I think I am going to be very proud," he says.
Glauco Di Lieto
SOMETIMES, when ballet dancer Glauco Di Lieto talks to his family back in Italy via the internet at his home in Kirkintilloch, it makes him feel more homesick than ever. There are his family on the screen – close enough, almost, to touch. But it's just an illusion. "You feel almost like you are there, but actually you are not," he explains. "If you were there, you could eat those sweets that you love, and get that smell of cooking, and you could go outside and there would be Rome. But you are still the same distance from it, really. It's almost like it is tempting you, giving you this virtual illusion, but then it takes it away from you again."
Perhaps that's also what it's like to be the child of an immigrant. Being close to your parents' country, culture and identity, but without that final, real connection. It worries Glauco that his two-year-old daughter Laura, who was born in Scotland, might never truly feel a part of the Italian family she sees on the screen. "It's really important to me," he says. "I don't think she'll ever feel half Italian but I do want her to feel a part of it. I don't want her to feel a stranger when she goes to see my family in Italy. I want her not just to be bilingual, but to know a different way of life, to feel that she can go there at any age or time."
It is strange for him to hear some of Laura's first words emerging with a Scottish accent. And yet, in his ten years here, Glauco has built up a strong affinity with his new country. He wants his daughter to feel that too. "I think where you are born, what you absorb in those first few years of life, is really like a mark that never goes away. Even if we were to move now, there would always be some of Scotland in Laura. I am sure of it.
"There is something fascinating about Scotland. Every American seems to claim to come from here. People want a connection with it. I think when Laura grows up, she'll be proud to say she was born in Scotland. I would be if I was born here. I would be happy to claim that."
Laura will have more freedom than he ever had. He sees so many Scottish children playing outside. As a boy growing up in Rome, it seemed that the city surrounded him with concrete high-rise apartment blocks and no green space. Most of his time was spent playing computer games indoors, and he came to need the physical outlet of ballet. He already attended gymnastics, but his sister danced and Glauco became curious when he went with his mother to pick her up from ballet class. Being the only boy in the school was an enticement: at gymnastics, he was just another lad; at ballet school, he had the undivided attention of all the girls.
In the hierarchy of world ballet, Rome is lower league, he says: lovely people but a lazy attitude to dance. "I saw dancers go out and come back to Italy with a lot more confidence and knowledge. They were different people. They had worked in London and had a different understanding of the profession. I knew I had to go to the UK to learn to be a professional dancer."
At the age of 19, he was offered a job with English National Ballet, staying four years in London before moving north to join Scottish Ballet.
Jo, Glauco's wife, is English and was a stage manager before she had Laura. But Glauco recognises Scotland and England as two distinct nationalities. "I found Scottish people immediately more direct and friendly. Even in the company, I could feel that. Dance felt like more fun here and the company was smaller, had more sense of community, of family."
Glauco is 34 now and reckons he has only a couple of years left as a dancer. His body aches constantly. He is considering starting a web-design business, a sideline of his for many years. Moving back to Italy is only one possibility, but if he did, he would choose a smaller community than Rome. People didn't even know their neighbours there and the Scottish sense of community has become important to him. Perhaps, he says, the Scots have such a strong identity because they have felt it threatened by a much larger neighbour. "I think it is what makes Scotland what it is. Otherwise, it's just another part of the UK. I don't think I would want to live here if it was just like England. It's hard to define but I think Scottish people are hardier in a way. You are a stronger people, ready to face whatever comes. If there was some major worldwide disaster, I would rather be here because I think Scottish people would be better at pulling together."
He loves Italy. He misses it. But he wishes his own country had that sense of national pride, because it defines so much of a nation's character. Political corruption, for example, might be solved in Italy with more national pride. "National identity helps people build together to make their nation shine in the eyes of other people. If you are proud, you want to put the right people in power, you want to improve things for everyone. If you are proud, you want to pay your taxes. You don't want to exploit the system."
The only time he sees Italians being proud is when they win some football tournament. Many Scots, of course, would give their eye teeth for such a victory. "They don't need it," Glauco insists quite seriously. "The Scots are proud of being Scottish at any time."
THE small Greek island of Ikaria lies in the Aegean Sea close to the coast of Turkey. It is said to be named after the mythological figure Icarus, who was warned by his father not to fly too close to the sun or the wax of his wings would melt. But Icarus wanted to fly with the gods. When his wings did indeed dissolve, he plunged into the sea and drowned. His instincts were human. Curiosity and the aspiration to go higher, further, longer, have inspired the journeys of many immigrants who take risk to make gain.
Marilena Tsante first left Ikaria to go to high school in Athens when she was 15. Like many on the island, her father was a sailor, a captain on a commercial boat who travelled the world all his life. Ikaria was a world with limits – beautiful, but perhaps too small to contain the whole of life. At 20, Marilena left to study political science in Italy, before living in Spain. Three years ago, she moved to Stirling with her boyfriend John, a Greek American, who wanted to study aquaculture at the university. The couple have since married and have a 14-month-old daughter Maria.
Marilena is in the kitchen when I arrive mid-afternoon at the Mediterranean restaurant in Stirling. She started waitressing when she moved here and met Patrik, an Albanian waiter. They decided to open their own restaurant using their savings and a grant from the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust. In the upstairs caf bar, the earthy terracotta walls cast a warm glow to offset the dreich Scottish rain tumbling outside from an iron-grey winter sky. Patrik makes coffee behind the bar. A playpen stands in the corner but blonde-haired Maria has no need of it right now: there are so many willing hands, she is passed from one person to another – Patrik, John, a dark-haired female friend. Everyone in the room is a different nationality. How did Patrik end up here? "Like me," says Marilena, who has come through from the kitchen. "He came for love." The dark-haired woman looks over. "Not of me," she says hastily, and they all laugh.
Marilena never expected to stay beyond the year of John's aquaculture course, but then he was offered a temporary research contract at the university. She decided it would be best to run her own business, and after Maria was born, John worked there too to make childcare easier. Marilena never thought about going home for the birth. There may be a national health service in Greece but you still have to pay a lot of money to give birth there.
She, John and Patrik are ploughing everything into the restaurant right now, but whether they stay here depends on how successful their business is. John's family come from Ikaria too, but he was brought up in a Greek community in the States and talks with an American accent. Now his parents have retired and spend most of their time on Ikaria. There is such a strong family tradition in Greece. "You never actually leave home, even if you do," explains John. "They are constantly involved in everything you do." So the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding is not complete fantasy? They both shake their heads. "Not that far off," says John. "Exaggerated, but not far off."
Marilena's mother came to Stirling and stayed for four months to help with Maria. That's the way Greek families are. "Family life seems a bit different here," says Marilena. Behind the bar, Patrik agrees. Albania is not in the EU, so his family cannot get visas, and if he can afford to, he spends 500 twice a year to go back to see them. "But you get brothers and sisters here, one who lives in Stirling and the other in Glasgow, and they don't see each other for six months," he says, clearly baffled.
The human instinct to explore, to aim further than home, has always fuelled immigration, but as people get older, they also often experience the homing instinct. John and Marilena feel the pull of Ikaria again. If Marilena returns to Greece, it will be for the family she left behind, not the lifestyle. "Greece to me is family. It is important to me that Maria knows her grannies. It's not that I don't think my daughter would have a good life here." Except for one thing. "The one thing I would worry about if my daughter grew up here is how much people drink. It's something people from other cultures who work here talk about. You see very young people getting very drunk."
From the windows of their flat, Marilena and John can see the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle. "It would be hard to replicate that anywhere else," says John. If they left, he would tell Maria about the beautiful scenery, the hills, the castles, of her birthplace. "If we leave," says Marilena, "we will always come back. I have never felt that way about anywhere else I have lived before. Perhaps because we have had such a lovely time here, and because Maria was born here – that is what makes it so special."
United states of merica
OWEN BROCKMOLE peers out cautiously from behind the knees of his mother Jessica as she opens the door. At 20 months old, he is a tiny wisp of a boy in denim dungarees, with blond hair, soft as dandelion chaff, and wide, open eyes, clear and blue as a cloudless summer sky. He runs into the sitting-room of their top-floor flat, where, through the extensive bay window, the blackened city skyline of Edinburgh unfolds. Landmarks of another country: a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle just visible on the left to replace the Ford Buildings of Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, where Jessica was born.
America is a country built on the human desire for adventure; the pioneering urge to explore. And yet Jessica built a life in Edinburgh, a city she had never even visited, without recognising those attributes in herself. "I was always the shy, bookish child who much preferred to stay home with my family and read than go to a friend's house," the 29-year-old says. "My younger sister was the outgoing one of the family. We both went to summer camp. I cried in my room and returned to my parents with the resolve never to leave home again. My sister returned with a dozen new penpals. I got my driver's licence and rarely went out of the city. My sister got hers and rarely stayed home. And yet she is the one who lives a 15-minute drive from my parents and I am the one on the other side of the ocean."
Jessica met her husband Jim at postgraduate school in America, where she was studying for her masters degree in linguistics. When the couple married, she worked briefly teaching English as a foreign language before becoming pregnant with her daughter Ellen, now four, and giving up work. Her husband applied for university jobs and was offered one in Edinburgh. "We felt that we were not very adventurous people, but we had been given this opportunity," she admits. "If there was ever a good time in our lives to do this, to make a change this big, this would be it. We didn't own a house. Ellen wasn't in school. We thought, 'If we delay this, if we stay where we're comfortable, we'll never do it.'"
At the airport, her family cried. Jessica didn't. "I felt kind of bad that I wasn't, but inside I was thinking, 'This is exciting.' I was looking forward to the experience." It was not that she consoled herself with notions of a temporary move. "We decided that we weren't going to think of it as short term because that would affect how well we adapted and how well Jim did his job. We talk about the children's futures – high school and university – as if we'll still be here."
They love the smallness, the neat, tight womb of this country. The nature of the Scottish people also suits them because, unlike the stereotype of outgoing Americans, the Brockmoles are reserved people. But things started badly. The day after arriving in Edinburgh, Jessica suffered a miscarriage. It was a lonely time without family. "That's maybe why it took me so long to feel like I fitted in because that was a time I really needed support and I didn't have anybody," she says. Jessica became pregnant with Owen soon after, but complications necessitated a stay in hospital. They had no one to leave Ellen with. "I remember taking a cab by myself to the hospital at two in the morning and it was just so scary. I wanted my husband there."
It's a more hands-off approach to pregnancy here than in America, but she didn't consider returning home for the birth. "I was confident in the healthcare system here and I wanted to be near my husband." When she first arrived in Scotland and was feeling a bit isolated, she had taken Ellen to a mother-and-toddler group, and immediately felt part of something bigger. "I realised that some things are universal and parenting is one of them. People did the same things with their children, taught them the same things, and that helped with the transition."
She has a shy, quietly spoken manner yet Jessica has surprised herself with her own resilience and adaptability. But America was formed by people from many lands and it would be surprising if the urge to explore, to strike out for new territory, was not still part of the American psyche.
Jessica's paternal great-grandparents came from Romania. At the age of 17, her great-grandmother had taken her older sister's passport and left for America, settled there and married another Romanian immigrant. They were instrumental in building a Romanian church in Dearborn, which taught Jessica about her background. "It wasn't just a place of worship but a place to remind me where my family had come from. I learned more about my Romanian heritage at church than I did at home."
The Brockmoles don't celebrate American holidays at home but they have celebrated Thanksgiving through her local Women's American club. Membership of the club is partly to give Owen and Ellen some awareness of their roots. Yet she does not think of her family as American. In fact, she was surprised how much the birth of her 'Scottish' son changed things.
Owen is asleep in his pushchair now as Jessica wheels him to collect Ellen. "You know," she says, "almost the very day he was born, it was kind of like my membership card into the club. I felt like I belonged. When I was pregnant, I made a few trips out of the city and when I came back I felt like I was still a visitor. But the next time we went on a plane after he was born, and we took a bus into the city, it was, 'Ah, we're home.'"
AT HIS Kirkcaldy home, Goran Stanic's son Martin whoops and whirls, overflowing with boisterous energy. The boy's eight-year-old brother Adrian stands watching solemnly with big, dark eyes. Martin picks up a soft indoor ball and kicks it with remarkable power and precision for a two-year-old, the ball ricocheting madly round the sitting-room. The boys look the image of their dad, a defender with St Johnstone FC. Perhaps they have his footballing talent. But they'll not live their father's life.
The family moved here five years ago and Scotland has been Martin's home since birth. But Goran was born in a country that no longer exists. He comes from Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. When he was born, on September 8, 1972, Skopje was just another city in Yugoslavia, and Macedonia did not yet exist. His birthday is now the day Macedonia celebrates its peaceful secession from Yugoslavia in 1991.
Macedonia was not involved in the wars with the Bosnians and the Serbs, but would later become embroiled in conflict with Albania. And, of course, many people who lived there were emotionally involved in the turmoil of the neighbouring states. Goran's father's family were from Bosnia. His grandparents and his uncles lived there. "Two of my dad's brothers were in the army… everyone over 18 years must go," he explains.
There is sometimes a tightrope walk between a nation's pride in its identity and the destructive nationalism that causes violence. The political aspirations of the Balkan states led to some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. It seems an obvious question to ask someone from that part of the world what he thinks of the nationalist government that has been elected in Scotland during his time here. But when you come from political instability, interest in politics often wanes. Politicians do not appeal to Goran. "Back home," he says, "people think they cause war."
Goran and his Spanish wife Georgina met in the Spanish city of Lleida, where Goran was signed to the local football club. As a player, you have to be mobile. The family moved from Spain to Macedonia to Serbia… and finally to Scotland, when one of Goran's old team-mates, who was managing Raith Rovers, wanted to sign him. It was supposed to be one year only. "I think I stop at Scotland," says Goran.
There are so many reasons. Adrian speaks four languages – English, Spanish, Macedonian and Catalan, and Martin is also being raised to be multilingual. The education here, Goran and Georgina believe, is best for their sons. Finding a job here is also easier, says Goran, who must obviously consider his future when his playing career ends. "The war is finished at home but the only country to have any success is Slovenia. They have converted to the euro and their standard of living is high, but the rest of the countries of the former Yugoslavia are struggling. A lot of the companies that worked between Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia had to shut down." Now there is no middle class in Macedonia, he says. There is rich and there is poor. Mostly poor.
Scotland, he and Georgina agree, is a very safe country. "You need to go to Spain for a few years to see," he says.
Georgina adds: "There are a lot of people coming from abroad without a work permit or a place to stay. They sleep in the streets and they need money and they need to eat. Your house is not really safe there." In the cities? "Everywhere."
People here imagine a relaxed way of life in Spain, full of sun-kissed siestas. It's a myth, says Georgina. The culture in Spain is far more rushed and stressful now than in Scotland. People start work at 9am, and while they have a break of a couple of hours during the day, they have to return until 8pm. There is no part-time work. Georgina stays at home with her child, but in Spain, there would be little option to do so. There is only four months between her sister's child and Martin, but her nephew started nursery at just six months old and is left from 8.30am until 5pm. Child benefit is only paid for the first three years of a child's life and children attend school from 9am to 5pm.
When Georgina said she was leaving Spain, her mother cried for a week. Now she accepts her daughter's mobile life and speaks to her every day on the phone. Both families have visited Scotland. Goran's mother even likes Scottish weather. In Macedonia, the thermometer hits 50 in summer and plummets to -20 in winter. "She thinks it's beautiful here," he says.
At first, Britain seemed culturally less gregarious, less sociable than Spain to the couple. They found it hard to understand the way everything closed at 5.30pm, the way neighbours kept themselves to themselves. "It's hard to make friends here," says Georgina. "But when you have a friend, you know it is a very good, real friend."
They go home to Spain and to Macedonia each year but they cannot imagine building the same kind of life there. "Every year we say, 'We made the right choice,'" says Georgina. "Scotland is better."
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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