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Rather than being paved with gold, the British government wants you to think its streets are wet from the incessant rain and the vomit of binge-drinking teens.
Concerned about a possible influx of new arrivals when immigration restrictions for Bulgaria and Romania are lifted at the end of 2013, the British media is reporting that ministers are considering a negative ad campaign that would dissuade wannabe migrants from heading to the island nation.
According to Britain’s “Daily Telegraph,” the proposed campaign would “focus on the downside of life in the U.K., majoring on the changeable weather.”
Against a backdrop of widespread frustration with crumbling infrastructure, rising prices, and the interminable drizzle, the popular left-leaning daily “The Guardian” asked its readers to make their own posters to deter prospective visitors.
The results are impressive: British self-deprecation coupled with a strong distaste for the present coalition government and petty bureaucracy. “Come Here And Clean The Loo,” says one submission. Another reads: “Britain: we only haven’t left ourselves because the public transport isn’t running.” Several others make fun of the country’s notoriously gray weather.
Many Romanians and Bulgarians, however, don’t see the funny side of the proposed campaign.
One Romanian online newspaper, Gandul.info, has hit back, launching its own campaign to bring Brits to Romania.
Mihai Gongu, a creative director at the Romanian advertising agency GMP, is the mastermind behind the Gandul campaign. Called “Why Don’t You Come Over?” the campaign features slogans such as “We speak better English than anywhere you’ve been in France” and “Charles bought a house here in 2005. And Harry has never been photographed naked once.” Each advertisement has the slogan: “We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania.”
Gongu says “it is a bit disconcerting to see yet another piece of news that builds on the idea that Romanians are the No. 1 problem on the agenda.”
“We felt we owe it to the tens of thousands of decent tax-paying Romanians who live in the U.K. and the millions at home to do something about it,” he says.
And what can Romania offer British tourists?
“You have the seaside with both posh resorts and a few secluded beaches, a countryside frozen in time, the Carpathians, a capital which mixes art deco with North Korean-style flats and a pretty active night life,” Gongu says.
Many Bulgarians also registered their displeasure on Twitter, grouping around the hashtag #avoidBritain:
They drive on the wrong side of the road! #avoidBritain
— Yana L. (@MissVendella) January 28, 2013
Bad Britain! No more Eastern European prostitutes for you! #AvoidBritain
— Neli Borisova (@ChunLiiiii) January 30, 2013
Aryo tweeted in Bulgarian: “Do you really want them to think you are giving them the finger when you order two beers?” — a reference to the two-fingered V-sign, which is a signal of disrespect in Britain.
Наистина ли искате, когато покажете, че искате две бири да си помислят, че сте им показали среден пръст? #avoidBritain
— Aryo (@ARYO1_) January 28, 2013
One Bulgarian blogger, Boyan Yurukov, wrote that:
With an economy teetering on the edge of recession, unemployment at nearly 8 percent, and stagnating wages, immigration is a hot-button issue in the United Kingdom.
While there are popular concerns about migrants “taking British jobs” or putting undue pressure on the country’s infrastructure, others say that Britain needs more skilled migrant labor to address the deficits of its workforce. Supporters of continued migration also say that workers from abroad are prepared to do the types of unskilled jobs that many Brits shirk.
The Conservative-led government has just relaunched a book, “Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents.” The book is the main study text for a newly revised immigration test and includes practical day-to-day advice for migrants and vignettes from British history, which critics say gloss over the nastier aspects of Britain’s colonial past.
According to statistics from the University of Oxford, between 1993 and 2011 “the foreign-born population in the U.K. almost doubled from 3.8 million to around 7 million.” Britain has a population of over 62 million people.
Migration Watch, an independent U.K.-based think tank, has said that up to 250,000 Bulgarians and Romanians could head to Britain for work in 2014, although that figure is disputed. When in power, the Labour party placed restrictions on migration from Romania and Bulgaria when the two countries joined the EU in 2007.
One British member of parliament, Keith Vaz, has criticized the proposed ad campaign as “farcical.” “I have asked the home secretary several times to give us an estimate as to how many Romanians and Bulgarians will enter the country in 2014 but she has not done so,” Vaz said. “Successive governments have failed to provide accurate estimates.”
Another plan reportedly being considered would mean that new migrants from Romania and Bulgaria would have to show they can support themselves financially for six months in order to stay.
It is not the first time that EU member states have fought a proxy war via advertising. In France and Great Britain, le plombier polonais, or Polish plumber, has come to represent, to some, the threat of cheap labor from Central and Eastern Europe. (To others, a Polish plumber represents the opportunity to get the job done well at half the cost of what they would pay a native French or British worker.)
In response to what it saw as negative stereotypes, in 2005 the Polish tourist board launched a campaign featuring an attractive nurse and a buff plumber calling on French citizens to come to Poland.
Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.