You need to know how money works

ATM pictures

Selassi’s story

Immigration is a tough business, leaving everything you know to come to a strange country where you do not have a network leaves you quite vulnerable, and one of the things you  need to know is how money works. Some of the misunderstandings I have come across are:

A Russian not understanding that OD meant overdrawn and so in debt

An Italian who was confused about how the Uk uses credit cards, that you pay them off at the end of the month,  if you can.  Apparently, in Italy, credit cards are used to pay for goods and the money goes straight out of your account.

Selassi’s story though it happened many years ago,  shows that not understanding the way money works can have severe consequences on an individual.

When I came here from my country in Africa, I expected my husband who was living here to show me how to live in the UK, it was all very strange and unfamiliar.  I quickly realised that I needed to get a job as he could not support me so I did and set up a bank account for my wages to be paid in.

I became pregnant and we lived in a tall block of flats with no lift.  One day, I made a big mistake, I gave my PIN number (the unique number that gives us access to our bank account) to my husband and asked him to get me some money. Due to my condition, I was unable to go out. In my country, in Africa, I had a savings account so I did not know that I should receive/see bank accounts every month.

When my baby was 2 weeks old, I tried to get money out of my account but the ATM would not give me any. I went to the bank who showed me that money had been taken out all over the city and that as my funds ran low, the bank transferred money from my savings account into my current account.  I had no money, my husband was a gambler and very irresponsible. Fortunately., I had one friend who helped me out when he could. At that time, housing was not as desperately short as it is now, so the council were able to house me and my baby. It was a tough time, if I could not afford the electricity or the gas, my baby and I would be in the dark and the cold.

I would like to emphasize that this was a long time ago and I have managed to hold down a good job for the last 25 years. I have supported my family and my child is now studying in  good university to enter into the profession.  I am studying for a degree and I am very active in the Church which has become my extended family here.  There were undoubtedly consequences for me in dealing with such an overwhelming situation, I lost my concentration for a time but it is recovering. I am sharing this story because I want others to know that its essential to understand how money works and never share your PIN number.








But you’re rich now!

This whole blog is about the experience of immigration to the UK and what its like for you if you didn’t grow up here but of course, there is another side to the story, what happens when you go home? What assumptions do people make about you?  Yacov writes here about going home to Africa and encountering a subtle and important difference in how people reacted. We would love to hear other experiences of going home.

….but you’re rich now

By: Yacov Ben-Avraham Mar 201

I have been living and working in the UK for the past 16 years and I am very happy and content in my new home. It has not been without its ups and down and as such, I hope that sharing some anecdotal stories, that it may lessen the burden for other travelling the same journey.

I came here from South Africa in 1999 and initially lived in Surrey as we did not know anything about living in London, or how to go about the property market at all. One of the most odd experiences at the time I recall, was that friends and family members who came here many years before we did, kept on insisting in telling us ‘you’ve got to buy a house as soon as you can’. It became quite annoying, but in the end we did.

It is only with hindsight that we now understand the pressure exerted was to turn into the best investment we could have made ever in our lives. I am sure this would not resonate with everyone, but I thought I would tell it anyway.Blog picture

The story I really want to share is not so much about coming here to the UK, but rather about going ‘back home’ as people refer to it. I remember clearly my emotions as we set out on our first journey back home, the apprehension of what we may encounter, filled with feelings of trepidation regarding the changes, or lack thereof that may reveal itself upon arrival. Things were very pleasant and although the absence of two years very quickly revealed  the obvious changes, it was also as if time stood still. Same conversations were held; we want to leave, we are leaving, oh G-D we need to get out of here, etc. All the while, the conversation also drifts towards entertainment and going out for the evening or whatever occasion.

Initially we though nothing of it until we realised that we always ended up paying for everything. It seemed as if there was an unspoken attitude of “…but you’re rich now, so you can pay for us all!”. We felt very awkward in certain circumstances. These moments of awkwardness grew the longer we stayed and we just thought to ourselves, hang on a minute, normally when  friends go out together we tend to share the bill. Minimally we offer to contribute if the bill is not split.

In the end I felt that it actually had very little to do with the money or transaction at all. It was more about a cultural decay that spread seemingly un-noticed through a society that I have been part of for  decades, building resentment which I never felt when I lived there and which I failed to understand. While I lived there, we went out with the same people and friends and it never reared its head.

The minute we returned as ‘ex-pats’ we were branded ‘..but you’re rich now’ and this lurking attitude manifested itself. It was rather shocking and I am wondering if other immigrants from other countries and cultures experience the same changes when they re-visit home after an absence?


Yacov Ben-Avraham


Interesting – a view from lebanon

My Lebanese neighbour tells me that when she first arrived here, she was really surprised how silent everyone was on the bus and on the train and that no one would give up their seat for her.  The English, on the whole, only speak to people they know on the train and we are very irritated by teenagers playing music loudly on the top of the bus, oblivious to everyone else and their need for quiet and to read their newspaper or look at their phone.

She also tells me that she really learnt about how the British value queuing. She was at a bus stop with only one other lady waiting for the bus.  There was plenty of room for both of them on the bus but she made the mistake of stepping in front of the other lady to get on the bus.  The lady reprimanded her, saying ‘I was here first’.  We do find it really annoying if someone doesn’t queue properly – I think in the US its known as waiting in line.   The English think it is disrespectful if someone jumps ahead of us. My Lebanese friend commented that it was a sign that the UK is a well ordered society.

Another Lebanese friend tells me that when she started work, she would pitch an idea and the response would be ‘interesting, interesting’. She took this to mean that they liked her idea and would take some action. She later learnt it meant we are not going to do anything about it.  Despite not giving up our seat, we are quite polite and would not probably not tell anyone, we don’t like their idea, we will be just neutral and wait for it to go away.