Bucharest, Romania - The scaremongering is all over British tabloids: Romanians and Bulgarians (Pickpockets! Scam artists! Scroungers!) flooding into the UK by the thousands once work restrictions are lifted next year.
Tired of the stereotypes, some are striking back.
One Romanian newspaper is running ads questioning why anyone in their right mind would head for an island with bad weather and worse food, when they could stay in a country where: “Half of our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister.” - a quip about the glamorous Middleton sisters who are popular in the Romanian press.
“Our draft beer is cheaper than your bottled water,” boasts a second ad in online Gandul, while another notes that Prince Charles bought a house in Romania in 2005.
Behind the tongue-in-cheek campaign is a serious message for Britain.
Romanians and Bulgarians see themselves as hard-working, skilled employees with excellent English who already contribute to Britain's economy. They say that reports they will bleed dry the welfare system once EU restrictions are lifted are both exaggerated and offensive.
“We are mocked, denigrated and made to feel like third-class citizens,” said Gandul editorial director Claudiu Pandaru. “This is a humorous, good-mannered response. We want to show the British that we have two important reserves: intelligence and humor.”
Bulgarian construction worker Dimitar Dimitrov, who has lived and worked in London since 2010, feels insulted. “I am a European citizen, like thousands of my compatriots here, and I don't understand why we are discriminated against. I am working probably harder than every single citizen of Her Majesty, and contributing to the economy in the UK with my taxes and social security payments,” he told Bulgarian media.
In the UK, statistics show that almost 1 million Eastern Europeans have come to Britain over the past decade, and data from the 2011 census showed that Polish is now the second-most common tongue in the country. Romania and Bulgaria are the EU's poorest nations.
Britain's jingoistic tabloid press has been stoking fears of a second wave of migrants next year. The Daily Star spoke of a “migrants flood” and the Sun warned of a “border alert.”
For its part, the British government has responded to such fears by saying it is considering “options” to deter a potentially huge influx of Romanians and Bulgarians. Ideas include ads explaining that new immigrants could face restrictions on what welfare benefits they can claim, or be deported if they fail to get a job.
Romanians acknowledge that some of their citizens have given the country a bad name with ATM scams, begging and pickpocketing. But they insist these cases are a minority, with most of their citizens law-abiding, taxpaying citizens.
Some British commentators have scolded their compatriots for sowing fear.
Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times noted sardonically that “as our friends the Poles discovered, the British can tolerate anything except hardworking people who come over here to do the low-paid jobs we can't be bothered to do ourselves.” - Sapa-AP