In a crisis stricken economy one of the telltale signs could be a renewed interest in immigrating to far, sunnier and possibly richer shores. So it is hardly surprising that a trade show dedicated to showcase different countries and opportunities was a busy venue to spend a midwinter Saturday afternoon at. Twenty years into our own emigrating experience, from Italy to Holland, it was curiosity or maybe a sense of nostalgia that lead us to join the crowds, cough up the outrageous entrance fee of 10 euros and find out what was on show. I was especially intrigued to see which countries would be represented and how they went about the business of recruiting the “right” kind of people or make themselves interesting to them, not to mention how they would filter out the “undesirables”.
First of all I had assumed that young people would be mostly sought after, and somehow felt that ‘white’ European types would make the majority of the visitors. I was right, although the closest to home destinations were keen to accept older applicants. France was present with a cluster of stands, three in total, as each region represents itself and most weren’t there at all. Rural locations do not mind settlers who can invest their capital in some old barn, maybe even a castle, in order to enjoy a slower pace of life and maybe a happy retirement in 10 years of so. While a nice enough man was churning out figures and facts about Limousin, bearing patiently with my accent – an absurd parody of the Italian – as I was putting up with his garlicky breath (amazing how life often adheres to commonplaces and stereotypes) we both reached high peaks of boredom stopping barely short of yawning. Auvergne did a much better job of it, a generally very convincing case but for the lack of a coastline – essential to us and hopelessly absent on the mountainous Massif Central -.
Many European countries are joined by one organization split in different desks. Is it me, or do Germans and Austrian representatives still have a vaguely guilty look about them? Their counter went largely ignored. The very exciting places: China and the far East, were not present but for Japan, in an ill conceived plan to attract business investors with a stand manned by a fairly unpleasant advisor at a venue designed to attract the ordinary public. The man looked down on us, figuratively of course, as I doggedly refused to be brushed away easily and kept hassling him with questions, as if I really had had a few millions too many. At last he had to give in – benefit of the doubt probably– and I could extort his business card for my fascinating collection of Eastern Stationery. The Romanian corner was empty, but for a large bottle of laughing gas used to inflate promotional balloons for Finland.
Much as the promotional material tends to look surprisingly like a holiday brochure, economic concerns are obviously on everybody’s mind. With a worldwide recession nobody is likely to get away unscathed simply by moving abroad, but there seems to be countries where labour, and maybe some specific qualifications, is in demand. As we were congenially chatted up by a representative of Nova Scotia – incidentally she came from Slovenia originally and had only lived in Canada 10 years – I decided to try my chances by stating my profession as commercial photographer. The commercial bit was meant to sweeten up the deal a little, as I have developed that sixth sense of knowing that creative professions are looked on suspiciously by just about everyone and not only while we are still young, by our prospective parents in law. Predictably I could instantly feel her gaze go cold and icy, a very convincing imitation of the yearly onset of the artic winter on her new home island, as she brutally fit me into the losing category of artists. One would think that there is no shortage of those, anywhere on the whole exhibition floor. But then, as Oscar Wilde had it, all art is utterly useless. Besides, anyone can take photographs.