Brits and Europeans bond and share stories over Zoom ahead of Brexit crunch day


Brexit is finally down to the wire, as we face an uncertain future outside the European Union.

It is a seismic moment in our country’s history – but also one where our ties to our European neighbours have rarely been so important.

That’s why the Mirror is proud to have taken part this week in Europe Talks – in partnership with 15 other newspapers and websites across Europe led by Zeit Online in Germany.

Our project matched thousands across Europe for a video call chat about life, lockdown, Brexit and the coronavirus.

Twenty-thousand people signed up across Europe, including 3,670 from the UK.

Our matching algorithm was able to pair 12,000 of these people between countries from Britain to Bulgaria.

The furthest match was a postman from the Azores and a young Greek woman.

The greatest differences between the answers given were between Bulgaria and Switzerland, while the smallest were between Belgium and Portugal.

Find out below what happened when a Scottish actor met a Greek engineer, two teachers from Wales and Germany chatted, and others met matches from Romania, France, Austria, Lithuania and Italy.

England & Lithuania
Brian Langan, 61, former prison worker, from near Bury, Lancashire.

Vincas Grigas, 36, academic from Vilnius, Lithuania.

Brian has recently recovered from Covid and was keen to know how Vincas, whose wife is a GP, felt during the pandemic.

Was he afraid? “Yes,” says Vincas, 36, “because my wife is a family doctor, so she is with people all time. There is danger.”

But, he adds brightly: “You have the vaccine now? Will you take it?”

Brian says he will. Then, much to Vincas’ delight, Brian explains he’s just bought a motorbike and rescued lots of battery hens, as well as a very loud rooster.

Vincas’ wife, Jurate, 34, and his daughter, Satrija, four, are keen to get chickens on the land surrounding their home, just outside Vilnius, and there is talk of sheep.

Brian and Vincas are both sorry to see Britain leaving the EU.

“It was better that we had a shared view,” Brian says. “I think it will be sad when we do come away.”

“Yes,” agrees Vincas. “It seems very sad.”

England & Austria
Maria Loidl, 59, farmer from Kaindorf, Austria.

Bob Officer, 61, retired electrical engineer from Hazlemere, Bucks.

Since retiring, Bob spends three months of the year travelling with his wife as well as renovating classic cars.

Maria owns an organic fruit farm, but dreams of travelling. After their chat she even jokes she might visit Bob.

Bob says: “We are very much a divided country, as you’re probably aware.”

Maria adds: “I am a little sad about Brexit because we will miss Britain in the community, and I think everything will get more difficult.” Bob says: “You’re much stronger when you are part of a big group.”

Both have daughters due to get married next year. Maria says her children will be visiting at different times over Christmas because their father has a heart condition.

The pair promise to visit each other. Maria says: “I think it is necessary to meet new people. A lot of problems come because people don’t speak enough to each other.”

Bob nods: “I totally agree.”

England & Romania
Laura Bevan, 40, a mum-of-two and civil servant from Widnes, Cheshire.

Gabriela Damian, 55, environmental consultant, from Timișoara, Romania.

When Laura asks Gabriela what she thinks about Brexit, Gabriela says that a “country should do what suits them.”

She says: “I’m not a big fan of the European Union, it is very hard to match people in one family, so it is so much harder to match countries, we have different cultures, different interests, different backgrounds.

She adds: “I love England, but I think it has lost its own personality.”

The pair also disagreed over mask-wearing. “I am very annoyed with wearing masks,” Gabriela says.

“I don’t see the benefit, we can’t breathe properly and it is scary. It is like a science fiction movie. It is a limitation of our right to breathe fresh air freedom.”

Laura is happy to wear a mask. She says: “I have lost people I know to Covid.”

Gabriela says she won’t be getting vaccinated. “I won’t be something in my body that doesn’t belong there. The human body is intelligent and perfect.”

Ireland (via England) & Greece
Jean Kelly, 43, musician, from south east London.

Maria Pikni, 45, garment worker, from Athens.

Maria says Greece still hasn’t recovered from the financial crash – she was earning €1,500 euros a month before 2010, compared to just €700 now.

She says Covid has made things even worse.
Jean, 43, is a musician originally from Ireland.

Her concerts have been cancelled but she is still teaching piano and harp classes over Zoom.

Maria works for a clothing company. “I have a paper which says I am allowed to be outside my home from 7am to take the train and metro and I have to be back by 6pm,” she says.

“The second lockdown is much harder than the first. It is like we’re prisoners in our own house.”

She will be alone on Christmas day because of the risk of infecting her elderly mother.

“I am getting very really concerned about Brexit,” Jean says, “I feel like we’ve been hit very hard by the pandemic and now Brexit. I didn’t vote for it and I was very sorry when it went through. It now feels strange to be Irish in England for the first time.

“I felt like home before, but now I feel like a foreigner here.”

England & France (via Spain)
Susan Hunt, 51, Manchester Airport worker from Runcorn, Cheshire.

Carolina Rengifo, 23, English teacher & hockey trainer in Madrid, originally from France.

“This is my third time furloughed,” Susan says. “I can’t wait to go back, I’m going stir crazy at home.”

Carolina, is French but lives in Spain. “I have been praying for time to stop for years,” she says. “Every minute of the day, I would be playing hockey, doing three jobs and studying two degrees and still have a social life and travel the world.”

Carolina has spent the summer travelling around Spain while Susan has been forced to cancel four holidays due to the pandemic.

Carolina says Brexit is “heartbreaking”. “I lived in London for a year, I have friends who were for and against Brexit.

We have reached 70 years without a war in Europe. I don’t want to think about Europe breaking up, for me living in Spain, the only safety I feel is coming from the EU.”

Scotland & Greece
Bruce Henderson, 56, actor, from Dunfermline, Scotland.

Manos Sfakakis, 41, electrical engineer, from Nea Smyrni, Greece.

Manos proudly shows Bruce his one-year-old daughter Myrto.

“I work in the most unethical sector that one can work in, in the oil and gas industry, so I will have a lot of guilt to pass onto my daughter when she grows up.”

Bruce, studying 3D animation at college, is more optimistic. He says: “In China there are huge cities, where they have replaced their entire bus fleets with electrical buses, it is on a scale that is amazing.”

Manos says people in Greece can feel powerless. “We are like a little village. Greece has a tremendously small impact on whatever happens.”

Bruce explains his philosophy of life: “I took the view a few years ago, you have one life, so go and do the things that make you happy.”

The pair set up a second Zoom to carry on chatting.

Wales & Germany
Alison Ward, 43, teacher from Bridgend, Wales.

Martina Doerr, 45, teacher from Osterode am Harz, Germany.

Alison, a mum-of-seven, was a primary school teacher but is now a full-time carer for her husband.

Martina teaches English and French. She says: “Alison I always think caring for relatives is something that is taken for granted. I must say I find you very courageous, I admire you.”

Alison home-schooled her younger children during lockdown. Martina says she thinks schools in Germany should have remained open during the pandemic.

“I could see some children were falling behind academically and some children didn’t have the necessary equipment,” she says. “There were also parents who were working in jobs where they just couldn’t look after their children.

“But I agree with you Alison, it shouldn’t come at any cost, if the cases are really bad, they should close.”

The pair say they will be keeping in touch with each other and hope to arrange another call.

England & Italy
Amy O’Connell, 35, a British mum of two from Bucks.

Ruggero Delladio, 57, export manager, Verona, Italy.

Amy and Ruggero agree both of their governments could have handled the Covid crisis better. “It was very, very bad,” says Ruggero, who lives near Verona with his wife and two grown-up children. “We suffered for a long time.”

“Yes,” agrees Amy. “We didn’t act quick enough. We were seeing what was happening to you, in Italy but we were still too slow. We’ve had a lot of loss, but it’s had positives, it’s made us closer as a family to be honest.”

Ruggero asks Amy if she is worried about a no deal exit?

“Not really,” she says, “We needed to get more control over what happens in our own country. It’s not going to be easy. I’m not sure that people thought we were actually going to leave. People are getting bored of it here.”

Then Amy’s dog decides to jump into the frame. “This has been something very different,” says Ruggero.

“It has,” says Amy, “I’d love to do this again, some day.”