I think that English people just feel there are too many immigrants here, but didn’t really think about how it would be if we all left – who’s going to do all the work?

Photography by Leonora Saunders

Adriana, Dana & Noemi

Dana: I came here five years ago. Getting a National Insurance number was difficult for Romanian people then. Being self-employed, working in construction or cleaning – these were the only opportunities for us.

I have a law degree, and a degree in finance and banking. In Romania, I was working as a manager for a construction firm. I didn’t come to the UK because of money – my family’s not very rich, but it’s not poor either. I came because I was in love. (I still am!)

Three and a half years ago I started working in a restaurant called Tsuru. I got the job from a woman called Emma, who I thought was a manager – I didn’t know she was the owner! She gave me a chance to start working here as a waitress. After one week, they offered me a supervisor position; after three months they gave me the opportunity to be a manager; after another two months, I became manager of two restaurants, and then eight months later, manager of three.

Adriana: I’ve been here since September 2014. Dana and I are from Bucharest. Our families are quite simple; they’re not highly educated. My mum has been struggling all her life to provide me with the best that she could. She knew that studying is really important, and she went through a lot of stress so that I could carry on with my studies. She’s amazing, I love her! I finished university, I finished my Master’s degree. Then I got married and I had a kid.

The only problem was, we couldn’t save money from one month to another, so if tomorrow you don’t have a job then you’re in trouble. I bought a house in Romania, so I have to pay for my mortgage. Obviously when you have a child, you stop thinking about yourself and you start thinking about your child. My husband and I started working when we were really young, but we didn’t want that for our son, we didn’t want him to struggle. So either we can sit here and feel lame, or we can choose to do something about our lives and take this chance, this opportunity.

I would have done anything; I would have done cleaning – literally anything. I came on my own, and then a few months later, I brought my family over.

Noemi: I started working in Romania when I was really young, because my parents were really poor and my dad was really sick. I had to stop going to school and start working so I could do something for my dad. I was seventeen when he passed away.

I came to the UK in October 2014. I was super lucky. After three weeks, I’d been applying for a lot of jobs – wherever, just to work – and then someone called me for an interview. I was so nervous because my English was so bad. But she looked at me and she said, “Oh! You’re Romanian? Me too!” and that was like a hand from God.

Dana: That was my hand!

Noemi: I told her that if she gave me this opportunity, I would work hard and not disappoint her. A few months later she moved me to a supervisor role at Tsuru. Two years later I became a manager at the Notting Hill branch of Tonkotsu, their sister restaurant. I was really lucky to meet these girls; they have really helped me a lot.

Dana: You need to work hard in Romania and I think when we came here, this is one of the things that helped us. I mean, I didn’t think I’d be a manager so fast.

Adriana: In Romania you’re not just doing what it says on your job description, you’re doing everything. If you have any spare time, no worries, they will find something for you to do! This is the way we’ve been raised.

Whenever I’m starting a shift in the morning, I’m the first to come in and the last to leave. I mean, just because we are managers doesn’t mean we don’t work. It’s hard to find another nationality as hardworking as Romanians (I’m not saying that all Romanians are hardworking because they’re not!) For myself, because I started working so young, I understand that if you work hard, the people around you will see it and they will give you an opportunity to move up.

Dana: Brexit is not going to affect us, so that’s why we’re not really stressed out about it. I did apply for my residency.

Adriana: I’ve got a temporary residency, because I don’t have five years in London yet, but I don’t think it’s going to affect us.

Noemi: I was okay with that decision; I can understand it. I think that English people just feel there are too many immigrants here, but didn’t really think about how it would be if we all left – who’s going to do all the work?

Dana: I think when people voted to leave, they were thinking about people on benefits.

Adriana: I can’t blame them for that. If everyone is claiming benefits, it’s not alright. I mean, for a society to work, everyone needs to work, everyone needs to pay taxes.

I wasn’t so affected by the vote either. I remember one of the senior managers calling me and she was almost in tears, she was so upset. Then she said to me, “Apparently you’re handling this better than I am!” But I don’t have a say in this; this is not my country – yet – this is your country.

After Brexit, it was everywhere on Facebook groups – people feeling nervous about what people might shout in the streets; “You immigrants, you should go home.” It’s never happened to me, but my situation is different. We’re working legally, we are paying our taxes. What should we be worried about?

Dana: I would say in Romania women tend to be more discriminated against than here. And I think women discriminate against themselves as well.

Adriana: They think women should have as many children as possible, raise them, cook, do laundry, clean the house and that’s it. And the men should go out to work and make the money – end of story.

Noemi: To be a smart woman and have a good job, people think, ‘She’s weird! Why is she doing that?’ Sometimes men underestimate us just because we’re women. And I’m always telling them, “Never underestimate us, because you never know!”

Dana: I think if I started my own my business, I would want to be just like the owners here. I think they respect every member of staff. Especially when the group was smaller, they were always around, talking to every single employee – the waiters, the kitchen porters, everyone. And they still do this, even though they are a lot busier now!

Noemi: If someone told me two years ago, “In two years you’ll be a manager” I would just have laughed. Life is so full of surprises, and this place – London – it just has so many opportunities.

Adriana: I would like to know the culture better. There are so many things that I don’t know about yet. I would like to make friends with some English people so they can walk me through it. I’m really lucky; I have two English staff in here, so they talk to me about this and that, but that’s not enough. I have Romanian friends mainly.

Noemi: I’d like to stay here, but not my whole life. I really love Transylvania. I’m crazy for Transylvania, and I’m dreaming about having a house somewhere outside of some city, just in the middle of nowhere, maybe have some kids…and a lot of dogs!

Dana: I think I would like to have my own business one day, to do better for me, to do better for others.

Adriana: Going back? No thank you! Maybe when I’m old and retired, maybe I would go back home. Honestly, I feel like London is my home now. I just want a peaceful life. I just want to go to work, have enough money just to have a quiet life, to pay my mortgage, go twice a year on a holiday, to go to a restaurant once a week, and pay my bills.

I’m happy with that.