a1 Research Unit MoSa: Modernity and Society 1800–2000, K.U. Leuven – Faculteit Letteren, Blijde Inkomststraat 21, Box 3307, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium
In matters of migration, it is not only the immigrants that are influenced by the new environment in their host country. The autochthonous population of the receiving country is affected by contact with the newcomers. This article analyses the impact of Polish domestic and construction workers on their employers in Leuven, a mid-size Belgian town. It shows that there was much more contact between employer and employee than one might have expected, despite the lack of a common language and the regular absence of the employer during the employee’s working hours. This contact led to the personalization of the anonymous mass of immigrants. New images arose, mostly very positive ones, and mostly related to the workplace. Old stereotypes did not disappear, but they were overshadowed by an awareness of particularities (clichés do not count for all Poles) and similarities (Poles have much in common with Belgians). In this way, the employment of Poles somehow stimulated a ‘Europeanization’ of sorts, and contributed towards developing a sense of common European features and values.