Rocket Eddy (rocketeddy) wrote,
Rocket Eddy

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Identity is a funny thing, and here I mean the way in which we think of ourselves; who we feel we identify as, or with. Let's say you meet a bunch of people in the pub, and ask them where they're from. One person says "London", and another says "Russia". Perhaps a third says "up North" or "down South" depending on where the pub is. My belief is that the person who said "London" would give the same answer whether you were in London or Liverpool or anywhere else in the UK, but if they happened to move abroad they may be inclined to answer "England" or "Britain" instead.

A friend sent me a link to an article in the Telegraph the other day: does living abroad turn us more British?. The basic premise is that living abroad makes us more proud of our origins, and even act more stereotypically. I think there's a strong argument here and one I tend to agree with, but that's another topic... the article is just what got me thinking about my 'identity'.

When I was at uni, I'd answer "Liverpool". Here in Cologne I would answer "English" or "British", but if I visit friends in London I'd answer "Liverpool" again. So clearly, I feel some kind of hierarchy of identity, where I'm a Brit to foreigners but a scouser to my countrymen.

Now here's the rub.

I am an immigrant. I say this clearly, because I am very much aware that I do not match the stereotypical image most people conjure up when they hear the word 'immigrants'. I'm white, I was born in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, I don't collect unemployment or other benefits, I'm not here illegally yet I don't need a VISA to live or work where I do and I'm not employed in manual or unskilled labour. I'm British... and an immigrant in Germany. A former neighbour once remarked that they don't go to a certain place because "there are too many foreigners there". When my girlfriend and I pointed out that we, too, are foreigners, they said "Oh we don't mean YOU, you're all right, we mean... OTHER foreigners". Of course, I know what they meant, even if they didn't want to say it. They were talking about the local Turkish community, many of whom are German citizens and many of whom were born right here in Germany making them officially a lot less 'foreign' than I am. But it's sadly not hard find somebody prejudiced against them, in much the same way as Pakistanis or Eastern Europeans might encounter in England.

I really like the film "This is England". I don't like racism. I found the film did a really excellent job of portraying the desperation felt in the North, and the way in which people with very strong Nationalist tendencies were unhappy we were fighting for the Falklands - a fact which on the surface appears quite contradictory. It portrays and explains the attraction people felt towards groups such as the National Front well, without (imho) actually condoning or glorifying such groups. If anything, I felt it made a very good case against them, whilst demonstrating their rise in popularity was to be expected under the circumstances.

There's a question in that film, put to a 'non-white' person born in England: "Do you consider yourself English?" This is a question you could easily put to somebody born in Britain with any family heritage from outside the UK, be it French or Chinese or anything else. The person asking the question demonstrably wanted to hear the answer "English", as a demonstration of their integration into the community in which they now live.

So... what would my answer be? Do I consider myself, or my son (who was born in Germany) to be German? The answer is a resounding no. So I (still) consider myself British right? Well, yes and no. I do consider myself British, but I also have to accept that my perceptions have been broadened. By living 'abroad', my eyes have been opened to a lot of the prejudices and preconceptions we tend to have in the UK, and how silly we can sometimes be when it comes to the idea of 'foreigners'. As an immigrant, I find it easier to empathise with other immigrants while at the same time seeing such double standards and generalizations as my former neighbours'. In particular, I appreciate and enjoy the freedoms afforded to me in the EU and the cultural similarities between Britain and our neighbours in Europe.

So what does that make me? I guess in many ways, I think of myself as "European" now. I don't like to use that word, because in the UK we use it to refer to anybody from mainland Europe - i.e. somebody that isn't British. We exclude ourselves from Europe, in our stand-offish and arrogant manner, which does nothing good for our image as a nation. You can imagine that if I was standing for political office, rivals would happily jump on such a statement as "he allies himself closer to France and Germany than with Britain!" which is blatantly untrue - I do still regard myself as very much British, and English, and a scouser. I am immensely proud of all three of these descriptions, and consider them accurate. I do not renounce my heritage, and positively revel in it. Living 'abroad' I feel I sometimes become the very caricature of an Englishman. But in the absence of a better word, or at least one I can think of right now, it's what I shall use. I am an EU citizen, an inhabitant of Europe. I am a European.
Tags: europe, germany, nationalism, random, uk

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