Thursday, 8 March 2012

On Identity, Denial and Belonging

Tonight, I watched the second part of the Channel 4 documentary Make Bradford British and took the online UK Citizenship test (I had lie about my whereabouts, as there are no options for people living abroad... does living outside the UK disqualify me from being British then?).

And guess what?

Yep. I failed. I scored 46% (75% is needed to pass). If I did not already possess that small burgundy booklet requesting and requiring that I may pass freely in the Name of Her Majesty, I would not be allowed in to stay.

The result wasn't surprising, but with it came a strange sense of bitterness and failing. It's not about me feeling guilty for not knowing a bunch of factoids about the UK (I don't really care how many seats they have in the European Parliament, to be honest...), but rather for realising how detached I felt about the whole thing. Like it didn't concern me, not really, when it's obvious others are struggling to be recognised and heard within their own country. It made me ponder the implications and consequences of my indifference. I realised that for the past couple of years, I've been acting like it's possible to just pick and choose, discard and ignore. I would never go as far as denying my British nationality, as it is a large part of who I am, but I do resent it when people in Switzerland seem to think that because I have a UK passport and I speak English, I automatically belong there. It feels a little like those people in the pub on the show, telling Sabbiyah that if she doesn't want to live like the British, she can go back to her own country. Like her, I can say "this is my country!" but there will always be that slight inescapable difference that sets me apart.

Watching this documentary has not made me want to go running back to live in dear old England, far from it. But it did make me wonder about my position as a writer and human being. Can I afford to ignore my own roots, just because I don't always like what I see? No. This is valid for all of those roots, of course. No country is perfect. If you'd asked me four years ago, I would have told you I was rather disgusted with Switzerland and quite adamant not to move back there at least until my old age. Now I'm doing everything I can to get back in (sometimes, it does feel like I am fighting for the right to live and work in my own country).

So what?

Well. When I turned off the telly and thought about it all, I realised I knew one thing for certain. There is more to being a British woman than "wearing mini skirts and getting my tits out" (according to one lovely, well-spoken gentleman in that aforementioned pub). This is obvious to anyone with a brain, of course, but it did make me want to stop being indifferent and take a positive stand for what I believe is good in each of my cultures and countries. I do not want to get lost in the sea of globalisation. I do not want to become one of those people who don't quite know what they are (I deliberately did not say "where they belong", because I don't believe for a second that a person's happiness is tied to the place they or their ancestors were born) and spend their lives drifting, never having an opinion on anything. I want to be Swiss and I want to be British and I want to be me; wherever I live, whatever I do.

I started writing this post with the intent of discussing self-awareness and how interesting (and shocking at times) it was to watch some of the people on the show suddenly come to conclusions about difference and tolerance (or lack of both) that, to me, seem pretty obvious. I wanted to write about a writer's duty to constantly reassess his or her beliefs, convictions, ideas, hopes and dreams. Instead, I ended up doing a little self-actualising of my own.

Goes to show how effective the programme was, doesn't it?