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Englishness

The strange thing about being English and growing up in England was that sometimes you felt you had to apologise for it. Like when I was 6 or 7 years old and my Art teacher said, "Oh, Adrian, he's oh so very English!"

You could not get by without a sense of humour, so you developed that. And it worked. So you could manage the arrogance of those 'cool' guys who came from abroad and felt so exotic and sophisticated. They would tell you England was on the slide and they were the future. You would end up believing it, not really minding losing the football. It was all about 'being a good sport'.

Then you would go abroad and say you were from England and they would say, "Oh, the hooligans! The fish and chips". And you would reply, "Oh, but only the English are hooligans. Only the English eat fish and chips. I am from London, a whole different kettle of lobsters". The image everyone else had of your country was not one that you yourself recognised. Until your Welsh friend showed up and gave a class on the importance of tea at 5 O'Clock. "Oh, the proof! The real English are the Welsh!"

I can't remember who it was who said you only know what it means to be English when you have travelled the world. I must say I still don't exactly know what it means. The Chinese travel the world and eat in Chinese restaurants. The English would rather not be seen with their fellow countrymen (and women), unless of course they are retiring to the Costa Blanca. But that, after all, is a whole different story.

Now the English (and the Scots and Welsh) are debating whether or not they are European. A difficult question considering many of them are no doubt unsure enough of what it means to be English, Scottish or Welsh. The clearer minded are often those with the privilege of being British, ie. those who can identify with the flag and not with the blood. Because as one learns with experience, having English blood is not cause enough to be considered British for life, retaining the vote, or handing on your nationality on to your grandchildren. They call it 'ius solis'. Only the other day I was told that if I had spent more than 15 years outside the UK, it was 'quite clear my interests lay elsewhere'.

Yet however much you 'go native', as the standard bearers of Englishness like to refer to those of us who venture 'overseas', you are never quite 'French' or 'Spanish' or 'Greek', because they have a much clearer idea of what it means to form a part of their respective nations. Even when for football fans one of the greatest 'Spanish' surnames is Robinson.

So yes, for the little it means, I guess I am still English. And now I live in another city and in another land, I have more freedom to express that in whatever way I feel like, or not at all, than I would in my own. So yes, now I have travelled, I suppose I now know what it means to be English. ie. not really knowing at all, but being increasingly sure that that, precisely, is what it really involves.

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