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lundi 4 juillet 2011


Until I was 23, I rarely, if ever, considered myself to be patriotic. I was born in Britain of an English father and a Scottish mother and raised with a very real awareness of my British-ness (rather than Englishness, as the rest of the world would have it). To be honest though, I have never, even for one minute I don't think, actually felt Scottish - I like the country and I like to visit it, but it doesn't feel like "home". I'm much more comfortable with being simply English (sorry, Mummy dearest, I know this would have you spinning in your grave, but it's true) and, if anything, the 4 years I spent at St Andrews (admittedly the most English university in Scotland) reinforced that.

There were brief forays abroad - a 3-month period in Salamanca in 1990, another 3-month period in Paris in 1991, but they were just that: brief, and left no lasting impression on my identity (though I certainly had a lot of fun in Salamanca, I must say).

Since then, though, I've lived in France, moving to Paris in July 1992, then Lyon later that year (September) and finally Montpellier in August 1999 (still can't quite believe I've lived here almost 12 years...).

Don't get me wrong: I like living in France and have made it my home. I miss certain people in Britain, but not particularly the place itself - the odd visit now and then is perfectly sufficient for me. I have made friends in France, I work here, raise my children here (they were born here and are far more French than British). My life is here.

But I most certainly do NOT feel French, and I don't think I ever will. I have yet to even apply for nationality, actually, though I know I'd get it without a problem.

If I'm cornered into watching some sporting event, I don't feel any compulsion to wish the French victory (and even take a certain sadistic pleasure in seeing them lose, to be honest), just as I don't usually want the Scots to win either. But I do invariably kind of hope the English win. I'm not seriously bothered one way or the other, but that Englishness of mine is there, buried below the surface.

Today is Independence Day in the US and there have been many tweets and posts about pride in being American. This is something I admire greatly in Americans, their genuine pride in their nationality. Their sense of unity behind their flag, their history, their culture. They may all be of various diverse origin, but their American-ness unites them, unifies them, strengthens them.

I'm not proud to be British, it's just something I am. I frequently feel greatly embarrassed, even, as Brits have a horrid tendency to behave atrociously abroad. I may support England teams in their endeavours up to a point, but when they (invariably) lose, I certainly don't lose any sleep or cry any tears. I like the Union Jack flag, but never wear one, even though they fashionably adorn all kinds of things here in France (I do have things with the flag on, but they're all things that stay at home. And they match the "décor" of this flat, if you can call it that).

I suppose I feel English (not British), but really only when I feel my culture, my heritage is being attacked or criticised. The French are quick to criticise Britain in general and England in particular, and that is the one thing always liable to rile me. I'm dreading the girls' middle and high school history lessons - I've seen text books and I know I'm going to be irritated by the lying by omission, false representation, etc. I've often had to defend British cuisine (universally derided here (D, to be fair to him, was a staunch advocate of British cuisine), British weather, British politics (a tough one - a) I know little, b) I care less and c) it's been so long since I've lived there that I'm pretty much out of touch), etc. My patriotism is merely a defence from attack by the French.

Today is US Independence Day, and next week is the French National Holiday, Bastille Day on 14 July. There is no equivalent day in the British calendar (England's St George's Day is a travesty of invisibility, especially compared to the Irish effusion over St Patrick) and I sometimes wonder - usually on 14 July whilst I quite willingly ignore all forms of celebration - if I would feel some pride in my nationality if there were.

After 19 years living in a foreign country, I think I am actually without nationality. My Englishness comes out when I'm under attack or when England play someone in sport, yet I feel totally detached from life in my country of birth. I don't feel French, ever, though, yet I fit in (I think) pretty well, fairly seamlessly to be honest.

Patriotism is a pretty alien concept and I do, truly, envy Americans this holiday of theirs, this day on which the nation feels pride in its achievements, families and friends get together, eat, drink and watch fireworks.

Happy Independence Day, my US friends!

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