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You’re not from round here, are you?

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I was out with friends having a perfectly fine Sunday somewhere down near the Thames in Berkshire. We were joined by a couple and the first thing that was said to me was, “You’re from South Africa.” Now ordinarily, I’d have said, “Yes. Gosh is my accent still so obvious?” But suddenly and without warning, I was deeply offended. “No,” I said, “I’m not,” and left it there, hanging in the air not knowing where to land.

Because I’m not from South Africa – not really. I was born there, but I am very obviously not an African. Feelings of guilt and shame and not being welcome any more – if my kind ever were – sent me scuttling out of Africa in the late ‘nineties and I came ‘home’ to Blighty. I had never lived here and most of the family had done what mine did and found pastures new, so in a very real way, I was alone and a stranger.

But I was ‘home’ – or so I thought. I speak English  – with an accent, but it’s my mother tongue. I have a degree in English Literature, the Beatles are the soundtrack to my youth, I understand cricket, I love Marmite and I can pronounce Featherstone-Haugh. But as the years have gone by, I have felt less and less at home. Too many people point out that I am ‘not from round here’, my accent singles me out as ‘other’ and as the ‘immigrant’ issue hots up, I am often asked why I don’t go home.

But where is that? I am clearly not from Africa where I was born and because I wasn’t born in the UK, I’m not from here either. I think needing to feel like one belongs, like one is ‘home’ is a deep-down, visceral need. Not sure where it is on Maslow, but way down the bottom somewhere. And I have this ghastly feeling that I don’t belong anywhere.

Or maybe I belong everywhere? But that isn’t really the same thing at all, is it?

5 responses »

  1. Nicky Cooper

    I can so identify with that feeling, Candy. Feeling as if you don’t belong anywhere really, but filled with a sense of accomplishment of the different experiences that have been part of life.
    In Dutch there is a saying: tussen de wal en het schip…(between the quay and the ship) I think that sums it up pretty well. It certainly helps to emphasise with our clients!
    Enjoy the weekend! Nickyxx

    • Hi Nicky. Thanks for stopping by. Indeed – tussen die wal en het schip. I remembered another expression – ‘neither fish, flesh nor good red herring’ meaning not good for anything! sort of how I feel!

  2. Nicky Cooper

    Oops! Meant: empathise….

  3. I know exactly where you’re coming from. I had the misfortune of finding myself as a South African teenager living in England in the early 80s, when being a white South AfrIcan was an even worse crime than it is now.

    My teenage years were defined by my identity crises but as an adult and as a tefler, I have learnt to embrace my foreignness by living in places like China, where I am simply defined as ‘a foreigner’ since it is common knowledge in China that all ‘westerners’ are essentially the same. Interestingly, I was regarded as ‘typically British’ when I was in Germany, but only by the Germans.

    Those people who treat you as ‘the other’ have narrow perspectives and are limited by their clearly defined identities. I have learnt to embrace my ‘art cider’ status. Okay, we don’t truly belong but at the same time we are much more complex and nuanced than a national identity would suggest.

    • Hi Chris and thanks for stopping by. I have more or less come to terms with ‘art ciderness’. It is interesting to note which of the nationalities view us ‘art ciders’ with suspicion – the ones who are quick to forgive or the ones who believe there’s nothing to forgive.
      Pop back any time and thanks again.


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