Sunday, 10 June 2012

am I English?

here I am shamelessly plundering the Normster (Norman Geras), who is (a) much cleverer than I am and (b) not English (he was born in what was then Rhodesia).  He notes that various politicians and others (Hilary Benn, Ed Miliband) have been urging us to be proud of being English.  One of them is a quarter American and the other of east European Jewish heritage I believe, and they are both English.  So what, I hear you cry, and so, to some extent, do I.  Norm also notes that others (Dan Hodges, for example, of whom I am rather a fan) take issue with this, and say that while they themselves are English there is no particular marker that they can identify for their Englishness.  I am not surprised that I am more inclined to ponder my own Englishness now that i have lived for almost five years outside England, and, worse still, in the land of the old enemy, France.  I wonder if Norm ponders on his identity as an African.  If he does, he doesn't do it publicly.  And I share the difficulty in finding a marker for my (or anyone else's) Englishness. The first time I ran a training workshop for a multi-national group of lawyers I was gently told off by the training supervisor who observed it: she said "You started on time, as the English do, but that meant that most of them missed the beginning".  A difficult one for me, that.  Norm takes issue with the "no marker for Englishness" brigade as follows:  Their case seems to be one of these three:

(1) no national identity of any kind is coherent or real;
(2) national identity is coherent and real for all other putative cases (being Brazilian, being French etc) except Englishness;
(3) national identities are real for some putative cases but not for others, and Englishness falls into the latter category.
and he demolishes those three premises very effectively.  But where does that leave us?  One of my grandfathers was Welsh and the other Scottish.  The Celtic part of my heritage is real to me.  But I was born in England, as both my parents were, and grew up and lived most of my life there.  I will probably not die there, but that is not the important bit.


What I suppose I believe is that there is no one marker for Englishness.  I'll support England against France tomorrow.  In a pub, which is in my view the proper place to watch football.  I drink Proper Tea.  When I was asked to serve tea recently at a tea party I was congratulated on my assuredness in handling teapots.  "But I've been doing it all my life!" I said.  My earliest memories are of my grandmother pouring tea.  I still put hot water in the pot first, and then throw it away,  as she did,  even if I am using (whisper it not) tea bags.  But there are plenty of English people who never do any of this.


I am sorry that St. George's Day parades are such a rarity.  I think Jerusalem should be the English anthem because , not despite of the fact that, it is an old socialist hymn.  When my granddaughter is my age she will have some memories (I hope) of me and things I did.  They will be part of her own marker of identity.  But maybe not of Englishness.

4 comments:

Pamela said...

Interesting. A friend of mine always laughs when I refer to myself as 'Indian' as, she says, 'You're the most English person I know!'. And I think I know what she means, the hot-water-swilled-round-a-teapot thing being one of the markers, in my case. I think you can be a mix, in that I am Indian because my parents were from there and my family heritage and a lot of my upbringing was to do with India, Indian people and Indian food and objects, but English because I was born here, brought up here and therefore have unwittingly gained a lot of the habits that make up the English national character. I have noticed, though, that people call you 'English' when they are commenting on slightly quirky feature, such as being overly polite, queuing, eating cucumber sandwiches etc etc...

Jill said...

I tracked back to 16 English great-great-grandparents - so with no other heritage in my past except English - that is what I proudly am - & 75% East Anglian too.
In a restaurant in the mountains of Virginia in America, my Mum and I were clocked as English because of the way we ate our dinner... with knife in right hand and fork in left... then when we ordered side-salad with the meal they brought it out first, Pizza Hut style... without thinking we moved it to the side to await the main course with which to eat it... by the end of the meal my mother was in the kitchen showing them how to make a proper cup of tea - yes warming the pot etc etc...!
I was also picked up as English for saying "actually", being overly polite, queuing, and all sorts of confusion over what are biscuits and what is gravy...
In the Census 2001 you had to rebel to claim to be English by saying you were "White - other" - insulting as you could just tick for Welsh, Scottish or Irish. Better by 2011.
My local pub tries to do something special for St George's Day, however finds it easier to get extension opening hours for St Pat's, Halloween, Burn's Night... that's not right.
I'll quit whinging now, which is how the Aussies claim to identify us very easily... {whingers!) they just don't understand what it is like to have rain almost everyday of June...

Anonymous said...

I was born in England to Irish parents and consider myself to be Irish and have always travelled on an Irish passport. There are many reasons why I prefer to be Irish one of which is that it is so much more fun.

Andy said...

But the Scots and Welsh are not Celtic! It's a fairly recent invention, that!