A case of mistaken identity

I committed a faux pas today; talking to a local I said how lovely it was to be in Austria. With a little grin, at least I think it was such, he corrected me. ‘You are in Tyrol We are only in Austria when we play sports’. He was near here.

2015-03-03 12.46.29

difficult to be sad today..

I smiled back. It was good natured, me the ignorant foreigner making a regular error of place-identity. But it did get me thinking about how often these distinctions seem to matter. We live with it as a constant in the UK. After all we can call upon three supra-regional definitions of our place identity: The UK; England (for me) or Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales for the other components of the UK; and Britain.  And then we have the Channel Islands wrapped up here too to add to the confusion.

And if we dig a little deeper we have regional place identities, some very strong: Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cornwall and Devon (there are so many, but these often stand out as in ‘I’m a proud Yorkshireman/Lancastrian/Man of Cornwall/Devonian’ which isn’t so for, say, ‘I’m a Man of Berkshire’ – cue sniggers – for instance.  Indeed, during the mapping of the contributors to #1000speak for compassion, one blogger, Rosie from Cornwall confirmed that as she was from Cornwall she was happy to say she was from the UK but would not tolerate being called English.

My name is of French origin. Le Pard. We understand our ancestors were Huguenots who left France way back  (17th or 18th Century – one day the Archaeologist and I ought to find out what we can). I have a soupcon of French blood in me but, believe me, I am not French. I can’t identify myself with anything from across the channel.

I spent a long time, during the latter part of my professional life as a solicitor on marketing and business development trips (at some point marketing was rebranded ‘ bizdev’ though it seemed to comprise the same things – just another new age trend I suppose like knitting your own muesli). I sent a large number of hours with a Hamburg colleague, Johannes who in many ways had more in common with me and vice versa than people I met on holiday in various rural parts of England.

Why is this need to identify with a place so important? We have a debate about what it means to be English and we often fail to come up with anything coherent – except what we are not. However is a common set of standards the determining factor when it comes to place? For example I’m very metropolitan and instinctively against hunting  (though many others who would think themselves metropolitan would be for it). It’s a choice thing but how much does it matter that we are lined by a place label but have no doubt many different views?

What’s common? Language, yes and a boundary that we adopt for security and the distribution of resources through tax. But it has to be more than that to coalesce a group – these are what follows, surely not what creates a group?

I get that we have a system, based around the sanctity of the nation state that maintains a structure to international relations and seeks to prevent, by and large, one nation interfering in the affairs of another. However this is something that has been eroded of late by several countries and nefarious bodies. Is this because with the emergence of a world knowledge base (24/7 communications, streamed news via the internet) that many can now see how others make claims to be who they want to be and not tolerate old structures if they appear to be self serving rather than serving a particular group? Are we moving into a new age where the agglomeration of power is shifting to smaller groups claiming a discrete identity?

As I blog I meet people from the world over. During the 1000 Voices for compassion initiative I read articles and posts from the four corners and I empathised with many people whose background, first language, religion, culture and what-have-you would be very different from my own but  we had a lot in common. So should we allow each of us to be in whatever place group we want when we describe ourselves without  getting so hung up on ‘He’s English and I’m French?’

I have no answers, but a lot of rather unstructured questions I have shared with you. maybe it’s the mountain air.

So reducing it down, perhaps my Tyrolean contact is right, this labelling only matters when it comes to sport. Because, here birth nationality doesn’t matter. The current England cricket captain in Australia for the world cup is Eoin Morgan, born and breed in Ireland. And were we to beat the Aussi’s in the final (unlikely though that is) I would be the first to proclaim him as English as Shakespeare and warm beer.

And to end on a cheery note, here are a few snaps of the Tyrol today..

2015-03-03 12.46.38

arty shot from a bubble

2015-03-03 12.47.38

odd who you find taking selfies; he should know those glasses as so de trop.. oh and the clip stopping the usual 14 chins worked this time

2015-03-03 13.47.11

more arty shots; the rucksack photo-bombed this one

2015-03-03 13.47.35

more, erm snow and erm mountains

2015-03-03 15.36.43

we few, we happy few, we band of wallies…


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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59 Responses to A case of mistaken identity

  1. Sacha Black says:

    14 chins! Lol.

    Good question. I’m not sure I know. But, and I loathe to say it…. But what about stereotypes? I mean you could get into all kinds of dangerous ‘non equality’ based territory here. But on the surface some stereotypes whilst used to joke have a bit of truth to them… The only one that springs to mind at the minute tho is a stuff upper lip.

    And yeah, that isn’t answering your deeply philosophical questions here but it is making a light hearted attempt at answering the impossible 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Vincent says:

    I am glad you managed to put Yorkshire first in that list, being God’s Own County, and all…
    Seriously though, there are no boundaries where the earth is concerned. It continues beneath our seas and rivers. The mountains that divide are part of it. Yet we narrow the world to one little spot and call it ours.
    I think there is a case for some kind of special relationship with a place, where the roots of the heart are deep in the land.. and the soul sings. Yorkshire… just for example. I have often wondered if there is some kind of geological resonance that occurs when we walk the land of our heart’s home.
    But as to the rest, is it fear that makes us cling to a smaller identity?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Fear may be part and yes there is a resonance but I think it has as much to do with familiarity of things like shopping and the doctors, lamp posts and the way we like our milk to taste as it does an attachment to the land. We share a lot of little cultural links when we are embedded in one place long enough that they become part of our own psychological comfort blanket that we link it back to place. But I wonder if you replicated enough of those things but put yourself in say Canada whether the resonance would remain? Just another thought experiment that may make little sense when I wake up tomorrow! Thank you for taking the time to comment


  3. willowdot21 says:

    OMG Fancy making that mistake!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. julitownsend says:

    This is a subject close to my heart. I was born in Australia, grew up there, raised my children there, and I love it. We moved to America for the adventure and a job my husband wanted, and I liked the notion of calling myself a citizen of the world, but I was dreaming. The culture, attitudes and values in America were very different to mine, and I was delighted when we moved to Scotland five and a half years later. Scotland felt far more like home (let’s not bring the weather into this discussion!) I was happy for the five years we lived there, but there was no denying Australia’s pull. On one visit home, I realised that I felt at home when I was in my house in America, and when I was in my Scottish home, but when I was in Australia, I felt at home everywhere – the shops, the beach, the bush, the cities.
    I’m reminded of John Lennon’s words –
    “Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for”
    Perhaps this was behind my idealistic desire to call myself a citizen of the world, but in reality I am Australian through and through. I feel my soul is somehow linked to this land
    Your images are stunning. I love snow, and snowy mountains, something Australia has a limited supply of. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment. It echoes a lot of what Sue Vincent has said about her beloved Yorkshire. . Lennon remains fundementally right though I doubt our attachment to nation states will disappear in several lifetimes. I do think it will fracture though. Scotland may not be independent yet but it will be. Ditto other parts of Europe and around the world. As for being tied to place I am an unreconstructed Londoner more than a Brit but I know if enough if what has me love London could be moved to say Melbourne I’d be happy there (without the ridiculous heat in summer mind !) I think I believe it’s other things that make us comfortable not the soil and topography itself. But I maybe be wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. lucciagray says:

    Thought – provoking post, Geoff. I think the Internet is changing how we relate to each other. It’s another world or nation in a way. Nationality is mostly a political issue, and as such is subject to manipulation. Religion, also creates groups which surpass nationality, as does a common language… Nationality is as ‘makebelieve’ as the north and south because it depends on where you are and which way you’re looking! I’m not too keen on rocking the boat, ‘though. Chaos is a frightening place…

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hey! That fourth photo looks like my front yard.

    Glad you are having yet another wonderful holiday! Looks gorgeous. This post is so interesting. I don’t claim to understand the irritation or upset but I’ve witnessed it. You have so many “areas”, for lack of a better word, in the UK. I remember being there and people were indignant at being called British or English if they were in Wales or even Northern England. Or is it the UK? “Why is this need to identify with a place so important?” That’s something to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Autism Mom says:

    What a complex topic you have tackled! The natural human inclination to association that can be examined at the micro level going into cities, villages, schools, businesses, streets, even homes, and then out again to the macro level as you have done, including stereotypes as another commenter pointed out.

    This topic surely requires many discussions over coffee, tea, wine, warm beer … 🙂

    I have been gently drilling my son on the governmental and cultural uniquenesses of the United Kingdom in anticipation of our visit this summer. He has found it interesting (thank you “Doctor Who”!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I’d love to hear more about your visit sometime – if I can offer any suggestions that might be of interest I’d love to (one of my recent great highlights was being a volunteer at the London Olympics and being able to show off the best of my city to the visitors)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Charli Mills says:

    Identity and place have such a pull. I remember growing up, I was in love with Ireland and Scotland for no real reason. My father identified us as being Portuguese as his last name was. But I had no draw to Portugal or its culture at all. Later in life I discovered that while my father had a Portuguese surname passed down from a great-great- grandfather, all the maternal lines were either Irish or Scots. It’s as if my heart knew the DNA of my blood. When I moved to Minnesota from the West, I suffered culture shock. It really was so different — unwritten rules of culture, hot dishes, Scandinavian blood lines, long “ooos” and no talking in line. While Idaho is new to me it is familiar; it is the West where I know the unwritten rules and can laugh in line with strangers. Thank God, we have no hot dishes! Then there is Missoula, the “mecca” of Montana. Because of the student population and high percentage of transplants from California, Missoula is often referred to by born-in-state Montanans as “15 miles from Montana.” Lovely, breath-taking photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Rachel M says:

    Your photos are absolutely magnificent. I feel a bond to landscapes and climates and I feel that bond quite strongly here in the UK. I’m Australian but almost all my ancestors were British and when I first came to Britain as a 20-year-old I instinctively felt like this was home. I prefer the cold climate and also the green, rolling hills.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thank you Rachel. It is interesting, those draws. I spread my childhood between suburbia and the isolation of the New Forest and only really felt I’d found my place when I moved to a city (Bristol) for my degree. I then moved to London and I was ome. I have soot in my veins. Having spent a far number f trips n Sydney (and on other occasions Melbourne) I could live there more readily I think than the deepest countryside – though I’m with you on the heat – I like temperate even if it’s a bit grey and drizzly.


  10. Anabel Marsh says:

    Glad to see Scotland getting a couple of mentions in the comments. We examined these questions in great depth last year during the Referendum campaign – and I’m still not sure of the answers! The Scottish nationalism on display then was generally very open (apart from the usual trolls) and inclusive of everyone who lives here, not ethnicity based. For myself – I’m of Scottish heritage but born in England and lived there until my late twenties. When we moved here I felt English and said once that I might feel Scottish when I’d lived here half my life. Right on cue, a couple of years ago I found myself cheering on Scotland in the Calcutta Cup! It’s complicated…..

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thank you for your lovely insightful comment. Not sure I can forgive you about the Calcutta Cup but… I must say I thought the referendum the most splendid thing in terms of engagement and especially the turn out. And I was so excited to see 16 year olds vigorously participating. I always trust the young to have sense and this showed it in spadefuls. I’m glad you stayed with the Union mind; it will make this years general election the most interesting in my lifetime.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Anabel Marsh says:

        It just shows if people have something they care about, one way or another, they will engage and turn out to vote. So-called apathy is often a “none of the above” reaction. I agree about the election: I am definitely sitting up through the night for this one.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        I heard the civil service in Westminster is running dozen of scenarios for coalitions or confidence and supply arrangements given the possible mix of parties (we already have 13 distinct parties which I didn’t realise) So what’s the money on Milliband for PM supported by Nicola Spurgeon, George Galloway and Gerry Adams?


      • Anabel Marsh says:

        I like one of those…..

        Liked by 1 person

  11. When ever asked, I always refer to myself as British. Born and bred in Wales, I do love that part of the world but, for the last 35 years, I have chosen to live to different parts of England.

    I can never understand why in football and the Commonwealth games we are known as England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, yet in the Olympics we are known as Great Britain, and in The Eurovision Song Contest we are “The United Kingdom”.

    I always remember a comment once made by Andy Murray when asked what nationality he was when referred to by the British Press

    “British when I win and Scottish when I lose.”

    Liked by 1 person

  12. lorilschafer says:

    Speaking as an American, I suspect that those regional distinctions are more important over there than they are here, and I have a feeling it has to do with how Europe and the UK were originally populated way back when. All those separate tribes running around – there’s a long history of emphasizing difference rather than similarity. In fact, now that I think about it, I’d probably argue that the pre-European U.S. was essentially the same – the Native Americans never thought of themselves as one people, but as many separate tribes (which, of course, they were). Had they been able to see themselves as a part of the same group, perhaps U.S. history would have been markedly different. In any case, I think we tend to make our distinctions less on place except when there’s a very good reason to do so – for example, you give a very different impression if you say you’re from “Los Angeles” as opposed to “Beverly Hills” or “Reseda.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Funny; my impression has been that loyalty to State is very important – all those number plates with Sunshine state and Big Sky Country on them?, And surely somewhere like Texas is a region where it matters if you come from there? Louisiana too. Just my sense that’s all. Maybe it’s easier to change that loyalty to place? Luccia makes a point about having a separate language makes it more likely there’s a loyalty to where it is spoken so in the US maybe the dominance of English (to date – the Spanish are coming!) Or have I been watching too much US TV?

      Liked by 1 person

      • lorilschafer says:

        Well, I could be wrong – it’s just my impression. Most people I think have some sort of pride in the state they’re from – but they do very often end up in another, so maybe you’re right and it’s a matter of mobility. The real loyalties, however, I think are tied to sports teams, which sometimes relate to a person’s native state and sometimes don’t. I doubt you’d offend anyone by confusing Vermont with New Hampshire, but heaven help you if you wear Rangers gear in New Jersey!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Or the blue of Everton near Liverpool’s Anfield football (soccer) ground. Yes it’s tricky that one. Hope the shoulder is better, talking sports.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. lorilschafer says:

    And you look like you’re having a great time, by the way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sherri says:

    Lovely photos Geoff 🙂 My brother and family are heading out to Austria at the end of the month for their annual skiing holiday. Lech I think? Very interesting subject for me this since my children have a British Mum and American Dad of Spanish, Greek and French extraction. Little mutts my kids are. My paternal Nana was Irish but I’ve never been to Ireland believe it or not and although would love to visit, I don’t feel a pull to it. But I always did to America, especially California, from a very young age. People still ask me if my kids sound American but I don’t know as they sound as they always have to me! My boys identify more with life here, despite growing up in America. I was convinced they would move back but they haven’t. So far. My daughter was desperate to go back for a long time, even though she was the youngest at 10 when we moved back here, but she seems not as keen now. It’s funny the number of people in the States who used to tell me they were ‘Irish’ because of a very distant relative, several generations removed, but I never called myself Irish or think of myself as Irish, even now. I just never identified with it, never even occurred to me…

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      everyone has a differnet experience and those who feel the call of a place feel it very strongly but my sense is here must be some other reason for that – memories of what occurred or what they wish for, even subliminally. If I feel tied to anywhere it’s London but that’s odd because there are so many different bits that I can’t and don’t feel tied to tem all and yet I don’t feel tied to the little bit where I live.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. rgemom says:

    Incredibly beautiful scenery!

    As for the rest, some days I feel the world is growing smaller, lines blur. Other days, it seems immense. And lately being American isn’t as popular as it used to be. Although I am a proud Californian, stereotypes and all (no, not blond and I cannot surf to save my life).

    Liked by 1 person

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