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.
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..