Wednesday, August 15, 2012
straddling two nations as a hybrid
My French friend, who has lived in London for around seven years, once said to me "I am not really French anymore. I'm no more English than I am French; I'm neither."
This is something I always remember, especially as I go through the fluxes and changes of being an Inbetweener. It waxes and wanes, and I suppose more changes are afoot as I become more and more integrated into British life over the years.
I have very recently been tasked with managing some South African work again, and in some ways this has made me realise more than ever how personally detached I have become from my home country.
I am much more attune to and familiar with how things work here now, and taking on the new South Africa work has had a surprisingly rather personal affect on me.
It feels like I'm going back to the past a bit, not a bad past, but a past nevertheless. More likely, I think it's made me realise that I am sitting on the same fence that my French friend is. And maybe this is a common effect of immigration over time.
You kind of feel like you've moved on and can't go back - you've been tainted by your new country. You've been thrown into a whole new life, a new hemisphere, you're forced to embrace it. You adapt with vigour - just to survive. The more you embrace your new country, the further away you get from your old one. And therein lies the limbo - the push and pull only an immigrant can really feel.
There are phases where I still find the UK to be foreign and for lack of a more creative phrase, fucked up.
It's not the gargantuan amounts of tea these people drink, or the accents. In fact I don't hear the British accent anymore. The British accent is a normal one, unless it's one from up north.
It's when I hear the South African accent on the street I sit up - it's really really...South African. The vowels are all flatter than London after the Olympic torch has been snuffed out, and it can sound pretty vulgar, in varying degrees, if we're honest. My accent must sound similarly grating to Brits.
It's not how cosmopolitan this place is, or how open minded it is. Or how you can be anyone or anything in this place and no one bats an eyelid. It's not how endearingly eccentric these people are or how dry their humour is. These are the reasons I love living here and don't want to go back.
I still find pieces of Britain completely baffling and foreign - the optimism and ridiculousness around shorts-wearing when it's 15 degrees and raining outside. How no one stands up to a chavvy little twat when he deliberately bumps into an old lady while she climbs aboard a train. How health & safety takes precedent over logic. Or how the cops will fight to retrieve your stolen iPhone eight months later. (True story).
How people are afraid to speak up in case the ten year old wearing the Adidas tracksuit pulls out a knife. How people drink milky tea with their fish and chips. How PC everyone is. ("Look at that coloured house!" What did you just say? (look of utter horror.) How grey it is here. How crowded. How I should probably call myself a "foreign national" not an "immigrant."
In the same light, there are pieces of South Africa I now find foreign and scary. From the obvious: Reverse racism, no accountability for crime, two days of snow in Johannesburg (WTF?), to the less obvious: how provincial the place seems, how cut-off it is from the rest of the first world, how small-minded some of the people I once knew are....how you have to have had settled down by 28, be married by 29 and have a kid by 30 to be considered socially normal.
(In Joburg terms, I'm a complete freak show. Maybe I'm just a freak show. Whatever.)
How having an A Grade car in South Africa - whether you live in a townhouse or a shack - is the be all and end all to everything. It is completely at odds with the rest of the world and its priorities.
It's how so many men wear [fucking] chinos.
And as my Brit picked up quite early on, how many [white, middle class] South African men seem to have a bit of an old-fashioned concept of what men should be. The meat-turners, the bread winners. Where men are men. And don't admit to wearing face cream.
So without completely dragging both countries through the hedge, what I'm trying to say, really, is that I don't feel more South African than I am British. I feel like a bit of a hybrid, sitting somewhere in the middle, but continually being pulled closer and closer towards joining Team GB.
Most South African here are fiercely South African. They bitch about the weather, fly home every six months and don't plan to stay here forever. My circumstances are different. I am here indefinitely. I don't really want to return to South Africa in the longterm. My home is in England, alongside my Brit.
I'll always follow the smell of biltong though. Some things won't change.