On being English

I was walking along the street last night, pondering whether I’ll live the rest of my life in Spain. It’s certainly possible (not least as none of us knows how long our life will be) but it doesn’t yet feel probable. 

I guess it was inevitable that a trip back to England would raise some questions in my mind, and inevitable also that other people would start to ask questions of me. But I don’t feel ready to answer them yet.

It was strange to land back at Stansted, stranger to sit on the bus and watch the familiar scenery go by, to be in that place and yet not feel myself to be of that place in the same way that perhaps I previously did. When I used to travel down to Essex from Yorkshire, or across from Dorset, in a sense it always felt like coming home. This time it was different. Maybe it’s just a question of time. I’ve now lived more than half of my life elsewhere, after all. But maybe there’s something more to it than that, a sense of connection with my new life in Spain that made being in England – and not just in Essex – feel different.

And yet, once I’d spent the two weeks there, travelled round and seen most of my family and many of my friends, I did start to feel more comfortable, more relaxed, more at ease with being back in England.

But I also sensed something that previously might have passed me by. It seemed rather strange to me that even I, living in Spain – or perhaps because I live in Spain – have a sense of impending doom about the threat of a no-deal Brexit hanging over the country, yet which the people who live there appear to be ignoring. They barely speak about it and when they do, it’s all stiff upper lip. Things will be all right. There’s nothing we can do but wait and see. And it makes me want to scream with frustration. If such a calamity were about to befall another country, we would look on in horror, and yet when it is at our doorstep we seem blind to it. Or maybe it’s because it’s of our own making, one way or another. We can’t admit what a disaster it will be because to do so would be to admit our own failings.

And there you go. Or rather, there I go, including myself in those statements. And so, although my life now feels like it is here in Spain, in the very centre of my being, I feel like I will always belong to England, whether I want to or not. And as I admitted to my friend yesterday, whilst I love being here, somehow things just feel easier at home in the UK. I know how things work. I know how to fit in. I understand the culture, even when it makes me want to scream with frustration. And yet even that is only true to an extent – moving to a different part of England can be almost as much of a culture shock as moving to another country. Almost, but not quite.

Maybe with time, I will learn to feel more Spanish. Maybe with time I will get to know how things work here and life will start to flow more easily. I certainly still love being here. But so far, I have felt like I’ve been playing at living here. I’ve studied for a qualification. I’ve worked a little but not enough to live on. I’ve lived in a shared flat, but not really made a home. And I’ve made friends but not really fitted into the local community.

And it was all this that was going through my head as I walked to the supermarket last night, when I was stopped by a man.

‘Perdona,’ he said. ‘¿De dónde eres?’

‘¿De dónde soy?’ I checked. Why did he want to know where I was from?

‘Sí.’

‘De Inglaterra,’ I said without hesitation.

‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Well, I just wanted to tell you you have a beautiful face.’

And so, in one short exchange, I reaffirmed my Englishness, and yet experienced one of the joys of living in Spain.

I can’t imagine that ever happening in Bridport.

2 thoughts on “On being English

  1. I totally concur with everything that you said about the juggle between being one person in one place and living like another person, in Spain or elsewhere. Our surroundings have a big impact on us. Welcome back to Spain. It was the shift you needed, the rest will follow.

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    1. Yes, it’s strange, Wendy. When I lived in the UK and came here on holiday, I said that I felt like I belonged here and in a way, I still do. I guess my heart is in Spain but my experience (not to mention my friends and family) is mostly in the UK. Perhaps with time things will become a bit more ‘joined up’ – it’s very weird and hard to explain but it’s good that you can relate!

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