Before I launch into tales of my new adventures in other lands, I’d like to take a moment to consider the country of my birth.
As I plan to end the longest stint of living in Great Britain in my adult life (over seven years) it is tempting to justify my departure by rattling off a list of things that drove me to end my residency. The English liberal middle classes are as riddled with national self-loathing (perhaps a legacy of colonialism) and joining in with Britain-bashing is an easy trap to fall into. Considering my determination for writing positive things about other places I have lived in or visited – Iraq and Pakistan for example – it feels only right to resist being drawn into a wholly negative take.
1. I love how we worship the sun. It only has to briefly show its face and office workers crowd to patches of pleasant green during lunchbreaks and roll up sleeves and trousers to soak in Vitamin D. I love how in the summer the sun shines long into the evening and the fact that we buy more convertible cars than the French, Spanish and Italians.
2. I love how we love gardening. I love how we mark out our territory neatly with walls and fences and how even the bleakest of council estates will have a row of bungalows with perfectly planted pansies. Allotments thrill me.
3. I love sitting on the tube and being surrounded by people of all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, nationalities, ages, attitudes. I love how despite the diversity everyone manages to avoid eye contact.
4. I love my personal space in Britain. People don’t queue too close and mostly avoid the continental cheek peck and needless hugs. We need to maintain our large personal space and save the hugs for when we mean it.
5. I love how when we have really enjoyed something, we say it was “Quite good”. We need to cling on to the under-stated and save the awesome for the truly awesome.
7. I love how although we still have a class system, the middle classes now shop at Aldi and overall economic hardship is being shared beyond the working classes.
9. I love that we have emergency ambulances. And free health care to those that need it. Many countries have neither.
NEVER IN IT TO WIN IT
10. Finally, I love the English ability to lose graciously. Losing is our default starting point – but we still enjoy a good match.
And with the later in mind, I am well aware that perhaps I haven’t chosen the best professions to succeed at in Britain: the civil service, teaching, publishing and being an artist. Perhaps I didn’t put myself in the best place to make Britain work for me over the past seven years. But I still think Britain is great. Not because it hosted the Olympics, or has a Queen, or any reasons associated with recent attempts to turn our national flag into a commodity. For me, it’s the cultural nuances that will help me be gently, quietly comfortable in my English skin as I once again embark on an overseas existence.