On a lack of cultural connection

Elizabeth Jacyshyn-Owen

What’s the protocol when, despite the best efforts of the person in question, they fail to find any connection to the culture in which they were raised?

Living in an overwhelmingly internationalised city such as Berlin, I’m lucky enough to have stumbled across people from all corners of the globe – some of whom are deeply proud of their homeland, and very vocal in their appreciation of it. I’ve always admired how connected they are to their culture, and how they actively try to preserve it, despite (in some cases) living thousands of miles away from their original homes and family circles.

Unless you’ve taken it upon yourself to revive the hermit lifestyle – in which case, I applaud and envy you – you may well have felt despair at the increasingly inane populist drivel swamping the airwaves and being forced down our throats. Whilst perhaps erring on the side of contrived, as I’m from a thoroughly mixed nationality background, I’ve never found myself in a position of unbridled patriotism – nor have I ever felt intrinsically “British”, so to speak. To call myself British seems fraudulent, because although I have a – fairly battered – maroon passport, from my perspective, it seems to be a bit of a scam, or a lie by omission.

I find the concept of Britishness leaves something of a sour taste in my mouth. Naturally, this is largely due to a long and shameful history of imperialism and colonialism, but the scurrility and smuttiness of the nationalist flag-waving revival brings on an uncontrollable desire to bathe every time it crosses my mind. How can I possibly hold any kind of penchant for a country so hell bent on its own petty self-destruction for the sake of avoiding mild embarrassment? What am I supposed to say to those who voted in favour of removing my freedom of movement, attempting to recruit me to join the armies of youth subject to the obscenely inflated cost of rent, questionable work/life balance and less than stellar job prospects? There would be no possibility whatsoever of holding onto my current quality of life were I to return to the UK.

It wouldn’t come as much of a surprise for those reading this to arrive at the conclusion that it’s the socioeconomic and/or political landscape causing me to slowly withdraw from the country of my birth (they’re certainly contributing factors, but not the underlying reason I can’t quite put my finger on). This deficiency of cultural identity has most likely been exacerbated since June 2016 due to the fact that the values my home country projects to the rest of the world do not align with my own. The parasitic ideologies of exclusion, separatism and self-importance lie act as something of a cancer to British society, inflating egos and massaging the feet of those who are scared and those who are pompous and ignorant.

Perhaps I’m just excessively navel gazing, or my distinct lack of national connection is affected by faulty wiring. A spelling mistake in a cell, for example. Of course, I fully recognise my appallingly blatant privilege I’ve so far neglected commentary of – this is very much a first-world problem. I’ve been wildly fortunate that I’ve been able to move abroad and immerse myself in a foreign culture, with minimal impact to my financial holdings and extended family life; a large percentage of those who relocate to another country do not have this luxury.

So how should a person go about solving this dilemma? Can it even be considered an issue, in its most intrinsic form, or is it simply ridiculous to even be concerning oneself with such matters?

Although this may be considered something of a selfish response, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I shouldn’t feel guilty for holding an increasingly diluted sense of cultural connection. It would be absurd to say that at some point, I would fail to have even the smallest soft spot for the UK – it’s where I was born and spent the vast majority of my life thus far. But it would be even more bizarre to suggest that a person is incapable of feeling more at home, so to speak, in a new place. I’ll always carry an innate sense of Britishness with me – namely excessive apologising and an exaggerated sense of politeness – but cannot ignore the gravitational pull of unexplored territory (do please excuse the half-accidental pun). At least for the time being, I find myself far more present within the central-European conscience, and understand the moral code, philosophy and ideals of this country far more than I comprehend those of my homeland. Society makes a lot more sense here (although the Stratfordian in me still shakes her head in exasperation and mutters “unbelievable!” when people fail to thank me for holding the door open for them).

What I’m trying to articulate, albeit in a lumpy and sporadic way, is that we should not be afraid to embrace change – nor should we feel guilt at the notion of neglecting our national duty of inherent pride and eternal adoration for our country. It’s a ludicrous concept. A person should be able to recognise the flaws and benefits of their homeland, without feeling sheepish at their perceived abandonment. It can only a good thing to explore and scrutinize an adopted home from a neutral perspective – without which, even the slightest notion of cultural growth and maturity can so easily be disposed of.

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Elizabeth is a freelance writer currently living in Berlin. She drinks too much coffee and is a contributing correspondent for UK-based music and arts magazine Dash Majesty.

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