Nationality. Can’t avoid that. Citizen of the world? Hmm. Let’s be honest – hippy dippy shit. European, then? Well, it should handle it, shouldn’t it? Time was, I proudly called myself European. But then we got MEPs falling over themselves in the rush to catch the gravy train, and now it’s Jean-Claude Tax Haven Juncker heading the European Commission. Whatever that is. As an identity, European is about as appealing as a mugshot.
British, then. Well, yeah, why not? I’ve got the passport. And from the above, you might have assumed I’m British to my UKIP core. Um, no. But then I don’t vote Con or Lab either, nor the other ones, the thingummies with yellow rosettes. Fact is, I’ve never voted in Britain in my life.
Because one fine September day in 1986, I was summoned to the Préfecture in Nantes and a bright-eyed, crisply dressed official handed me a certificate and said, ‘Félicitations!. Vous êtes français.’ He shook my hand and I mumbled ‘Merci.’ He looked a bit disappointed I didn’t salute and sing the Marseillaise.
La Liberté Guidant le Peuple
Considering this was the result of a three year wait, during which they conducted a ‘moral investigation’ to see if I was worthy, the moment lacked ceremony. No fanfare. No medal pinned to my chest. The certificate was flimsy, signed not by the President of the Republic but by some obscure pen-pusher who couldn’t give a shit. I walked out, stood on the pavement, looked around. Was the world brighter? A more hopeful place to be? Well, call me a cynical bastard, but no. Becoming French had no more effect on me than blowing my nose.
The deal’s this. When I’m in France, I can’t claim to be British and vice versa. When I’m in Kazakhstan, I can be either. Might sound a boon, but basically it means if I’m taken hostage, I’m fucked. ‘Nothing to do with us. He’s one of yours.’ ‘Mais non! Il est à vous. Sacrebleu!’
So nationality’s a bit of a tangled issue. Complicated by an inescapable fuzziness. British? What’s that?
More in a forthcoming post.