Friday, July 16, 2004

It's just a sodding football shirt!

I have just witnessed an English colleague change out of his shirt and tie and into relaxing weekend attire, namely jeans and an England football shirt. The guy is entitled to wear whatever he likes, I have no issue with his choices. I am just interested in the contrast between his choices and mine.

I wouldn’t like to wear an England football shirt. In fact, under normal circumstances, I would feel distinctly uncomfortable in an England football shirt.

I could wear one if I was paid.

I might be able to wear one if England was playing France and I was watching the match.

I could definitely wear one if we beat France and I was going into the office where I would see my cheeky French friends, since I have had to suffer their gloating during the recent Euro2004 championship.

But I would never choose to wear one just to go out and do normal stuff in normal circumstances.

Why? I guess it is about identity.

For me, wearing a shirt like that is the equivalent of saying ‘I am English’. The very act of putting one on in a foreign country seems to reveal a need to state that you are English. Obviously nationality forms an important component of identity for some people, but not for me. ‘I am a human being’ is more how I would state things.

Shouting about my Englishness feels tribal and divisive, threatening and restricting. Being human allows me to put aside prejudices and stereotypes, both about myself and about other people living on different parts of the planet. It allows me greater freedom to choose how I see the world, and what I do in it.

The guy who put on his shirt has only recently arrived in France, and has been submerged in a real cultural blender. This little spot here in Toulouse is a microcosm of Western Europe and that is quite wonderful, but it can also be a bit unsettling. I remember when I left my country for the first time to live somewhere else, I also needed my national identity.

When living abroad we are confronted every day with different ways of doing things and different ways of thinking. We’ve spent so long in our own cultures that our own ways of doing things and thinking have become natural, sunk deep into our subconscious, and have blinded our perception. Do we remember how we learnt to walk?

There’s a moment when you confront a different way of doing things. At that moment we can easily react with either fascination or with dislike according to our levels of tolerance. But the fact is that the person you are watching is acting in accordance with all that is natural to them, all that has shaped their subconscious behaviour. We do exactly the same.

If I had been born into that person’s world I would not now be experiencing any reaction, since their behaviour would not arouse my sleeping subconscious perceptions of normality. I could easily be that person.

For me, since I could easily be that person, it makes saying ‘I am English’ feel like a pointless and irrelevant statement to make. And wearing a shirt saying exactly that feels like injecting myself with a dose of restrictive stereotype. So that’s why I wouldn’t normally wear an England football shirt.

Well... That and the fact that they look crap and they’re a rip off :o)

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