This year I have actually gotten far more attached to Rugby, the sport, not the place, and watched the games with far more passion than I expected. There were a few issues with this though, the big one being that I don’t really know the rules. The other issue is my loyalty. The 6 Nations is made up of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, France and Italy and to be honest I have strong connections (family, marriage and friends) to 4 of those 6 countries. If I had to I’d probably cut that down to 3 main ones:
I was born in England to (mainly) English parents.
I married a boy who culturally considers himself Welsh and whose entire family is Welsh (accent, location, culture, language, the whole shebang).
I am part of a family which has always had strong connections to our Scottish heritage and have felt much closer to that side of my connections after spending 5 years living there.
I have had some unfortunate and upsetting experiences with all of these geographic/cultural sections of my life though, which makes me doubt my loyalty and belonging to any one of them.
Firstly, I have never felt “English” or even really “British”. I cringe at the politics, the smugness, the dictator-kingly-oppressive history that England has been involved in over the centuries, and the attitude that many people treat those from other cultures and places. I’m not even sure I’ve got a description for what “English” is as we’ve tended to grasp bits from lots of other places and cultures; we’re a mish-mash of all sorts with a stereotype of being posh and arrogant. Can you blame me for at least feeling the need to shun this label?
Secondly, I have a huge amount of respect for the Welsh and I love getting to know more about this part of my husband’s life. However, the jibes about the English haven’t made me feel welcome. They are not necessarily aimed at me, but like a lot of places, people have an anti-English humour that hurts quite a lot. When told that people would often support “any team but England” when watching the 6 Nations I felt horrible. It was like the only time I had felt “English” was because I was an outcast. This echo of anti-English culture isn’t attractive and it’s something I’ve always wanted to avoid. My husband has apologised when he has said stuff like this, but I feel something like guilt for even complaining.. as if I deserve to be insulted for being English.
Thirdly, I have never felt comfortable calling myself Scottish, particularly when in Scotland because part of didn’t feel I had the right to. It didn’t help that within a week of being in Scotland I had people yelling at me “English go home!” across the street. I love the culture, and beauty, in Scotland, but again there seems to be a strong anti-English thread running through humour particularly. One event I was helping to run was face-painting before students watched a game of football between England and South Africa. There were very few English flags that night, and one guy got beaten up for wearing an English shirt.
So do I belong anywhere now? Can I adopt the claims of family and just put up with the jibes about the country of my birth? Does this negative string within culture have to be tolerated or is it OK to call it out as unacceptable? For now I may have to simply support 1/2 of the 6 Nations teams, and figure it out. I am also creating art highly influenced by Welsh and Scottish culture, so hopefully I can find a place within this mess of geography. I don’t know if I have an answer to this, but I wanted to put my experience out there, not to pull down anyone, but to suggest that I don’t deserve to be labelled harshly for a country in which I was born, for a history I have not been part of, and politics I rarely agree with.
What has been your experience? I would love to hear your comments and how we might move forwards, rather than continue to dwell on the past.