Sometimes I like to think that I have no tie whatsoever to any nationality. I grew up in a country which actively dislikes its neighbour, which is pretty normal, and happens all over the world. At the time however, I actively disliked the country I grew up in (precisely because it didn’t like its neighbour), so I felt rather excluded from the whole “us” against “them” thing. I didn’t like “us” because we didn’t like “them”, and I didn’t really like “them” much either, except in the sense that they weren’t “us”.
Even when it came to sport (which is supposed to make these matters clear), I couldn’t really decide. Sometimes I was a passionate supporter of “us”, sometimes I supported “them”, it just depended on what sport was being played (although I never changed my allegiance within a specific sport). To add confusion to matters, there were even some sports in which both “us” and “them” competed together for the same team; “them and us”, as it were – or to be more precise, “them and us and those two other ones”. In fact, when it came to cricket, it was even more confusing: “our” players and “their” players played together in the same team, but the team was still called “them”, for some reason.
Anyway, eventually I left home and moved over “there”. I’d been looking forward to this for some time – finally, I thought, I could be free of my country’s ridiculous sense of itself. But within hours of arriving “there”, and realising that I was one of two Daves in my new shared flat, I gained a nickname: I was now “Dave from over there”, and the other Dave became “Dave from that other place” (neither of us were Dave from “here”). In the space of hours I had gone from being “Dave from here who would prefer to be from there” to being “Dave from there who would prefer to be from here”. (Incidentally, the other Dave was quite happy with his new nickname – since he was proud to be from that other place.)
Over the years I got used to being from “there” and not “here”. And when I moved to the capital city of “here”, I was surrounded by people who weren’t from “here” either. They weren’t all called Dave obviously, but if they had been, then they might have been called things like “Dave from there”, “Dave from near there”, “Dave from that other place”, “Dave from right over there”, “Dave from that place next to that other place”, “Dave from that place everyone hates”, “Dave from that place nobody’s heard of”, or, of course, “Dave from here”.
What’s wrong with being just “Dave”, I sometimes think. But life isn’t that simple. You can’t just jettison your past. It’ll always be there, a bit. There’s something inevitable about it, and there’s no point trying to hide it. There was a point in my mid-twenties when I started to realise how much I liked visiting “my” country. It had great things about it, I realised. It still had really awful things about it of course, lots of them – and I never wanted to move back there – but it was nice to be there, occasionally. I had now settled into being “Dave who’s a little bit from there, and sometimes likes it, but more often doesn’t, and is glad he doesn’t live there”. There wasn’t really much I could do about it, in other words.
And then, a year or two ago, I moved again – this time further afield. I now live neither “here” nor “there”, but somewhere completely different. And now for the first time in my life I’ve become “Dave from here and there and those two other places”, and that label, more or less, is what I am now. Except that that “here” is no longer “here” (as in “where I am now”), and so the label doesn’t actually make sense at all.
The point is, I suppose, that it’s impossible to be consistent about where “here” or “there” actually is. It just depends where you’re standing at the time, and how long your memory is.
I hope that’s cleared that up.