The English, if you weren’t aware, are suffering an ongoing identity crisis. The English come from England which is a significant part of *Great Britain, a small island and a bit of another island that nobody pays attention to somewhere in the North Atlantic, and while the Scots and Welsh seem perfectly comfortable in their own skins, the English continue to fight amongst themselves about what it means to be English. And the United Kingdom (another name for Great Britain) is not just coming under fire from big players like Vladimir Putin (his official spokesman technically) who forwent the inconveniences of diplomatic protocol recently in order to mock the former punchy sovereign island’s significance on today’s world stage, but also from venerated expatriates like Vinnie Jones, who was a big player himself once – especially when he had a hold of your balls. You’re with me so far?
Last week Vinnie said England was “past its sell-by-date” because they’ve let too many foreigners in. “It’s a European country now,” stated Vinnie, unencumbered by the fact it has been since the Renaissance. He went on…
“If someone blindfolded you and put you on a plane in LA, and you landed at Heathrow and they took it off, you wouldn’t have a clue where you were.”
Well you would, Vinnie. The penny would hopefully drop even before you saw the ‘Welcome to Heathrow’ sign or the one for the Heathrow Express or the London Underground or the pilot telling you you’re at Heathrow. Anyway, while the iron was still hot, and stupid white men who’d watched too much Trumpton when they were younger were still in the news, the EDL decided to march on the east end at the weekend in order to stir up all sorts of bad feeling among locals in the Tower Hamlets borough, where a large Muslim population peacefully reside. I would say from experience that the area is largely peaceful – I used to live there for years – and there’s only usually a hullabaloo when flabby skinheads from Watford turn up waving accusatory fists shouting about an England that never existed in the first place.
I’ll tell you this now, I’m a terrible immigrant. It’s one of the major beefs with racists isn’t it, that immigrants don’t assimilate properly; they don’t drink Spitfire and eat crumpets like we do. When I first arrived in Paris I was full of good intentions, to learn the language quickly and hang out with French people and get a job and do French things. I’ve been here nearly six months and I’m certainly not fluent in the language yet, I hang out almost entirely with my girlfriend who’s English (sorry about that, I like her a lot), I shop at Marks and Spencer frequently and I sit and I write for English publications in English to get by (having had no luck finding a job, mainly due to the fact my French is merde). It’s certainly a vicious circle, and I would say from personal experience that assimilation – whatever that requires – is incredibly difficult. It’s preposterous anyway. Should I start eating bouillabaisse for breakfast, only answer to Jérôme and not clear up after my dog just to fit in?
The call for assimilation is a prescriptive decree to conform, usually by people who don’t trust other human beings to make their own decisions and get on with their own lives. They’re always looking over the fence. If you have to worship a god then make sure it’s our god and not some weird god we don’t know anything about, and you’ll have to dress like us too otherwise we’ll kick your fucking head in. It’s important to note that nobody I’ve met thus far has demanded I put a beret on and start spouting Sartre because my being different is in no way threatening to the French way of life and whatever it is that stands for. The French are very secure in their Frenchness.
So what is Englishness? It’s a divisive question. Without noblesse oblige and us telling the rest of the world how to behave, it’s as if the defining characteristic of a once proud imperialist nation has been wrenched away. What does a plucky little island punching above its weight do when its no longer punching above its weight? And what does the government do with itself when the people no longer have a taste or a desire for war? Is the struggle now an internal one now there’s nobody to bully? The question we should be asking ourselves is this: what’s more important, how a nation defines itself or how other nations define it? Brits, for instance, think Americans love them unconditionally, though this is a fallacy. Brits in the US are two a penny and Americans don’t love their accent anywhere near as much as they love their spending money, unless they happen to be Hugh Grant.
English people who are distraught that they don’t recognise the England they think they grew up in should console themselves in the fact that to the rest of the world we haven’t changed in a long time. We’re still the same pushy, drunk, warmongering, sexual deviants with bad teeth who are prone to say “sorry” in any given situation that we always were, and that’s an image we can all surely be proud of.Follow @jeres
*Lots of people have been complaining that I’ve got this wrong and NI is part of the UK but not GB and GB doesn’t include all the islands around it either… so there you have it