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Columnists > Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis

What’s Your National Identity?

  Posted Saturday February 27, 2016 (20:56:29)   (1661 Reads)
I’m reading a rather interesting book at the moment about Brits in America. Called “Accent on Privilege; English Identities and Anglophilia in the U.S.” by Katherine W. Jones, it talks about the privileges white (usually) Brits experience in the USA, often on account of the Anglophilia here. Throughout the book the author interviews a handful of expat Brits and a number of very interesting questions arise. One that particularly caught my attention was whether or not you can have more than one national identity, or, whether you can identify with more than one country? (Which raises another question - is that one and the same thing?)

Like many Brits abroad, I strongly identify as British (or English, really) and would feel a bit of a fake calling myself American, even though I’ve been here since 1990 and a citizen since 2002.Ok, confession - in the many online political “discussions” I find myself unable to resist, those wishing to negate my points often tell me I’m not American and can’t possibly understand. My response is usually “Well, actually.................”. So I suppose I’m American when it suits me, although I still do a terrible American accent and find myself learning a new word, phrase or custom on a monthly basis.

When I first arrived in the US I admit I was probably guilty of that misplaced superiority many Brits have. I understood that the spelling was often a throwback to our old English spelling, but some of the phrases? Really? “I could care less” - okay, another confession, that one still really grates, but others such as “peaks and valleys” instead of “”peaks and troughs”, I live with and try to remember to say. Like they say, it’s not wrong, just different. Same as how they hold their forks and act as if knives don’t exist. It’s not harming anyone.

What I do find now, is that I take pains to defend Americans or the US if I feel they are being wrongly criticized by my fellow Brits, explaining the reasons behind a “stupid” word or phrase, for example. By the way, here’s an excellent example from the Lost in the Pond blog of why “aluminum” isn’t as stupid as Brits make it out to be. When I’m with Americans in the UK I often find myself gravitating towards them to talk about something that’s happening here, or something weird that’s going on in the UK. Am I doing what Brits do in the US, flocking together for a taste of home? Am I identifying with Americans on my “home” turf? Good lord!

When Brits in the UK pick up on a word or phrase I use and point out how American it is, I no longer bristle at the possibility that I’ve gone over to the dark side, or that I’m becoming less British. I’ve been here almost as long as I was in the UK, and although I don’t have an American accent, it would be weird if I hadn’t picked up something. And yet, some Brits cling to their Britishness as if it’s a lifeline. I have heard Brits who’ve been here decades insist they’ll never stop saying British words like “fortnight” as if to do so would somehow be a slight to Her Majesty. No one’s making you choose one over the other. Like many parents discover, loving a second and third child, doesn’t mean you love your firstborn any less.

So yes, I think you can definitely identify with more than one country, and, to a certain extent, you can have more than one national identity. How say you, expats?

Toni Hargis
Toni Summers Hargis is the author of The Stress-Free Guide to Studying In the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students (Summertime). She is also the author of 'Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom' (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.
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