What nationality do you say you are when you’re in a foreign country and people ask you where you’re from? Not such a straightforward question for people from the UK – for example, 48% of people living in England describe themselves as British versus 27% in Scotland and 35% in Wales. In the UK 50% of people regard themselves as as either English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish only, just less than a third as British only, and the remainder giving different combinations of British and other nationalities. (And this all disregards the tricky questions of ethnicity and religion)
Personally I’d say I would fall in this last category, I’m British-English. When in Britain I’m English. As I move further away I become less English and more British. I probably become more European the further I move away from Europe too. That’s understandable isn’t it? – as the spatial distance increases the spatial resolution of your answer increases. If pressed you can become more precise.
But why the two, British AND English? Well, I feel British, my culture and history are British, and I can move freely around these isles and feel at home. But I still recognise there are differences between the countries, culturally and socially. But also, I think (for me at least) sport is important. Sport is important to me in its own right but I think it also reflects quite well one of the reasons I would distinguish my Englishness from my Britishness. There are great rivalries between the Football and Rugby teams of England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland. Sport generates pride in your team, and when your team represents your ‘nation’ you have pride in that place. The Six Nations is a fantastic tournament and a prime example of this. When England are in the World Cup, England goes crazy. Whilst I’ve never been there during a World Cup I’m sure the fervour is less ardent in Scotland when England are competing but Scotland aren’t… At the Olympics we compete as Great Britain (that’s OK none of us would get very far individually!?) but we don’t enter a GB Soccer team. The individual Football Associations are worried that their status as footballing nations would be weakened if a GB team were ever fielded. It looks like there’s going to be a GB team for the 2012 Olympics in London, but I’d doubt many ‘real’ football fans will be too interested.
But what about where I’m from legally? I was filling out a form this week in which there were four boxes regarding the legal status of where I come from (this is what got me thinking about all this). Four boxes:
1. City of Birth:
2. Country of Birth:
3. Country of Citizenship:
4: Country of legal permanent residence:
The first was straightforward (Bristol), as was the second really (England). But the final two were a little more tricky. The immigration cards you get on an aeroplane usually ask for your nationality. But my country of citizenship? Is Britain a country? Isn’t the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” the official name of this country? Can I be UK-ish? And my country of legal permanent residence? England? Britain? UK? I found some help here and filled out the boxes.
So what is my “country of citizenship”? I don’t think I have one. It’s a question that doesn’t work if you’re a British citizen.