Saturday, 23 August 2008

Do you become more of an expat the longer you are away from home?

I don't think of myself as particularly nationalistic and I'm not fond of thinking of myself as an expat either (it sort of conjurs up colonial images of people talking about "blighty"). Then every four years the olympics comes around - or France plays England in the rugby ... and I don't even watch French coverage. Le Monde keeps me up to date on the latest pointless ruminations about Laure Manaudou but basically in the age of digital and satelite communication I've become more anglophone and British in what I watch and listen to. So I have to face up to the basic fact that I'm just a Brit abroad. I have become something I rather despised - soon I'll start reading stuff about off-shore bank accounts.
But amidst all this recognition of my petty nationalism I also recently realised that I was very equivocal about returning to the country I watch on TV and listen to on the radio. I'm not sure I would cope if I didn't have the oportunity to speak French and German on a daily basis. No one would need me to interpret for them at the chemists as regularly happens here.
Perhaps now I've been away from "home" quite a long time the pull gets stronger. Perhaps as one gets older - and this is certainly happening! - then the cultural references and roots put down in childhood and youth come out more strongly and I yearn for a home that of course no longer exists. As Christa Wolf says - the past is another country. Meanwhile my younger brother is celebrating 20 years of living in France by making trifle and scones for a picnic in the park in Paris with friends this weekend!
I am sneakingly pleased that the UK is ahead of France in the Olympic medal tables (I think this may be the first time that has happened in the 17 years I've lived here!). But I like it when France wins the football because then we can have an all night noisy street party - but Zinedine Zidane wrecked that last time around.