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Where are you from?

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O-R-I-G-I-N

n. The point or place where something begins, arises, or is derived.

I have been thinking about a film I saw last year, Né Quelque Part, about a young French man who goes on a journey to protect his family’s old house in Algeria from being demolished. He says in voice over, “When someone asks where I’m from I say Algeria, but I’ve never even been there.” He goes not only to discover his father’s house, his homeland, his extended family, but also that bit of himself that makes him identify more with Algeria than France.

Affiche Né quelque part

Does this reflex to state one’s parents’ or grandparents’ origins, rather than the country in which one was born and grew up, come from within? A need to honour and remember one’s roots? Or does it come from the pressures of society, a society obsessed with defining people? (Have you seen What Kind of Asian Are You?)

I wonder about the importance of the connection to one’s native land. The connection is never felt as strongly as when it is broken, a sensation I have witnessed as an expat in Paris. Living in self inflicted exile I am grateful that no-one or no situation has forced me to leave Britain and that nothing is preventing me from returning whenever I want.

I certainly feel a pull to my homeland and I am sure it isn’t just to my family but also to the landscape, to the piece of earth I grew up on. And of course I have only realised this after leaving; if travelling and living in another country doesn’t increase your love of a new culture it will surely increase your love of home.

The grass in the pleasant land of Yorkshire is most definitely greener than that in Paris.

Yet I love my life in Paris, I find so much joy in all the city has to offer. And as the time passes I find it harder and harder to assimilate my life and my identity here with that of the ‘Yorkshire me’. At times I feel a stranger in both lands; enraged by the lack of a queuing system when getting on a bus in Paris; confused by walking into a shop in England and the staff not saying ‘Hello’; eating Marmite on toast for breakfast in Paris; turning my nose up at the terrible excuse for a ‘baguette’ in English supermarkets.

Is where you come from simply the origin of birth, the place(s) you grew up, your ancestry? Is it metaphysical, is it all in the mind? And is it important?

L’étranger
Charles Baudelaire – Le Spleen de Paris

– Qui aimes-tu le mieux, homme énigmatique, dis ? ton père, ta mère, ta soeur ou ton frère ?
– Je n’ai ni père, ni mère, ni soeur, ni frère.
– Tes amis ?
– Vous vous servez là d’une parole dont le sens m’est resté jusqu’à ce jour inconnu.
– Ta patrie ?
– J’ignore sous quelle latitude elle est située.
– La beauté ?
– Je l’aimerais volontiers, déesse et immortelle.
– L’or ?
– Je le hais comme vous haïssez Dieu.
– Eh! qu’aimes-tu donc, extraordinaire étranger ?
– J’aime les nuages… les nuages qui passent… là-bas… là-bas… les merveilleux nuages !

One response »

  1. I can certainly relate to that feeling where you discover your true identity when you are the furthest away from it. In your home you take everything for granted and do not really realize those things that make up you, but when you move abroad for example you realize the differences and similarities. This is a feeling I treasure a lot, it makes you feel that you are really living your own life.

    Reply

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