”I´m not British –I´m European!”
It all seems a very long time ago when I read those words in a magazine interview Mick Hucknall gave during the mid-1980`s.
It was a statement that was so out of context for those times, what with Thatcherism and the anti-Europe sentiment which seemed to permeate British politics at the time.
I was fortunate enough to see Simply Red live in Manchester around the same time as Hucknall’s statement and, I like Mick, admitted to becoming a European. It was far more Cosmopolitan and exotic sounding than just being plain old British. I was a European Mancunion and my best mate was Mick Hucknall –even if he was totally unaware of the fact.
It was many years later that I as a young man ventured out into my adopted European homeland to acquaint myself with my fellow Europeans. I admit to being immature and unaware of the complexities that abound in European politics – I was born on an island and as such my view of the world at times scarcely stretches further than the sun bleached sands of Blackpool beach.
So when I finally took the plunge into Europe it wasn`t as I had envisaged it all.
For I became very aware that once I had stepped beyond realms of Britannia, that I was no longer the European , but instead I was back to being British again.
This was painfully obvious by the fact I was monolingual, it never occurred to me that Europeans couldn’t speak English? The vacant looks on those fellow Europeans faces that I encountered whenever I asked “Do you speak English?” made it clear I was at a linguistic disadvantage once I´d stepped off our small island.
As if this was not enough, my broad Manchester accent on occasion would baffle even the most fluent of English speakers. I remember a rather puzzled looking Scandinavian gentleman asking me.
“Do you speak English?”
I answered “yes” but whether or not he understood me I never did find out – he thought I was Norwegian?
The first thing one learns when residing in Europe is Britannia does not rule, and past merits like owning an empire and defeating the Germans in two world wars does not really cut it with anyone. Indeed it can be a major disadvantage, if my experiences are anything to go by.
So the first thing I was encouraged to do was integrate, which is just a fancy word for letting go of the past. What better way to integrate than to learn the language, something so many of us Brits find is the most difficult part of being a European.
I decided early on that I´d go the full hog, ditch English and immerse myself in the language of my adopted homeland.
The results of this crash course in Europisation have, at times been both disastrous and not least comical.
Once I ordered two beers at a pizzeria for myself and my wife, when to my dismay two large Mediterranean shrimp and scampi pizzas arrived at our table. How “two beers please” can translate into “two beers and two scampi /shrimp pizzas please” god only knows, but somehow I had achieved the impossible. As for me being a vegetarian as well, pizza was coming out of my wife’s ears by the time she had finished both hers and mine. Anyway I put it down to experience and since that day I let my wife do the talking instead.
The transition from being English to European can be a chaotic one to say the least, something I wish Mick Hucknall had warned me of in his magazine article.
For once I had acquired the tools to order a beer without an accompanying pizza, making small talk at the dinner table, attempting to come across as an interesting individual with extra-terrestrial origins etc. Once folk had stopped pinching me to see if I was a real person just like them, it was then I began to have my doubts about being a European.
It suddenly struck me like a bolt out of the blue, that no matter how much I pertained to be something and someone else, and assimilate myself into another culture. The fact remains I will always be a product of my upbringing, my roots may have spread overseas but the tree from which the acorn has fallen is still very firmly planted in the land of my origins.
My poor peripheral vision being what it is, I have probably gone full circle a hundred times or more before realising I´d already passed what I was looking for.
And what was I looking for you might ask?
The answer I found was not necessarily the one I was looking for, but in hindsight I now know it`s the only one that fits the bill.
That being when all is said and done, Europe is united by its disunity, it`s uneasy cultural and economic diversities make it the most unlikely conglomerate of nations ever devised. The machinery that is the EU is in all honesty in desperately need of some tweaks, and a little lubrication from the surplus oil glut –if there is such a thing, that is?
In some ways Brexit was no great surprise, the repercussions on the other hand will rattle a few cages I´m sure. But one thing I have learned on my European journey is that I am British, and am seen as such – the stateless entity of a united Europe might sound ideal in the halls of Strasbourg and Brussells. But to the ordinary man and woman so called Citizens of the EU, priorities lie much closer to home. The global citizen might well be just a faint and jaundiced looking image of an ideal that has lost its wheels.
So tell me Mick Hucknall, would you still consider yourself a citizen of Europe all these years afterwards?
Living abroad tends to give one that citizen of nowhere mentality, so in my case I´d probably answer yes to that question. Though were you to ask me if I was being completely truthful in my answer– well probably not.
A united Europe is but a concept, home as they say is where the heart is and let’s face it – you can`t hang your hat up on a concept……or can you?
R.B. N Bookmark is a contributor to the Salford Stories anthology.