I was born in England and that makes me English. I can’t help it, I had no choice. Somehow, this stroke of luck has left me imbued with the characteristics of an Englishman, you know, a sense of fair play, good at organising, stiff upper lip, a natural queuer.
This amazing stroke of luck of birth, a chance in many billion, has left me branded, destined to carry a flame for my country and nationality. But how can this be?
Countries come and go. New ones are formed from the embers of those that went before them. The cartographer’s art traps us all within imaginary lines only to redraw them when political expediency requires. Will a change of name transform our national characteristics?
Are the South Sudanese, living within the world’s newest country, different people from when they were citizens of the Republic of Sudan? Are they happier or distraught now that they are released from the need to live up to their own pre-determined character?
What rot. There are 195 recognized sovereign states in the world. Are we really saying that there are the same number of national characteristics, like national costumes that can be taken off and new ones put on?
In truth there are as many characteristics as there are people. Each country, delineated for ease of governance and law, is a hotchpotch of people, each with their own peculiarities, needs and desires.
As Leila Slimani writes, ‘To be European is to believe that we are, at once, diverse and united, that the Other is different but equal.’ What goes for Europe goes for the world.
Yes, each country has its own culture, a set of guide rails that loosely hold us together, but there are cultures within cultures, like Russian dolls embedded one within the other. Some of these cultures are hyperlocal while others are global in nature.
We need to be mindful of those flag-waving nationalists who use our supposed national character to set us against those beyond our borders.
Of course I don’t hate the English, because, in truth, there is no one such thing.