Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A Matter of Home




This year has already been marked by two big occasions. I have now lived in England for 10 years and I got my first tattoo just before my twenty-second birthday. The two may not seem connected at first but this bit of ink under my skin has  been a symbol of me finally accepting and celebrating my lack of one set national identity and one place I call home.


Heimat, emblazoned in American typewriter font on my ankle, is a German word with no direct English translation that denotes a sense of being at home without an actual physical place to call so, home in essence where the heart is, not where a passport or accent may place you. For me in particular this has a twofold meaning. In times where people change occupations and locations without the blink of an eye I find it hard to understand how we are still so set on an outdated and one dimensional idea of national identity and how not committing to one makes you apparently appear a little "lost". I make both a terrible German, I don't eat sausages and hate beer, and a pretty rubbish Brit ( do not ever ask me to make a cup of tea because I wouldn't know how to) but I am both a proud Londoner, the place where I have created a life for myself and European, Europe for me a set of diverse states we can freely travel and work across that despite all its problems has guaranteed centuries of peace.

On my first day at school in England I was called a Nazi, yes the person doing so was another 12 year old with, I am assuming a rather limited, grasp of history, but it was not the last time I was made to feel distinctly different because of my slight German accent and the resulting 'foreignness', something that I think should be no issue whatsoever in a time where hardly anyone can say they are purely Britiish or purely whatever, I for one rather proud of my complete mish mash of heritage ( quarter German, quarter Finnish, quarter Russian and quarter Czech if you care to ask).

I can now say I am a little German and a little English in mentality and a lot of that has shaped who I am, a chance to live in different environments, a facing of different social parameters that I cherish rather than resent. I would have probably had an easier time in my teenage years without the move across the channel but I have learnt to see the good and bad in every country, no where is perfect and I have very much accepted that I have accumulated bad traits both of the English ( no longer am I hundred percent punctual) and German ( I still struggle to queue for things) kind, but all of these little quirks have made me who I am and that is neither or, an attitude fitting for a world that, as cliche as it sounds,is becoming one big village, full of world citizens.

The tattoo has a second more personal meaning to me too. Through circumstance I lost a so to speak conventional family which didn't prove too easy at a stage of my life when the transition from student to working adult was already a challenge in it's self. I don't have the safety net of a family to go back to if I loose my job or a boy lets me down, I don't have a place to spend Christmas at and I don't get that parental praise we all need once in a while. However I have in the last two years managed to find friends that are  like my family and  managed to make London my home, a place where, at least for now, I have arrived and feel at ease. I played with the idea of getting this tattoo for almost two years but it was when both those two ways of belonging fell into place that the time was right because for me 'Heimat' is where I am happy no matter what country, city or house I am in and my ankle will remind me of that in the years to come, no matter the geographical location.

3 comments:

élise said...

lovely tattoo !

Laura M said...

Well, I'm a half Finnish, a quarter Cypriot and a quarter Italian; I was born in Finland, grew up in Cyprus and live in the UK now so I guess I kinda get you. Whenever someone asks me where I'm from I get the urge to say "DOES IT MATTER?!?!" but stick with "Oh, just Europe." ;)

A Minor Obsession said...

Have you read Identity by Milan Kundera? It's all about that sense of home that you talk about and I think you might enjoy it x