Where are you from?
I inwardly groan when I’m asked this question. Who knew it could be so complicated? Generally speaking, it’s any easy question for most people. Where you were born, right?
I look English, I speak English, I even dress English and yes my family is English too. But I didn’t live in an English house until I was in my teens. Weird right? So it’s already a little more complicated than your average Englishman (or woman).
I may be from England, the midlands to be precise, but that doesn’t mean I grew up there. In fact my hometown was as alien to me as ET and just to complicate matters further, I never truly lived there, as the moment I set foot on English soil, I embarked on the boarding school journey. But that’s another story for a different time.
So in comparison to my best friend, who has spent her whole life within the same few streets, my upbringing could potentially be classed as exotic. And without realising it, I was learning a lot more than my peers:
- Language is not a barrier but something to embrace. I spent my childhood in Germany and from the age of maybe six, I was able to ask for the bill in the restaurant, count to ten and name the colours. It wasn’t a challenge or a school class, it was part of everyday life. If I wanted something, I would have to learn how to get it.
- Cleanliness is next to godliness. And I don’t mean you need to shower every day but it was a case of never seeing rubbish lying around or fag butts in the gutter. And yeah sure, my mum told me not to do it, but everywhere was so clean. I lived amongst a sense of pride and achievement which is the German way.
- Exploring is only natural. My daily antics involved hopping on my bike and exploring the local area. Some days involved going by foot into the woods. There was always something new to see, to find, to discover. My curiosity and sense of adventure were never curbed and were always allowed to roam wild.
- An innocent childhood is possible. In the isolated community we were in, it was like we’d been outdated by ten or twenty years. Mobiles didn’t exist, playstations came along very late and Gameboys were few and far between. Watching TV was not a done thing and we were not interested in staying indoors. Come rain or shine we were out and about.
- No car journey is too far. Rather than be faced with an island country, we had the opportunity to drive over the border. No journey was too far, whether it was a week in Denmark or a weekend in the mountains. Just hop in the car and off we go!
- There is a true sense of community out there somewhere. A lot of people talk about community and they think they have one. But I know the true value of community. It’s when the kids go and play in the streets but it’s okay cause you know the neighbours will keep an eye on them. It’s when the front door doesn’t need to be locked and the fence around the garden is only 3 feet instead of 6. It’s when spontaneous street parties actually happen and don’t need planning. When you know your neighbours and the rest of the people on the street. It’s more than just a friendly nod because you recognise someone, may have chatted once or twice but have no idea whether they have milk or sugar in their coffee.
- Culture is no stranger. Like any other British child, the culture in my house was exactly the same. We celebrated Christmas on the same day each year, we enjoyed a bacon sandwich every now and again and loved those very Hollywood films that came out in cinema, albeit a few weeks later than the rest of the UK. But the beauty of this was that every time we stepped outside the house, we were in fact giving ourselves over to a different culture. Discovering that the Halloween and carnival season were huge celebrations. Christmas markets were an inherent and traditional event that occurred in almost every town every year.
It’s impossible to tell whether something is benefiting you at the time but hindsight can be very powerful. It seems that I was able to benefit from the best of both worlds and grew up with a deep appreciation for the German culture. It’s more than just somewhere I lived but a little bit of where I came from, and it turns out that I did learn a lot.
Did you grow up abroad? What was life like for you and what did you learn? Why don’t you join the conversation and comment below!