Thursday, 23 May 2013

Identity crisis

Who am I? How did the core of me come to be? How much am I influenced by surroundings and events? What makes me tick?
After nearly a quarter of a century of almost total immersion in Greek society, why are some aspects of me still so utterly English?

And why, when visiting my old haunts, do some things seem so familiar whilst others feel like I’m visiting a foreign land?
It’s a common theme with many who live far from where they grew up. That sense of disconnection. Never really ‘belonging’ wherever you end up, always being the outsider, the odd one out, and yet feeling like a tourist when revisiting your roots.

Has living abroad really changed me? Or am I just the same old square peg in an all-too-often round hole that I ever was – just with a second language?

I want to believe that the core of me is the same as it was in the late 1980s. That I am still the same person, with the same values and outlook on life I always had, but that I have (hopefully) learned a few lessons from what life has decided to show at me.

I’m still the one who’ll speak up (often to the mortification of my companions) when someone starts spouting hateful nonsense. That “Oh no, she’s scrambling back onto her hobby horse” rolling of the eyes was seen in many an English pub back in my youth, just as it is today in Greek cafeterias or parents' meetings. That look of panicked “Bloody ‘ell, find something to distract her and shut her up” has been seen in in as many Celtic peepers as it has in my Mediterranean mates' eyes.
But maybe I’m looking at the wrong dimension. Perhaps it’s not the place that makes the distance, but the time?
Someone once said “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”. Maybe that’s what creates this sense of disconnection?

The past two decades have wrought massive changes to both the place I grew up in and the city I moved to. The jury's still out on whether the change was for better or worse.

When I’m back in the place that threw my own unique mix of DNA together (as I am this week), the place is reassuringly familiar and packed with reminders of what moulded me into the person I am today. But there’s something that feels a little ‘off’, a tweaking of the details that makes it feel like we don’t really belong.

But, and this is a great big beautiful 'but', there are some things that stay the same.
Family, friends, things that make you laugh out loud or talk with real passion. People who have always loved you, accepted you, even celebrated you for who you are – partly because more often than not, they helped make 'you'.
They're the ones who never had any issue with your square peggedness, and never EVER tried to use a sledgehammer to bash you in round hole submission.

They're the ones who will always have that ‘connection’ with you – even if it’s been decades since you last spoke. The people you can pick up the thread after half a lifetime, just like you saw each other only yesterday.
So, next time I have one of my existential identity crises, I’m stop thinking about the gaps in time and space that separate me from my touchstones, but I’ll smile and be thankful for those constants in my life.
After all, they’re part of what make me that closet outsider that I always was – and which, secretly, I'm rather proud to be.


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