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Monday, May 22, 2017

Soft Brexit

As the United Kingdom debates how "hard" or "soft" to exit the European Union, we are easing our way out of the U.K.

In my personal history, England occupies an odd space. It was the first country I ever visited outside my country of birth, but I wasn't on a tour through Europe like other college-aged Americans. Instead, my father and I stayed for three months (a mini-sabbatical). By the time we went on a two-week visit to Italy, Monaco, and France, returning to England felt familiar, even though we were leaving it the very next day. England, specifically Oxford, was thus the first place I ever felt both "home" and "not home," the way I have felt about an increasing number of places in my life.

I have a habit of traveling thus far on an international trip and then stopping. I came back to England, but stopped, staying on a six-month work permit and traveling to Scotland and Ireland. I did graduate study at Oxford. Each time, I was living (temporarily) in the new country, not just touring around or spending most of my time in London. When I emigrated to Canada, of course, I stopped in Toronto. It was my plan to stay in Canada forever, not just keep traveling. I lived there for many years without ever even visiting vast areas of the country. It seems I am more of a migrant than a tourist.

What we're leaving
For all those months spent in Oxford, I never spent a single night in Greater London until this last time. How many visitors can say that? Naturally, I stopped in London, and have been based here (with plenty of travel "abroad") for more than seven years. It has been home and not home.

So about our last few days in England, I cannot write exactly as a traveler, nor as a resident. We went "up north," by which the English mean "not London," to see family. Not my blood relatives, but T's family. I am related to them and not related.

I have become British--by residence and marriage [sic]--and not British. I have the same Right of Abode as any British citizen, but as soon as I open my mouth, the question is always, "Where are you from?" And I guess I should get used to it, because that is the question that travelers everywhere are asked.

After that first six-month stay in England, I wrote about the positives and the negatives and how, when it was all over, I felt more American than ever. Now that I have immigrated (again), I realize how much of me has become Canadian.

Next stop, Kilimanjaro!
Suketu Mehta wrote: “It was when I realised I had a new nationality: I was in exile. I am an adulterous resident: when I am in one city, I am dreaming of the other. I am an exile, citizen of the country of longing.” But for me, the experience is more positive than exile or adulterous imply. I have felt at home in the house we have emptied, yet I can hardly wait to move on.

Two women, six continents. Thank you for reading along.
Wise words at uncle's house

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Keep your thoughts, comments, observations, and feelings about your journey coming--so I can live vicariously through you AND keep in touch withe two of my favorite people.

Love,

Vic

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful reflections on being "British and not British," as you launch your newest travels. We loved your conclusion: with the enticing "Two women, six continents" and the shared wisdom of an uncle on good deeds and kindness.

J. E. Knowles said...

Thank you, Vic. Will do!