Stop Telling Me I Should Feel British!

15/09/2016 11:25

As the Brexit debate rages on and the country appears to be increasingly divided each day, I was reminded this week of an attitude that really frustrates me. An attitude by some that, if you're an immigrant in this country and you've lived here a long time, you should 'feel' British instead of still identifying with your country of origin, and an incredulous surprise at my lack of desire to acquire British citizenship.

A friend of mine shared a video from Channel 4 on Facebook, showing a Polish NHS worker receiving racist abuse while being interviewed about racism. The Polish woman on the video said she didn't feel welcome anymore (I know how she feels!) and my friend's comment was that she, and many like her, are very much welcome. But one of his friends then posted this in response:

"Is she Polish or British, she has been here most of her life, why does she still think of herself as Polish? I lived in Canada for 11 years, became a Canadian citizen and considered myself Canadian. If you are polish go back to Poland but if you stay here then be British. Just a thought."

This reminded me of a Twitter response I received during my interview on the Victoria Derbyshire show on the BBC (on 5th July, following Theresa May's announcement that she couldn't guarantee the status of EU citizens in the UK), telling me that if I've lived here for so long, surely I should want to 'feel English'.


I think this is an issue that affects many immigrants, whether they are from the EU, like me, or from other parts of the world. I have lost track of the number of times I've been asked "But why haven't you applied for British citizenship?"

Why should we feel British just because we have lived here a long time? I am Italian and German and feel thoroughly European. I have lived in the UK for 25 years, sound like I was born and bred in Yorkshire and have been told numerous times that my English is better than that of many Brits.

The issue of what nationality we 'feel' goes way beyond what passport we hold. Having grown up in Luxembourg, as a foreigner in a country whose foreign population is rising and has now reached close to 50%, it took me a long time to feel a sense of national identity of any kind. I didn't feel Luxembourgish. I attended the German section of the European School, yet I didn't feel German. I mostly spoke Italian at home, yet I didn't properly feel Italian, either. When visiting Germany or Italy, I felt like I didn't quite belong, yet I didn't feel like I quite belonged in Luxembourg, either. I did, however, feel European.

Now, I am married to a Brit; my daughters are British, Italian and German. I have been here my entire adult life; I don't know how to be an adult anywhere else. My life is here, my work is here. I pay taxes and contribute to society. This is very much my home and, until the EU referendum and subsequent increase in xenophobia and racism, I felt very much like I had found a place where I do belong. Over the years, my sense of national identity has strengthened. I feel Italian and German, though I identify much more strongly with my Italian side. I feel European. I definitely do not feel British and have no desire to acquire British citizenship. That doesn't mean I don't like living in Britain or don't like Brits - I wouldn't have built my life here if that was how I felt.

But why should I, and the millions of others like me, need to feel British and want to become British? What is so wrong with a multinational, multicultural society full of rich variety?

Frederika delivers keynotes, workshops and Laughter Yoga sessions to pupils and staff in schools (secondary schools and 6th Forms as 'The Happiness Speaker', primary schools with the 'RWS | Resilience Wellbeing Success' programme ), at business events and in various organisations.