Saturday, 19 November 2016

Reasons why I'll only ever be "nearly" Irish

Last week I wrote a post explaining the different reasons why my kids are more Irish than I'll ever be. I replied to a few comments on Facebook and wrote that, contrary to my children, I would never be completely Irish. Someone then asked me why, so here's my complex answer to a complex question!

I have lived in Ireland for 14 years. I speak English, have Irish friends, and work with Irish people. I'm interested in Irish culture, history and  traditions and I even get the Irish humour (most of the time!). In order to understand the Irish "mentality" and way of life, I had to be aware of the country's past. I sometimes don't agree with certain attitudes, views or laws, but I understand where they come from. In short, I have adapted to my surroundings, and I feel completely integrated. The only thing I cannot do is vote, but I would have to apply for the Irish citizenship, and to be honest, I am not ready for that (also, it costs a thousand Euros).

Why would I not apply for Irish citizenship?

This is going to sound a bit stupid, but it would feel a bit like cheating. I'm not born here and personally I don't consider myself entirely Irish, so I don't really see the point of acquiring citizenship if I'm not 100% in it. Having said that, the fact that I am French, and therefore European, makes the decision easier in a way. When you're from outside Europe and lived in Ireland for many years, applying for visas, work permits, going through the hoops of Irish administration to legally stay in the country, the logical decision, regardless of how you "feel" about your identity, is to apply for Irish citizenship. That's what my husband did, which means now I don't have to queue for 8 hours at the garda station, and show my face, just to prove we're still married. It just makes our lives easier. Let me just point out that he feels a lot more Irish than I do, maybe because he only goes home every 3 or 4 years and doesn't know anyone from his country here in Ireland.

Why don't I consider myself completely Irish?

I was born and raised in France and came to Ireland when I was 22. Both my parents are French and all my education was done in French. All my childhood memories, and therefore my "formative" years, are about France: Books I read, movies I watched, games I played... I remember how France was in the 80's and 90's, how we lived, who was in power, major events that happened and how it affected me. Even if I know Irish culture and history through places I have visited, accounts from friends, and even my kids' homework, I have not lived it. And I think this is what separates me from my Irish friends.

But then again, I don't think I'm still entirely French either...

In a way, it's only when I go home I realise I have become more Irish than I think. I don't think I would be able to re-adapt to a French workplace for example, to re-learn the formal aspect of things, the hierarchy, the "vous" instead of "tu"... I've become so laid-back and relax in my attitude that I find some French people bitter and unhappy. But maybe this is just how I was before?

A case of double-identity?

To the question "where are you from?", I always joke and say I'm from Bettystown. Of course, the real question "where are you from, originally?" always comes next (my accent gives it away!). Well, I'm French, and proud of it. But I'm also proud to belong and contribute to Irish society. I will never be completely Irish, but I don't want to either. I don't want to forget where I come from and renounce my past. And why should I?

But what do my Irish friends think of that?

Let's be clear, if I don't feel Irish, it's not because this is the way I'm perceived by the natives. In fact, a lot of Irish people I know consider me one of them. I think it's because I've always tried to empathise and understand where they were coming from. I've always asked questions about traditions, history and so on. In short, I've always been curious, interested, and  I've never tried to hide my origins (I usually joke about them). In return, I told them about French culture, and I'm sure they were appreciative.

Assimilation vs. Integration

I will never be 100% Irish, and I'm fine with it. There is no way someone who goes to a different country as an adult completely assimilates to another culture. It's just impossible. How can a person completely forget and deny their origins, upbringing, culture, education? There is no doubt one can feel disconnected from their birth country because of the distance, the wide cultural differences or because they don't have family there anymore.
But I don't think we can ask foreigners to forget a part of themselves. Integration is key, learning about the host country customs, traditions, history, mentality is crucial to have that sense of "belonging". But to  ask someone to deny their own origins is just not right.
This reminds me of my cousin, who married a Chinese girl. They've lived in France for more than 20 years, and she took on French citizenship. But in order to do that, she had to give up her Chinese passport (China doesn't accept dual citizenship). I remember my family comforting her at the time, saying "Don't worry, you will always be Chinese!" This woman is completely integrated. She learned French, had a business in France, and she even changed her first name for a more French sounding one. But she is still Chinese at heart.

So what's next?

Maybe one day, if I really want to vote and I have savings, I will apply for the Irish citzenship, but I know I will only ever be "Nearly" Irish. The beauty of multiple backgrounds is that it allows us to be more open-minded, tolerant and adaptable. And in the world we live in, it's a lesson I really want to teach my Irish kids.