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How do you define nationality? For some I imagine that this is fairly straightforward. I find it a little more challenging. I know that I'm English, because I was born in England. In some parts of the world it is easiest to define oneself as English because being British is apparently synonymous—and somehow less clear. The phrase “Ah, English...Manchester United!” must be taught in schools around the world. I know that being English makes me British, but I also know that my country of origin—on official forms—is better described as UK, as this describes the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Besides, despite being happy to write British, I feel a certain pompousness about writing the “Great” in Great Britain: I can hear Cilla Black (an English 60s pop idol still going strong as a TV host) expressing the view that (referring to Margaret Thatcher) “Maggie put the Great back in Great Britain” and I shudder a little. Sometimes I look at my National Training Number and at my burgundy coloured passport, and at that point I know that I'm a European, but I have really no idea what that means.
My colleagues and friends here are in no doubt that they are Australian. The majority of them are Queenslanders too, of which they are doubly and distinctly proud. Pride is a concept writ large in the Australian psyche, and sometimes overused to the point of ridiculousness. For example, a fast food chain does not simply sponsor a children's soccer tournament: it “Proudly Sponsors” it, failing to see—or perhaps cynically exploiting—the strange juxtaposition between fast food and sport.
There are many things of which I feel proud, but I hesitate to use the word, in the same way that I flinch from the “Great” in Great Britain. This time, instead of Cilla I see a racist thug—or worse, a racist intellectual—saying that “We should be proud of our race,” or some such meaningless garbage.
The urge to generalise from specifics is almost overwhelming. I've done it at least once already here, arguably two or three more times, and will do it again before I finish. Inferring a general rule from a specific interaction must have been essential for our survival: for example “These berries are good to eat. Those berries are not.” Fast forward an indeterminate amount of evolution to medical school, and here you have classification and generalisation raised to a fine art: “These children develop asthma,” “ These children have lower IQs,” and so on.
Trying to teach myself to spot generalisations has been much less easy than I'd thought, because many are wrapped up in pseudo-intellectual justification or compliment. For example, any statement starting with: “Australians are . . .” has to be suspect unless it is followed by a strict statistical or geographical definition. Just substitute it with “Black people are . . .” or “Jewish people are . . .” and perhaps you'll begin to see the flaw. At a more trivial level, I often find myself saying “Cyclists are . . .” or “Paediatricians are . . .” Of course, these statements are nowhere near as offensive as overtly racist comments, but at the same time they can easily include the same crass generalisations.
(In case you are interested, to Australians: “Poms are . . .infrequent bathers.” Apparently we get by on only one bath a week, which seems like sheer indulgence to me. Pom, incidentally, is derived either from pompous, or from Prisoner of His (Her) Majesty; take your pick).
To begin to turn this full circle: An Australian can be wholeheartedly proud to be an Australian, at the same time as disapproving of Pauline Hanson—right wing leader of the One Nation political party, mandatory sentencing, or the Australian Government's handling of the MV Tampa stand off. This leads to an oddly circular situation, central to any nationalistic feeling, where the proud national makes a broad generalisation, whilst recognising that the generalisation is immediately and profoundly flawed.
Where does that leave me and my Englishness/Britishness/Europeanism? I don't think I'm any the wiser, and I suppose I will continue to define myself depending on the circumstances, while harbouring a certain jealousy for the folk who see things more simply. However, I must leave this here, as there is an “a” in the month, and so it is time for my bath.
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