I’m an itinerant member of society… living in France for three years now has become the longest time I have spent continuously in one city since leaving home nearly 20 years ago and the longest time overall in a city since leaving university. I obviously don’t like staying in one place for very long. In those 13 postgraduate years I have lived in five different countries with only 5 of those years back in the UK. I also obviously don’t like living in my country of origin very much. I hardly feel to belong to my hometown any more, never mind ‘my’ country. Even though I have very little doubt that both shape my identities considerably, I don’t consciously accept any relationship between who I am and where I am from. The only irritating exception to this is my support for national teams in sport. Despite my desperation not to identify on a national level because it contradicts my universal human beliefs, I cannot shake this emotional response to sporting pride. My beliefs are played out, though, in the way in which I try to adapt to everywhere I go as much as possible. I wouldn’t say I have any desire to ‘go native’, as that would just reinforce the nationalisation of identity I am so against. Instead, this ‘adapting’ is more a desire to belong in different groups.
I think adapting is a natural process… unless there exist ghettos which enable you not to adapt. (I try to avoid these – as much as I liked many of my classmates at uni, when they all hung out together almost permanently in Toulouse during a two-month study programme, I hung out elsewhere and with other people.) I studied in Scotland and gained a Scottish lilt to my accent in the process. It was in Glasgow mind you, so some might say it was a survival technique for a weedy Englishman. I think the really interesting thing is though, that you adapt within your familiar surroundings too. An innate in-group aversion means I have several very different groups of friends in the same place (and ‘former’ places), with a group behaviour style to fit in with each of them: perhaps I’m an itinerant chameleon. This shiftiness of character needs acceptance by the groups as well. In some of my experiences the group identity was so strong it excluded temporary group members. Conversely, the group identity can be very superficial because it is too open and spontaneous. I’ve lived in both Madrid and Barcelona and in my experience they were at either extreme of this group identifying process. I was really privileged to be incorporated into a tight-knit group in Barcelona where it felt like the group bonds would last for life, but I also felt great joy in belonging in a 6-hour lasting party group spontaneously gathered in the streets of Madrid one night. I don’t think I can make a call on the rights and wrongs of either – it’s just the way it is. It might be very easy for the itinerant, however, to take away conclusions that judge one or other society well or badly, and that’s where I think a mistake would be made. I think I get on well in nearly all new situations I find myself because I accept them as they are and try to make the most of them by adapting my own behaviour. At least I think I do! Perhaps I should ask the group members whose space I’ve invaded!