Otherwise known affectionately as 'Aer Fungus'
One would have had to be under the age of 5, non-corpus mentis, dead or totally uninterested in theworld around you not to know that there was a Referendum in Scotland asking the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ It seems that everyone, and I mean everyone, from the President of the United States, through to sports and the Big Screen stars, politicians from all parties, right down to the neighbour’s dog next door had an opinion as to how the Scottish people should vote.
Speaking purely from a total ignoramus’ point of view of the whole economical and political ramifications of a vote ‘yes’ I felt that this was an emotional driven vote rather than a practical one. An independent Scotland with its own very distinct culture standing alone and out from under the auspices of England sounds lovely really doesn’t it – kind of warms the cockles of the heart and makes you feel all fuzzy and warm inside. But practically I couldn’t see what they were going to do about a currency – England seemed to be totally against sharing the sterling with a newly independent country that had the gall to get away from them, and the European Union didn’t seem to be falling over themselves to invite them into the Euro currency. And what would happen to Scottish people abroad – where would they now go if they needed help or paperwork or to renew their passports etc. And would Scotland really be able to hold on those big companies and banks who threatened to move abroad if the positive vote was a successful one…….
What was most disturbing though was the prevailing attitude that a vote no meant being anti-Scottish, almost as if there is no room for independent thinking in an independent Scotland. There were quite a few (a majority it seems according to the results of the referendum) who were more than concerned about the above questions and a myriad of others I couldn’t even begin to contemplate, and who felt that these questions had not been answered to their satisfaction. So they voted no not because they don’t love Scotland but because they adore the place and all its facets and were thinking about the economic future and security of their children.
The whole subject had me thinking about my own nationality and love of the country in which I was born and grew up. I love Ireland and I love being Irish and I’m so happy it’s an independent country, but this independence did not come about without a lot of bloodshed and hardship. One can look at Ireland today and think why can’t Scotland have the same independence, but I remember the poor Ireland in which I grew up, the one where it’s biggest export was its people, where we were encouraged to buy Irish to bolster the economy, and where without help from what was then called the EEC, we would still be a struggling country economically. Well…..actually….Ireland IS struggling financially due to terrible mis-management. Life is not that easy in Ireland – there is no free health insurance, and everything is so much more expensive than in the UK.
I was at a friend’s house once where 3 of us were Irish, one was Scottish and one was English (I feel an English man, a Scotsman and an Irishman joke coming on), and the English lady, in the course of conversation casually said ‘us English’ including all of us in the room, at which point the rest of us coughed politely to point out her mistake. She then recovered herself by saying ‘oh you know what I mean – us British!’ This, to me, has been the most surprising thing about being an Irish person abroad – how many English people think we’re still British.
But I still love being Irish, and when people ask me where I’m from I do try to say that I’m Irish, but it all depends on whom it is I am addressing. When I was on Hajj and having one of those conversations using gestures and a smidgeon of Arabic I gave up quite quickly trying to say I’m Irish - Me: ‘Irlandia’ ‘ them ‘ah Hollandia’, Me: ‘no IRlandia’, them: puzzled look so I try ‘Ingleezia’, still a puzzled look, and after going through ‘England’, ‘Britain’ and ‘UK’ thinking if they don’t know where 'Old Blighty' is how do I expect them to know it’s much smaller and less important little neighbour, and finally, in desperation, I say ‘London‘ and it’s as if I’ve turned on a switch – ‘Ah, LONDON!!!!!’
The number of times I’ve been introduced in Algeria as ‘Anglaise’ are so numerous now that I don’t actually bat an eyelid any more. I have tried, honest I have, to put people right, but it can be difficult, and, at times, downright impossible. The first time it happened was when my husband’s sister-in-law introduced me as ‘Anglaise’ and I politely told her no, I was ‘Irlandaise’. She looked at me then said, ‘but you are Muslim, we are all Muslims, we are all one family, so what’s the problem?’ Nothing really….except I’m an IRISH Muslim not an English one!!!!! And then, to her horror, I asked her how she would feel about being called French! But what she said is true in many respects….or at least in Islamic terms anyway. Being a Muslim means I’m part of a huge world-wide family that totally ignores all state boundaries.
And when I actually think deeply about the whole subject of being Irish, I honestly don’t know how I can be proud of something I had absolutely no say in at all. I can be proud of my achievements, small as they may be, I can be proud, to a certain extent of my children, my husband, I can be proud to be called ‘Muslim’, but I had nothing to do with being born Irish. There but for the grace of Allah I could have been born English, Welsh, Scottish…..or even…..shudder the thought…..ALGERIAN!
So I tread that fine line between being happy to be Irish and broadcasting it to the world, and not insisting on the point if I think it may cause some kind of discomfort between me and a friend or an acquaintance. But still I can’t help feel annoyed when, as has happened in the past, I’ve been mistaken as ‘Hollandaise’ – I mean really….do I look like a creamy sauce to you?????