Blogger Kasia of Clockwork Orange tries to explain her feelings about knowing she's different without feeling different.
This is a subject that I probably shouldn't even touch on. But it kind of bursts out of my fingertips and I can't help it. I've been trying to put it down in words for the past few days and still I'm not sure if I managed to do it right. I might regret that I posted it, but, hey, I'm living in the land of the brave.
Before I start let me just say that this account is mine and mine only. If anyone identifies with the statements below -- fine -- but it definitely does not serve as a statement for the whole group or community. These are my observations and my feelings.
Integration. It's such a big word. I'm not really sure what it means to me. I was asked recently and I said something along the lines of: knowing I'm different without feeling different. Being part of, but being respected for being from elsewhere.
When I came here almost six years ago, I was perceived as a bit of an oddity. People would walk around me in circles, unsure if I could be touched or fed. I was of interest. Like a new toy.
But not anymore. I'm nothing new, I'm part of the scenery. Is that good or bad? I don't know. I guess it means I've been accepted; I've blended in.
Or have I really?
It feels like that when I'm chatted to by random people on the bus or in the shop. Then I say something and my accent gives me away. You would have to ask all those people what they considered me - one of them or a stranger?
It definitely feels like that when I'm around local people I made friends with. We have so much in common. Experiences. Work. Relationships. Families. Or interests like favourite movies, favourite books, favourite music, favourite TV shows, favourite holiday destinations. Or just common problems. Mortgages. Boyfriends. Families. Health. Weather. Common opinions. Politics. Budget cuts. Kids.
But then we also differ. My friends come from different places in Scotland and down south. They speak with different accents. That's what I like about them and my Polishness is probably one of the reasons they like me. Because it makes me me. So, yes, I'm different. But I belong here. If you asked me where my home is, I wouldn't hesitate for a second and answer straight away, that it's here in Edinburgh.
There's an old Polish word obczyzna, that literally means 'a strange land' and it fits well with wygnanie - 'exile'. Both were used a lot by 19th century emigrants, who left Poland (or what used to be Poland) for political reasons. There's another word in Polish - ojczyzna - 'fatherland.' It's different from obczyzna by only one letter. It's not a coincidence.
I don't feel like I'm in a strange land, on the contrary, it feels less and less strange the longer I've been here. Neither do I feel in exile - after all, nobody made me leave. It was my own decision.
But then there's the Polish pride that runs in my veins.
I'll never stop telling people that Frederic Chopin and Joseph Conrad were Polish. That the Polish Cipher Bureau deciphered Enigma. That the No. 303 Polish Fighter Squadron fought in the Battle of Britain. That Bonnie Prince Charlie was a great grandson of the Polish King Jan III Sobieski. Because it doesn't matter how long I've been here, even if I decide to apply for a British citizenship - it won't ever make me less Polish.
Polish will always be my first language, my mother tongue. Even if I end up speaking English more. Reading a book in Polish will always be a greater pleasure than reading in English. And traditional Polish food will always taste better than curries, kormas, pastas, pizzas, cullen skinks and cranachans. That's in my genes. I cannot change that, even if I wanted to.
I cannot change the fact that I grew up behind the iron curtain, under martial law, and that those childhood experiences formed me as a person. I cannot change what cartoons I watched on TV, what music I listened to as a teenager and that the first boy I kissed was Polish, too (actually all the boys I've ever kissed were Polish). And I'll always have a need to have some Polish people around, specially if they're just like me: between cultures, between languages. People of all nationalities feel the need to have their countrymen around from time to time. So do people from North Yorkshire or Devon, I suppose.
Integration is not easy because it requires both parties - the locals and the newcomers - to make an effort and to try and understand each other. I can go on about how much better my country is - but it's just me being proud of the land I come from, just like the Scots are proud of all the Scottish inventors in history, of bagpipes and kilts, of the Flower of Scotland and the Western Isles. If they ever moved abroad, would they blend in? Would they suddenly lose their broad Scottish accent and stop wearing a kilt? I love the fact that they wouldn't. It's one of the reasons I fell in love with this country and made it my home.
I wish I could speak with a Scottish accent. It sounds like home. I'm happy to notice that I know more and more about this country. Sometimes it feels like I know more about Scottish and British current affairs than I do about what's going on in Poland. I even prefer to gossip about Jordan than about Doda.
I'm blending in.
But I will never have blended in.
And I'm proud to be different.
I'm one of the million Polish people who have invaded the UK recently. Unlike most of them I don't work as a kitchen porter, I do speak English and I'm sharing my expat experiences at Clockwork Orange: my life in Edinburgh, discovering the country, the language and the cuisine.
Photo credits: sxc © mantiswong; nickobec
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.