Sunday, 18 December 2016

Thought 419: My Bicultural Self

I joke about it sometimes. My name is Thomas, which etymologically means twin and I am a gemini. Added to the mix is that I'm an English and French binational, bilingual and bicultural and my mental health difficulties in the past have earned me the diagnosis of schizophrenia which is Greek for 'split mind'. The only thing missing is that I am not bisexual, at least not at the time of writing. 

I have barely ever touched on my bicultural self on this blog and yet it is a fundamental aspect of my make-up. While now that I'm currently residing in England among English people my British side is somewhat dominant, when I go back to France on holiday I can express the French sides of my personality that are otherwise dormant when I'm in the British Isles, except obviously when reading French books. 

I suspect the fact that I'm bicultural and that France and England are in so many ways polar opposites culturally, the one more reflective and theoretical the other more lad-dish and pragmatic, has given me an impulse of sorts to philosophise and study ancient truths in order to find my true identity and a way to see the world that resolves the bitter antinomy between British and French worldviews and habits of thought.  

A question I have often been asked is whether I feel more English or French. The answer is a bit of both; certainly a mixture. As I noted earlier, when in England my English side is somewhat dominant and when in France conversing with French people, my French self finds that it can express itself with some ease. 

Leaving France for the UK for university study, I certainly did suffer from culture shock and this made me quite quiet and caused difficulties for me expressing myself in English idiomatic language. Indeed, I at times spoke French but in English, i.e. I spoke English as a Frenchman, i.e. from a culturally French angle that's more philosophical and less personal. 

This of course came out sounding haughty and wrong-headed to English folk and no doubt caused these people to take a poor view of me. 

Perhaps much of my anguish as a young man in England was caused by cultural identity issues, not feeling I fit in England and yet unwilling to uproot myself yet again to go to France which I never missed all that much. 

When I go to France these days it does feel incredibly foreign but I manage to get used to it relatively quickly only to have the same impression on first arriving in England when my holiday has come to an end - England too feels suddenly and momentarily very foreign after a break across the Channel.

My French-British make-up, as well as the unusual background that is mine, artistic, intellectual and bohemian all in one, has ensured that I be somewhat of a loner and that my sensibility as a thinker and artist is most niche and arguably hard to grasp and no doubt perceived as giving off an air of superiority, particularly by many English people who have a real issue with foreign sensibilities, theoretical understandings and perceived superiority complexes.

On the plus side, my bicultural self has allowed me to take a distance from national, monocultural tropes, preoccupations and concerns and made me realise the truth of my father's observations that
"the world is wider than your thought"
since different cultures receive and interpret the world in completely different ways. I thus have the unusual privilege to be able to switch cultural lenses, and perceive the world as either an Englishman or as a Frenchman or, much preferably, neither

Not having a proper homeland I naturally was drawn to Ancient Rome (as was Lord Byron who said in a poem that the orphans of the heart needed to turn to her), Classical Greece and nineteenth and early twentieth century Germany, only to find that it's perfectly possible to be ragingly happy about oneself in the company of great authors and artists - as well as a small collection of real life friends -  whilst not fitting in the dominant and arguably plebeian mainstream mindset of many countries, i.e. the oft mentioned lowest common denominator