Sunday, 2 September 2012

Where do you come from?

We had some friends to stay for a week recently; it's the first time we've seen them for three years, and it was wonderful to be able to show off the country we've adopted, both locally, and also on a road trip up the country to Rotorua. Whilst the weather wasn't as sunny as I'd hoped (it's always nice to see the country in the sun and under blue skies), but we weren't washed out as badly as it could have been given that we are coming out of winter.

We took our friends to see the various tourist attractions, both natural (including getting within a few paces of seals at the Red Rocks colony, who hadn't read the signs saying that seals and humans had to be 20m apart, and insisted on sleeping across the path!), free (we love going round Te Papa - there is something new every time we go; this time, there was an exhibition on Maori cloaks which was fascinating), and paid (both a Maori cultural evening, and Wai O Tapu, which we went round when my parents were here, and was equally good for a second viewing).

A question which gets asked a lot when going round tourist attractions (as well as by people who hear our accents) is "Where do you come from?", and this is a question which has recently given me a lot of pause for thought. Whilst I'm very happy to say that I come from England originally, I now find that I have to qualify it by saying that I live in New Zealand (or near Wellington, or Upper Hutt, depending on who is asking and how well they know the region).

The question was compounded when I was asked to fill out a survey on behalf of a PhD student investigating the way that immigrants settle into New Zealand, particularly (gauging from the questions) looking at the way that culture and values affect how easily people settle and integrate. I feel very lucky in that we've not had to learn a new language to come here, and there has not been a huge culture shift in terms of values or behaviours, but the survey did give me a lot to think about in terms of where my "home" identity lies.

Settling in hasn't really been a huge problem for us (see most of the rest of the blog for examples...), but it does mean that I feel a certain tearing of loyalties when asked where I come from. This particularly came to the front during the Olympics, when the NZ women's hockey team, the Black Sticks were in the Bronze medal playoff against the UK. I wasn't able to watch the match (nasty timezone difference!), but if I had, the question of who to cheer for would not have been an easy one to answer. In the end, the match wasn't particularly a good one, compared to how well the Black Sticks had played for the rest of the tournament, and England won deservedly, but I found that I was disappointed that the Black Sticks didn't get their medal after doing so well against the best in the world in previous matches. England is where I come from originally, but New Zealand is where I come from now.

The word "home" also has similar conflicts; does it mean the house we have bought, where we are paying our mortgage, and where I'm enjoying pottering in the garden (my back is not speaking to me today...), or does it mean where my family and UK friends live? It depends on context, but it raises mixed pictures and emotions when the word gets mentioned.

I suspect that the conflicting loyalties around home and where I come from will remain for a long while to come; the longer we are here and the more we settle, the easier it becomes to say that New Zealand is home, but I think also the larger the emotional split will become when I think about everyone and everything we have left behind.


Unknown said...

I felt the same divisions when I first came here, but they've become less and less important as time has passed. Also I haven't been back to the UK for 25 years or so and I've lost touch with a lot of friends from there as a result (distanbce lends disenchantment...). And I was never really in touch with family (they were one reason why I moved here in the first place!), so that has never been an influence. Also I now have New Zealand citizenship. All these things add up.

But I think the determining step was when my British passport expired and I simply couldn't be bothered to renew it. It seemed to much troiuble to go to. That's when New Zealand finally became home.


Wisewebwoman said...

I'm the same Jo, as you know though a double emigrant having come to Ontario Canada and then 8 years ago finding Newfoundland which is a different species entirely :)
I honestly feel this is now home and though I have lovely visits to my "homeland" I no longer consider it "home".


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R J Adams said...

Yes, it is difficult, Jo. You're lucky in that you can respect and admire your adopted country. While I love the area we now live in, I find the US impossible to like and could never consider swearing allegiance to its flag and becoming a citizen. After ten years I still occasionally get homesick for the UK, but it soon passes when I remind myself I can afford a much better life here than I now could over there.