We are the world

It seems to me that we want others to accept us as we are, as it suits us, but we refuse to offer them the same courtesy

Where we grow up colours so much of our cultural identity that it can stay with us for a lifetime
Where we grow up colours so much of our cultural identity that it can stay with us for a lifetime

This week a news item reported how American parents have noticed that their children are speaking with a slight British accent because they love watching their favourite cartoon character Peppa Pig. This observation immediately led to a predictable response by British parents who hit back by lamenting the fact that their children have an American twang and have adopted certain expressions from watching a lot of US TV shows.

Last weekend, Italian Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini was grumpy because San Remo was not won by an “Italian” but by a singer who is of mixed race (half Italian, half Egyptian), to which the singer Mahmood promptly replied that he was 100% Italian, having been born and bred in Milan.

Meanwhile some British ex-pats who are long-time residents of Spain and who voted for Brexit were quoted as expressing surprise that their rights would be affected and that they would start being treated like (gasp) immigrants.

On the surface, these three different stories might not have anything to do with one another, but as I kept mulling them over I realised that there is a common thread which runs throughout, revealing the same global sentiment. It seems to me that we want others to accept us as we are, as it suits us, but we refuse to offer them the same courtesy.

When cultures collide, as they are doing so often in the world we live in, it makes one wonder whether, deep down, people would really actually prefer it if everything went back to the way it was and we could all live in our separate little territorial boxes, one nation firmly separated from the other by means of strict border controls, check points, difficult-to-obtain visas and airport stamps on our passports stamped by a weary Customs officer. A time when we would visit other countries for a holiday and gaze upon their ‘foreign’ ways as a form of novelty, but then would go scurrying back to the safety of our own traditions and norms where everything was nice and comforting and familiar.

On the face of it, that might probably sound like the perfect solution for those who absolutely resent those who are different and want nothing to do with them; realistically, however it is a pipe dream. Apart from the EU which made it possible for the free movement of peoples across the 27 member states, allowing them the chance to work and live throughout most of Europe, we often forget that people of different races and nationalities are connected by something which cannot really be controlled – that basic, instinctive human emotion which has led people from different countries to fall in love, get married and bring children into the world.

Someone like the Sanremo winner Mahmood, for example, can hardly be blamed for the relationship of his parents which led to him being born in Milan rather than, say, Cairo. Similarly, in this country, we have a generation of children who are of mixed heritage but who are as Maltese as you and I – and this includes children being adopted from other lands who are also Maltese, despite the colour of their skin. What do we say to these children? That they are somehow not “really” Maltese simply because of the circumstances surrounding their conception or because they were ill-fated enough to have been born in a poverty-stricken country where they ended up in an orphanage?

What about the children being born of Maltese mothers and fathers, or where only one of the parents is Maltese and the father/mother is of another nationality, but are being raised in Belgium and Luxembourg? How will they identify themselves in the future as a result of this diaspora, which is slightly different to the emigration of Maltese to Australia, Canada and the US because the close proximity to Malta means that they return to the native country more frequently?

Where we grow up colours so much of our cultural identity that it can stay with us for a lifetime. Our roots and genetic lineage, however, are also an inextricable part of us too. Children of foreign parents who are being raised in Malta probably undergo a similar type of identity ‘crisis’, not knowing exactly where they belong and with which nationality they identify.

In comparison to all this, my first example about American vs British English may sound trite, but I have often noticed a rather prickly relationship between the Brits and Americans on this issue. But again, the question which must be posed is: What is the answer? To solemnly forbid children from watching their favourite shows just because the accent and idioms get on your nerves?

The globalisation of entertainment and the easy accessibility of YouTube means that today’s youngsters share media cultural references whether they live in Wickham or Wyoming… or even in Malta where Peppa Pig is also extremely popular. Many will also have noticed that Americanisms have crept into the way many Maltese toddlers and children speak, because of the shows and videos they watch, which creates a further distance from the British English their own parents were brought up to speak. And yet, British actors regularly “put on” American accents for films, and Americans actors do the same, so I find it intriguing why an accent, any accent, should cause so much irritation and angst. I put it down, once again, to an underlying annoyance at anything which is ‘different’ – which always somehow implies that one is better or superior to the other.

All of this is really such a contradiction at a time in our world when the fluidity of peoples means they migrate and interact with others as never before, along with the merging of language, accents and dialects. Rather than bringing us together it has given rise to a wave of nationalism and bigotry which is also sweeping the world. The most classic example of course is the UK, where the reality and implications of the vote for Brexit is lurking just around the corner. The Brexiters in Spain who seem astonished that their status will be different following 29 March is a case in point, where those living comfortably ‘abroad’ only voted with the thought of “getting rid of the immigrants” back home, without realising that when they are in another country, it is they who are the immigrants.

It is a myopic, rather arrogant view of the world, although to be fair, I have heard this kind of attitude from other nationalities as well. Immigrants and foreigners are always ‘the others’, but when it is they who move to another country to work and settle down then they are ex-pats (which has a much nicer ring to it) and they demand to be treated equally. It is rather funny in fact, that while we are all so intent on clinging to what sets us apart, always insisting that our ways are better, the reality is that we are much more alike than we think, because deep down the various traits of human nature are like a common thread which runs through all of mankind. The ones who have discovered this kernel of truth usually are those who are well-travelled or who have lived in other countries for extended periods of time, opening themselves up to new experiences, which is probably the best cultural education of all.

More in Blogs