When I read Anke Plummer’s account of feeling like a Briton, I wondered why, as another German living here for over 20 years, I do not seem to feel British at all?
Well, I think that’s because it is so ingrained that I do not notice it any more than the next British person. Mostly, I speak and think and dream in English; you could say that I am English even in my sleep.
Within the first two or three years in this country, I ploughed through novels by Dickens, Hardy, Austen, all the Brontës; I studied poems by Donne; I read plays by Shakespeare. All of them. Twice.
I walk around mumbling speeches from Hamlet and Henry V. It’s normal. I listen to BBC Radio 3, Radio 4, and the World Service for hours on end. What better could you do with your life?
I am married to a Londoner of half Irish, half English descent, hence my Irish family name. We have bought a little house with a little garden. I may not have a British passport, but I actually own a little bit of this country.
England has taught me gardening. I talk of plants all the time (and to my plants all the time). It’s natural.
I am an active member of UNISON and a proud member of the Labour Party. I have had lots of voluntary jobs with the Church of England, amongst them doing guided tours at a heritage site.
I have gained my professional qualification here and have worked at university libraries for many years. I have supported this country with taxes, NHS contributions, tuition fees and, last but not least, labour. I used to look after its children, and now I look after its books.
Since the referendum on EU membership, I feel like: What more do you want? What right do you have to consider excluding me from your country for the sake of favourable ‘deals’?
What right do you have to shout at me on the bus that we should go back to Europe with our ‘thousand languages’? You know what: I will. And you know what: I can. Precisely because, presumably unlike you, I speak five European languages. This is what makes me a true European. But why ever should being European exclude being British?
I regret I feel like Anke Plummer: this is not the country I moved to over 20 years ago, the country of great opportunities and of dazzling diversity.
Great Britain is plagued by poverty and inequality, bigotry and xenophobia. Meanwhile, I am happy that there are still organisations that embrace everyone and fight for social justice, places where anyone can feel at home, English or British, European or non-European – and UNISON is one of them.