Life In Between Your Worlds
A short essay on the close encounters of the third culture kind.
I don’t like it when Mummy & Daddy argue,
because this rift that’s driving them apart,
might force me to choose between the two.
I don’t want to love one or the other,
I want to live with both of you.
And now I am once more faced with the same decision,
seeing both my home nations go head to head in competition.
France & England are playing in the World Cup quarter-finals today and whatever the score, the results for me will be a zero-sum game.
My Mother is French, My Father is English, and I am a blend of the two and more, having spent a majority of my developmental years outside of my parent’s home cultures.
It might seem a benefit to have it be win-win either way, walking away knowing you will be participant in the semi-finals and having more than one Christmas, but the divide turns you less into a part of the community and more of a distant observer, belonging to neither party.
I can’t cheer when one team scores a goal because it would insult the other. I can’t cackle and banter about the opposing team because it might seem like a betrayal. One side will celebrate, the other will commiserate, and you aren’t invited to either, relegated as the foreigner, neither on the pitch nor with the crowd.
I’m not even that great a fan of football, that’s clear with the below picture when I dressed as a captain of a ship to lead Comedians versus Critics to victory for an Amnesty International football match at the Edinburgh Festival. I had to Google the offside rule that morning just to give the appearance of deserving the role.
The question “where are you from?” has always been difficult to answer, and lately, perhaps for my amusement, I would reply “everywhere”.
This can seem like a bit of an arrogant response, but ultimately, holds a lot of truth for an identity formed across many platforms. Everywhere you go becomes a part of you, and no one answer is satisfying to people asking “where are you from?”
“You don’t sound French.”
“I was born there but eventually moved to the UK.”
“Oh so English is your second language?”
“No, technically it’s my third because we moved to the North side of Belgium when I was young so I learned Flemish which is a variant of Dutch, but I don’t speak that anymore because we moved again, and again, and again…”
At that point, barely the tip of my cultural iceberg, people are annoyed with my response, and perhaps understand why I suggested I was from ‘everywhere’.
This is what is meant by being a third-culture kid; you have to negotiate with yourself some sense of identity, so that you can know who you are and how to communicate that when people ask “where are you from?”
I still don’t know.
Would it be strange if I told you I feel at home in airports?
There’s a Chinese proverb which says “moving three times is as bad as a fire”. Constantly uprooting an identity is the equivalent of burning down your house. I remember calculating how many homes I had lived in by the age of twenty and the number was the same as the years I was alive.
Some of my friends wonder why I am challenged by an enduring restlessness, because they weren’t brought up perpetually packing bags and clutching onto passports.
I have been shaped by constant motion, and now I don’t know if I do it out of habit, like some novelty addict searching for one more hit of some new experiences, to numb the short-lived connections I make with people.
How do you nurture a healthy social life when you’re used to saying goodbye all the time?
Small talk has always been really hard for me.
I don’t have time for surface level interactions because I might be gone tomorrow, so let’s lay ourselves out on the table and maybe fall in love for one evening.
Wearing masks eventually becomes a necessity.
Here I am at the Paris Jacques Lecoq school to learn clowning and wearing an appropriate identity-less expression on my face.
In the corner of my armpit, there’s the N22 post code tattoo to establish some Wood Green, London, roots. A tattoo, which has regrettably been lasered off during one of my many identity shifts.
Who is the clown underneath the mask?
So the football is on TV, and you feel nothing for the game because you don’t have a team to support.
It’s an odd sensation to be envious of nationalist pride.
I assume this is how all third culture kids feel, neither here nor there, constantly pretending to be part of the community, but always the outsider, bombarded with judgement about appropriation despite our culture being just that, one in which we soak and sponge our surroundings to acclimatize and camouflage, surrendering to our roles as biological pacification drones.
We can pretend to be one of you, but we never are, and more often than not, you monos remind us of it.
Nationalism has such dirty connotations, with its hijacking from the more extremist and tormented individual who are driven by hate of others rather than love of oneself.
As far as I understand, it’s about a collection of people celebrating their community, their country, their identity. Gathering on occasions stamped in the calendar, so that once a year, or every four for the World Cup, you can cheer and drink and be merry with your friends and family, wave flags and paint your faces, to remind yourselves that you are part of a whole, and no matter what happens, regardless of the good, the bad and the ugly, you have access to this common wealth.
In my mid-thirties and I am still confused as to where home is.
Who are my people? Where do I belong?
I was born in France, but know very little of that country having lived mostly out of her borders. The UK was home for 18 years, until the Brexit break up gave me a deadline to pack up or ask for permission to stay, leaving a bad taste in my mouth and questioning wether I was ever welcome.
And although now legal in both places, I don’t even live in either of these countries, I’m a resident alien of the United States of America; football isn’t football, jam is music, translation gets lost transatlantic, so one is split in more ways than two.
Maybe that’s why the US calls us aliens.
We are close encounters of the third culture kind.
And what about you? What is your identity in a globalized World?
Despite the challenges faced by this culturally rootless identity, constantly scrolling on Netflix looking for a movie, I am grateful for this fluid identity, which doesn’t have to be delineated by nations and its borders. Maybe I could start waving the UN flag, and paint the pale blue dot on my face.
A culture chameleon, highly adaptive, open-minded, multilingual empathetic member of a nomadic tribe, playing hide-and-seek with one another.
This ability to shape-shift to whatever role necessary is a useful tool for an actor. I look forward to breaking through the barrier of being an unknown artist and finally getting the opportunity to use my skills on stage and for the big screen.
And maybe one day, I’ll finally be able to feel at home, and start to grow roots of my own.
Till then… Allez les Bleus! Go on England! Hope this soccer match goes to penalties and it never stops, constantly equal, forever trapping everyone in time.
My stand up comedy album, Alien of Extraordinary Ability, discusses my multicultural mishaps quite nicely; https://www.ericlampaert.com/shop/