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My nationality is ‘European’

imagesReading the article by Simon Kuper ‘Why Europe Works’ (Financial Times 23/05/14), I finally realised that I would rather call myself European than any other single nationality.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about citizenship. Citizenship is a legal construct that implies rights and responsibilities: nationality is a statement of identity. Despite the fact that nations arose only in the 18th century (some were created as late as last year), we have become accustomed to labelling ourselves with a nationality to establish our ‘place’ in the world.

I was born in Quebec to French Canadian parents. When I was three my father joined the Canadian civil service and we began our globally nomadic lives. I have since lived in 11 countries, speak 4 languages and am married to a Dutchman. There is, therefore, no single nationality that encapsulates my background.

The fact that Europe encompasses multiple nations makes the label ‘European’ appealing. But then I could call myself ‘North American’: I lived in both the United States and Canada and went to American International schools overseas.

But while there are definitely aspects to my identity that are North American, the label doesn’t satisfy my taste for cultural diversity.

In the article, Kuper mentions that Europeans have always moved across each other’s territory. Europeans, therefore, have always been aware of the ‘other’. The proximity of different cultures has enabled people to share and learn from each other. It is what made the explosion of the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries possible – scientists in very different cultural and linguistic regions shared ideas and research results that stimulated more research and new findings…

So what appeals to me about the label ‘European’ is that it embraces the physical presence of many cultures, implies the free movement between regions and enables the sharing of ideas among disparate world views.

And despite the griping about their standard of living and the current squeezing of belts during the economic crisis, Kuper shows that ‘Most Europeans still enjoy the most comfortable daily life on earth.’ In Europe, wealth and privileges are shared quite fairly:

  • Gender equality: of the top nine countries on the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index, seven are European;
  • Low corruption: six of the top eight countries in Transparency International’s corruption perception index are European;
  • Income equality: Europe has 17 countries with most income equality, according to the American CIA ranking;
  • We have good healthcare: most countries where people can expect to live to 82 or longer are European, according to the World Health Organisation

So if you ask me what my nationality is, I would feel most comfortable answering that I am European, not because that is where I am ‘from’ but because this socio-political entity best corresponds to my personal values and world outlook.

I’ll try it out next time I’m at a cocktail party and let you know how it goes…

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