Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A tale of two countries

By: Erica

As both Californian and British, never formally comfortable calling myself one or the other, I have always related to the tale of Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth von Arnim.  

Nicknaming themselves Christopher and Columbus, the Twinkler twins, orphans of an English mother and a German father, find themselves shipped off to America during World War One. They were “refugees, castaways, derelicts, two wretched little Germans who were neither really Germans nor really English because they so unfortunately, so complicatedly were both.”  Despite von Arnim’s customary wit and charm, there is also a forlorn sadness to the twins inability to belong.

British pragmatism. 
It is perhaps not surprising that Von Arnim, herself, was a refugee of sorts. Born in Australia to British parents, she married a Prussian aristocrat, and lived in both Germany and England, before ultimately ending up in Charleston, South Carolina.

Although I love nearly all the works of Elizabeth von Arnim, I have always identified with the Twinkler twins.  Unable to define themselves to one specific nationality, they are always at a loss when asked if they are British.  Their standard reply of “Practically” results in “surprise, reflection, and then suspicion.”  Unable to fit neatly into any particular box, they alienate and confuse any new acquaintances.

Born in England, but largely raised in California, I, like the Twinkler twins, always have a hard time telling people where I’m from. I tend to give a long, drawn out, complicated explanation that leaves everyone, including myself, confused.  And perhaps the truth is that I am confused by my own nationality. I would like to be British, but despite a love of baked beans on toast, and Cadbury flakes, I don’t always remember to say lift instead of elevator, or biscuit instead of cookie. And yet, I don’t feel entirely Californian either. I’m not blonde. I don’t surf or skateboard. I don’t eat healthy. And I’m terrible at sports.

Although the twins tell themselves that they must decide what they are, they never do. They are constantly in limbo, neither one nor the other. Their German soul inspires them to love Slush (excessive sentiment), while their British soul tells them to mock it. 

I must admit to the same hypocrisy in many of my own opinions and preferences. I love both the British and American office, Steve Carrel and Ricky Gervais being equally brilliant in my transatlantic eyes. I despise the undemocratic nature of the British aristocracy and yet romanticize William and Kate. I’d be hard pressed to say whether I prefer a good Sunday Roast or an all American BBQ. Roast pudding and hamburgers being equally delicious and decadent. But, I always prefer my tea with milk. And I love clotted cream and jam on my scones.  

So I guess at least when it comes to tea, I am well and truly British. The other areas of my life will have to go undefined.

~ This piece is the second installment in the Strangers in Strange Lands series. Although she is liable to change polarity at any moment, Erica is currently a Californian in Britain. A tea-drinking romantic, she can be found dispensing "old-fashioned advice for life's modern dilemmas" at Teatime with Erica.


  1. Hard to fit into a box, isn't it? Easier too. One of life's many contradictions.

  2. Oh, it's a roast over a BBQ for me every time! But then I am English.

    I can relate here at a bit of a tangent. I was brought up in a London Borough that is part of County of Kent. When people ask me where I come from and I say "London, erm Bromley actually" they will say "oh, you mean Kent" as if I was trying to dodge my suburban roots. If I say "Bromley, Kent" they say "oh, you mean South London" as if I am being slightly obtuse and overly precious. Can't win.

    Next time I might answer "Bromley, the Moon"

  3. As long as there's cake in the box, I guess it's not too bad...

  4. I come from a location on the moon too. Not the Sea of Tranquility unfortunately.