On Supporting England

Peter Pomerantsev in the London Review of Books:

121110541_01‘Will you be supporting England?’ English people have asked me ever since I can remember. My family moved to London from Kiev in 1980, when I was three. The question might look like a football version of Norman Tebbit’s ‘cricket test’. But one of the earliest things I worked out as an immigrant child is that you’re not meant to rush into English identity. You can do that in the US maybe, but it would be utterly un-English to try to be too English too fast. ‘Who do you support?’ is a bit of a trick question.

I’d felt this instinctively early on but Dr Douek, who cut out my tonsils when I was 18, helped me understand it in a more structured way. ‘The English are very accepting, as long as you don’t try to be pukkah English,’ he said, as he peered into my throat. He too had come here as a child, part of a family of Hungarian Jews who fled the Nazis. By the time of my operation Douek was well into retirement age but still spoke with a slight Mitteleuropean accent, which I suspect may have been affected, to show he wasn’t trying to be ‘pukkah’.

We agreed that becoming English took three generations. Someone born outside England was ‘from Russia/Hungary’. The second generation, born in England, might say they were English ‘but of Russian/Hungarian parentage’ (the ‘but’ is crucial). The third generation was pretty much English.

More here.