Katy Massey, Who Are We Now?

Brits abroad: who are we now?

Families torn apart, friendships damaged irrevocably and shattered hopes for the future proved common themes at a Brexit life-writing workshop I arranged at work this week.

The workshop was part of our annual Inclusion Week. Inclusion is one of our corporate values and the week is intended to help staff find out more about themselves and each other. Lunchtime sessions included introductions to Islam, how to read body language and working with people of different generations.

For me, the Brexit life-writing class was a highlight of the week. It explored what leaving the EU means in terms of how we Britons see ourselves.

I invited acclaimed writer and researcher Katy Massey to lead the workshop. It offered an opportunity for colleagues to get down on paper how they feel about the implications of the vote for them and their families.

However, as Katy explained, life-writing involving sharing a specific experience, rather than writing in a more general way.

Participants paired up and talked through the incident that had prompted us to come to the workshop. Then, after finding a variety of words to use to describe the experience, we set about putting down our stories in writing. At the end, we all shared what we had written with the rest of the group.

There were tears as people read out their prose. Our very identities have been called into question by the outcome of last year’s referendum, we agreed.

The UK joined the then European Economic Community in 1973. People in the workshop said they had grown up seeing themselves as both British and European. I know I do.

I could feel the anger in the room.

One woman described her disappointment with her mother, who had voted Leave despite being an immigrant herself. Her daughter’s plans to work for the EU are now in tatters. Another was unsure whether she could stay living in the UK.

I wrote about my night at the count in Brighton. The result there – a 69% vote to remain – was in stark contrast to what I saw happening nationally on the TV screens.

“People in the workshop said they had grown up seeing themselves as both British and European. I know I do”

Katy, who led the session, has Arts Council backing for her project, entitled Who Are We Now?, looking at our identity in the wake of the Brexit vote. She is about to publish a collection of stories resulting from workshops she has run in London and the South East.

I will offer my piece of writing to her for potential inclusion.

For me, the only positive of the Brexit vote is that it has given me and Damon the push we needed to move to France. Already, though, strangers here and in the UK are asking us how we think we will manage to stay in the longer term.

The answer is that we may have to give up our identities as they stand. Damon is seeking Irish citizenship, while I may have little option but to become French.

Who are we now indeed?

This entry was published on Saturday, 7 October 2017 at 08:29. It’s filed under News and politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

11 thoughts on “Brits abroad: who are we now?

  1. First of all, congratulations on bringing this workshop to your colleagues. It is a brilliant initiative. The night of the vote, I went to bed in Champs sur Tarentaine safe in the knowledge that in the morning all would be well … tested and a little tattered but calm would then be restored. My daughter, who lives in London, rang me in tears – desperate croaking tears and told me what had actually happened. The nightmare had begun. For myself, there is little that changes in terms of who I am. I intended to become a French citizen at the first opportunity (I can start the process next September) before this happened. But that doesn’t stop my anger and despair as I watch my country of birth, the country all four of my daughters were born in, systematically tear itself apart. We have been European since I was 13 years old. I agree that there are problems with the speed at which the EU has grown in recent years and that things have not been perfect. But shutting the door and saying we don’t want you any more could never be the solution. I could write volumes and volumes but I share with most of my British expatriated European friends a lingering sense of bewilderment and a very real grief. I have described it to French friends as an out of body ness. It is dreadful. On a lighter note, I was wandering round the creases of my mind last night and remembered Value Retail which his now called Chic Outlet Shopping. If you don’t know the Brand they have high end outlet villages across Europe. One in each selected country. The London one is actually North of Oxford and called Bicester Village. You and Damon might like to take a trip over the border to Brussels which when I looked at the map is the closest to Lille … I highly recommend them and used to make it a day out from time to time when I needed real retail therapy! https://www.maasmechelenvillage.com/fr/shopping/marques/

    Liked by 2 people

    • Believe me, I share your grief. Feel like I will never quite get over it.

      Thanks for picking up on the recent post about outlet shopping too. I have been to Bicester Village and a trip over the border to Belgium sounds very enticing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought you probably DID know it so apologies if that sounded a little like teaching Granny to Suck Eggs … my local is Milan – I’m definitely forced to check it out … rude not to, I feel!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. mycountryepoque on said:

    one of the best post about brexit ever. I agree with everything I read here today. I voted for “Remain” but the following day I woke up in a different Britain, I packed up and flew to France. My holiday was not a good one since my only thoughts was what am I going to do next. Where do I want to live? We really don’t know who we are, we never knew that something like this was going to happen. just so sad, complicated, misunderstandings. “WHAT NEXT?” is the big question!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. It is certainly sad and worrying.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mycountryepoque on said:

        It is indeed a big worry. I have a daughter 22 years old, a graduate from Uni last year and still wondering where she could work if she wants a change one day in her life. She wanted Europe for her, but this is still hanging and not only me, but many of us mothers are trying to comforts lots of our youths, it is a very heavy moments we are going through. Since we are “Church of England Country” I hope it will show that something will change this stupid Brexit for the better if they believe in “church country”! Who knows? Trust me if this Brexit is not good for those sitting their ass in Downing streets and parliament, they will all run away from it. You know what is happening? it seems that none of them wants to put their signature on paper to sign any pieces of shits, since they know down the line in history, if this country falls into deep shits, generations to generations and history will haunt their graves. They know all about. they are all relying on each other and they still not knowing what to do next. But still I don’t see “Brexit”, all we can see UK still hanging in European Unions, laugh my ass at those pricks who voted “OUT”. shame on them!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You will need to wait 5 years to apply for French nationality, no?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Having lived here for 3 years at the time of the vote we were terrified we would have to return. I ended up ill with severe anxiety and the difficulty of dealing with friends and family who voted out. We still feel we are living in limbo but we are determined to try and stay. I’m not proud to be British and it all feels like a huge backwards step. It will be interesting to look back in a few years time but for now it’s still raw for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It is a very large concern for us, we hear nothing from the British Government to put our minds at rest. It is a big mistake to pull out of Europe.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Trev and I have no family connections that would provide us with another nationality.
    My grandfather was of French descent but not close enough to be useful.

    We can only hope and believe that we will find a way to stay as we won’t have lived here long enough to slot into the likely citizenship application window; neither will we be contributing such a vast taxable income into the French system that they will want to keep us.
    Will ten years of paying property taxes in France and several years of apartment rental returns give us any kudos? Nobody knows, and I mean NOBODY!

    I have no loyalty to Britain; any shred I had went down in flames in June 2016.

    This stuff still fills me with dread and foreboding and dark thoughts. I’m glad you are airing the issue Graham, but it literally still makes me feel sick to think about it.

    Like

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