With the World Cup gracing our screens over the next two months, I’m again confronted with one of the smaller challenges of having a dual nationality. A Belgian who emigrated to Australia as a teen, and who obtained dual citizenship, became a “Belgalian” or “Austrelgian” if you will. Add in the fact that I now live in France married to a football-lovin’ Frenchman, and of course my support has branched off to a third party. Our spot in the fan-zone, however, is not the main challenge one might face when being a citizen of two or more countries, as the issue can go a lot deeper than which team to support.
1. ‘Supporting’ your country in events (let’s start on a lighter note)
Some people find it hard to understand that one can back two or more teams. Some die-hard fans might find it hard to accept that you’re not totally committed to only one side and even view it as ‘disloyal’. When it comes to football – and I mean the ‘real’ football where they actually use their feet *oh snap* 😝 – I tend to lean more to my Belgian roots, perhaps because the sport has been culturally more popular there. But that doesn’t stop me from waving the Southern Cross like a maniac when it’s the Aussies’ turn. And of course, during other games the Blues have got my full support as well. Being attached to several countries means you can pick and choose when you support your respective countries. They might have strengths in different areas and why not celebrate all of those, because … well… we can 🙂
2. Cultural Education
Some might question whether allowing dual citizenship disrupts cultural assimilation and degrades national identity. Integration into another country’s culture and identity is part of the expat or migrant’s life, but that doesn’t mean your own customs don’t take a small hit once in a while with the occasional culture clash, depending on where you live. My European tendency to give everyone a kiss on the cheek as I greet them, got a few raised eyebrows in Australia at first (why does she need to go around to all 10 people at the dinner party? ) Much like how the Anglo-saxon influence in my upbringing hasn’t always been well understood here in France. (Why does she feel the need to talk to random strangers, why do they eat and go to bed so early, or why does she love Halloween so much?) You’re trying to wade your way through a mixing pot of cultural habits, things you’ve learnt in one country but not the other and so on. Despite all that, as a dual citizen, you have the advantages of that mixing pot and being immersed in the culture of two or more countries. Not only does this enhance a certain open-mindedness as you learn about different histories, languages and ways of life; but it allows for you to put an individual spin on how you combine the best of these worlds into your own life. It’s truly a gift if you ask me.
3. Emotional Attachment
To what extent do people who have more than one understanding of national identity feel a sense of belonging? For many of us multi-nationals, national identity is a blend of factors. Family history, community, spirituality, personal experience, political views, ethnicity and actual citizenship are only to name a few. For those who obtained a second citizenship through a previous generation, balancing national identity and emotional attachment may not affect their day to day lives. However, for others, the link to family heritage and cultural identity is not necessarily dropped when obtaining a second nationality. We sometimes question ourselves on where we might fit in more, or which culture we truly identify with, but do we need to choose in the first place?
For some of us, being a dual national means identifying with our immediate surroundings. Dual citizen Elizabeth states “I connect to where I am. When in France, I feel more French, as being here means I’m immersed in all the things that make me French. Just like being back in the US makes me feel more American than ever.” Others might have an opposite impulse and lean on their emotional attachment when they are out of that broader environment. I tend to refer more to my European background when I’m in Australia, but defend Down Under with a fiery passion if anyone ever has anything to say about it in France. The dual identities and harmonizing one’s loyalty become part our lives (even expats with only the one nationality could relate to this I’m sure). Despite the differences between all of our countries though, many of us have found a home in both (or more) places.
4. ‘Political’ backlash
In some cases, those who think of themselves as the core citizens of a nation find something unsettling in the notion of a fellow-citizen who is also of another citizenship and nationality. They view nationality as a distinctive status of their nation, which implies connection to that nation, rather than simply the legal tie. As a blue-eyed, blonde Caucasian I haven’t had too many troubles with this issue, but plenty of loved ones around me have had to deal with others’ ignorance and hostility over the years. There are unfortunately still a large number of people who see themselves as the historical ‘natives’ and therefore perceive immigrant ‘outsiders’ as a threat to the fabric of their national identity. Comments like “well if you miss it so much, why don’t you just go back” or “that’s not how we do it here, take it or leave it” sadly only sound too familiar and don’t come from just the one place…. this stuff’s everywhere.
Luckily, the above is only one point of view and many others embrace the cultural differences brought with each new citizen. Accommodating multiple identities does not mean we have to abandon our cultural heritage. In many democratic societies, people are free to follow and share their beliefs and traditions as long as they do not break the laws of that country (seems fair enough). We need to value this freedom and role model treating others with mutual respect, regardless of country of origin, gender, race, sexual preference, politics, wealth or religion.