Person I’ve just met: ‘Where are you from?’
PIJM: ‘Ah, I love/loathe/am indifferent to London.’
Me: ‘Understandable… Can you pass the cheese?’
Simple, right? That’s how the conversation should go. This is how it actually goes…
PIJM: ‘Where are you from?’
PIJM: ‘Are you from London, London?’
OK. Now. Please. What does this question even mean!? What possible reply is expected?!
‘Aw, you got me! I’m not from London, London, I’m from non-London, London’, or ‘almost-London, London. I can’t keep up this charade any longer!’
I have found that there is a bizarre yet widespread international scepticism that anyone actually comes from London.
NEWS FLASH: it’s a city of 8 million people! It should be one of the least surprising responses someone can give in answer to a question about their geographical origins.
Anyway, back to the conversation:
Me: ‘Yes, I’m from London, London.’
You’d think that would settle it, but no! The interrogation invariably continues on one of two lines:
Variation a) the centrality attack:
PIJM: ‘So, you’re from the city of London?’
Me: ‘Well, yes. I grew up in Ealing. It’s a typical London suburb. I’m not from The City of London, where all the banks are, but…’
PIJM: ‘Ah! So you’re not really from London then.’
Absurd! Contrary to cockney legend, not all Londoners are born within the sound of Bow Bells. If a postcode ending in ‘1’ were the qualification for being from London, then 90% of Londoners would be Russian oil billionaires. I’m from a London borough in a respectable tube zone (3), I vote in the London Mayoral elections (Red Ken!), I walk at a swift pace and in a straight line, I loathe Oxford Street. I’m a Londoner!
Variation b) the origins attack:
PIJM: But, are your parents from London?
Me: No, my mum was born in Ireland and my dad’s from up North.
PIJM: Ah, so you’re not a real Londoner, then.
Again, following this logic, the heaving population of multicultural London would be reduced to that of a hamlet. And, if this were the case, where would my interlocutor allow me to legitimately be able to say that I was from? Limerick? The town where my mother lived until the age of 3, and which I’ve visited once? Preston?! I get a nose-bleed if I travel north of Watford!
Which brings me neatly to…
PIJM: ‘Where are you from?’
PIJM: ‘Ah! You’re English!’
Me: No, I’m not English, I’m a Londoner!
PIJM: London’s in England, isn’t it?
OK, to be fair, the whole England/UK/Great Britain thing is rather complicated:
I’m not asking everyone to understand these intricacies, but I would prefer that they didn’t correct the answer that I give them!
It may be counterintuitive, but while London happens to be located within the borders of England, not everyone from London identifies as English. In fact, most don’t. Scores of Londoners support Pakistan when they play England at cricket; many Irish, Welsh and Scottish Londoners will bristle at accusations of Englishness; and many of us are just so damn London-centric that we have barely ventured beyond the green belt to Albion in our entire lives! When I’m in rural England, I feel like I’m in a foreign country, quite frankly!
Now, where was that cheese…?