Who do we integrate with?

My Mother and I came to London in 1989. I was 3 and a half years old. We had travelled from war torn Iran and had gained asylum.

Fast forward 22 years and a citizenship ceremony later: I like to think I’m as British as a public transport delay. However, there are still elements of Our culture I don’t understand.

If this piece ended now, two paragraphs in, you would have a solid Daily mail headline: ‘Asylum seeker refuses to integrate after 22 years’.

Not that I’m singling out the Mail. Multiculturalism and Integration often make the news whenever the media haven’t got a royal wedding or super duper injunction to keep them entertained. The new mantra is Multiculturalism: Bad; Integration: Good. David Cameron agrees with this mantra, even using 2,000 words to make the same point as the previous sentence in a recent speech.

But integration is a difficult concept because ‘native’ British culture is itself diverse. If you doubt that assertion, try to complete the following: `10 things in common between Stephen Fry and Paul Gascoigne’

So if it’s understandable for Paul and Stephen find elements of each others behaviour alien, so I hope is my bafflement when dinner is called ‘tea’ (Who calls Breakfast ‘Orange Juice’?)

Though of course, the Mail might disagree: ‘Stephen Fry refuses to integrate for 58 years after gaining asylum from Mother’s Womb.’

The language I was raised with at home was English. I developed a stammer when I was 5 and a speech therapist told my mother to focus on only one language. Consequently, I speak Farsi with a limited vocabulary and an English accent that some Iranians find highly amusing (imagine a white guy called Simon Jones speaking broken English in a Middle Eastern accent).

Growing up in North London, I have had friends of many different ethnicities and from all backgrounds. As long as we could play the Super Nintendo Games console for ridiculously long stretches, I would be friends with anyone as a child. A simplistic philosophy for cross cultural interaction I know, but probably much better than what has traditionally been tried in Jerusalem, parts of Africa and Northern Ireland.

After a state education in my beloved north London, I gained a finance degree from Durham University where some might say I reached the zenith of integration into the British cultural mainstream: I was drunk a lot.

I graduated in 2007. After a foray into accountancy and a resulting quarter-life crisis, I’m now trying to ‘find myself’ by venturing into stand up comedy and journalism. Perhaps my decision to leave a stable career to pursue such risky occupations in order to fulfil a vague and self indulgent psychological need is actually the zenith of my integration into an individualistic British Culture. My decision was no doubt influenced by reading spirituality books while backpacking in Thailand, usually while drinking a healthy number of beers.

Today I believe I’m as British as a transport delay because:

– I am in my element in any situation requiring participation in a long and orderly queue;

– when holidaying, I deal with any linguistic differences by still speaking English, only louder than at home;

– when careless people bump into me on the street, I always apologise.

Before you gift me a Bowler hat and a copy of the Times bare in mind the following less stereotypically “British” points about me:

I found the national exuberance over the royal wedding to be irrational and faintly ridiculous. My main thought during the wedding was to wonder in which wars Prince Charles and Phillip were awarded all the military medals they were wearing.

However, does my aversion to monarchy just show I’m a well integrated member of the Republican minority in this country?

Our national Anthem makes me laugh and I prefer the Sex Pistols’ rendition – though that preference has a lot to do with many of my school friends being punk rockers.

My experience of Shakespeare is limited to what I was forced to read in school. Since then, I have shown no interest whatsoever to find out more about Shakespeare. However, my apathy towards Our National Playwright is shared by many white Brits.

The problem with mandating cultural integration is how you can measure conformity to the wide umbrella that is British culture.

Should Abdullah, fresh off the boat, aim to adopt the values of David Attenborough or Dizzee Rascal or both? If it is both, you wouldn’t blame Abdullah for taking the easy option and going back home, probably to face certain torture and death.

This is not to say that migrants shouldn’t be expected to learn English or adhere to British Values; Freedom of Speech, Tolerance, Highly unfashionable male summer wear and so on.

It just means we should be more careful when bandying the term ‘integration’ around, as if ‘being’ British can be reduced to liking fish and chips and preferring Tea to Sex. Not that there’s anything wrong with a good cuppa…


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