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Frumious Brandysnaps

Ex-pat Brit, living in the UK

Ex-pat Brit, living in the UK

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It's been a while since I've treated you all to one of my long rambling streams of consciousness, so what the hell, it's time for another one. The truth is I've not been paying much attention to LiveJournal lately, dipping in and out here and there so I've probably missed a fair amount. I've mostly been hanging out in the other place.

One of the things that's caught my attention in the last couple of weeks has been the "British Forces Brats" group on Facebook which has suddenly gone into overdrive and is filling my spare time with happy nostalgia. As most of you probably know, but some might not, when I was growing up I spent four years on an army base at JHQ Rheindahlen, Germany. I'd just turned 14 when we arrived and I was 18 years old and about to go to university when we came back to the UK. They were probably the most formative years of my life, spent in a little piece of Britain in the Rheinland. Needless to say, I absolutely loved my time out there and before too long I was completely settled and had come to view Germany as home, as though it were a second home nation alongside the UK.

There was a problem, though - when we finally did come back to the UK, I came back to the same town I'd left four years earlier, but everything was slightly "off". I spoke the lingo, could find my way around with ease, but the UK felt like a foreign country. There was a lot of stuff I didn't recognise and there was a big - seriously big - pop-culture gap happening. People would talk about TV shows and bands I hadn't heard of, and looked at me funny when it became apparent that I was faking my way around UK life. Classic culture shock. Or the other way round, I would mention something that to me was as familiar as jaegerschnitzel and, oh, the blank faces. To a lesser extent I still get this these days, though I've now had nearly twenty years to practice my fakery - but the UK isn't home, not really. Not any more.

So... anyway, this Forces Brats group on Facebook - it's bloody marvellous is what it is. For the first time in years, I've been catching up with other folks who've had the same sorts of experiences I had when I was growing up, we've been sharing stories and remembering old places, characters and the things we miss from our travels. We're all mixed up third culture kids, we identify more strongly with each other than what you might term the "home culture". The last couple of weeks nattering have been really wonderful for me, and everyone's so welcoming, it's like a big old family reunion going on. It's been made a lot more poignant by the fact that JHQ Rheindahlen, my old home, and home to so many of us, is finally closing down this summer after nearly sixty years of Forces, MOD and other supporting families passing through those old gates. It was an incredible place and I've always felt lucky to have lived there, but from what I hear now it's little more than a ghost town. I daren't look, it would be too awful.

It's a funny old thing, but I've realised in the last couple of days what this community that's sprung up on Facebook actually is. With all of us getting together, sharing old stories, reliving memories and keeping our culture alive, it feels exactly like an ex-pat community. Which means that for most of us these days, it's a community for ex-pat Brits, living in the UK. Which makes me chuckle.

When I first came back to Blighty and met new people, they would quickly spot that I wasn't a local and would ask the inevitable question - so where are you from? where is "home"? It would get very confusing very quickly... was it the place I was born, or the place I went to school, or the little village we used to live in, or... or...? I think the last couple of weeks have brought me to the realisation that "home", for me, is the place where I became me. It's a little town a couple of klicks west of Mönchengladbach, it's where I went to school, it's where I fell in awkward teenage love, it's where I snuck off during study periods to go play cards and computer games with the other nerds, it's where I first got embarassingly drunk on Apfelkorn, it was home for but four years, but by golly they were good ones. And come July it won't be there any more.

image originally from an article on the Rheinischer Post site, thanks to my friend Anja for sending me the link.
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