“Identity! Sometimes it makes my head hurt-sometimes my heart. So what am I? Where do I fit into Britain, 2000 and beyond?”
Several hundred entrants, in two categories of students and teachers, had no problem in identifying Andrea Levy, the British writer, as the author of those words, and the answer to the first question in the British Studies web pages (http://elt.britcoun.org.pl) ‘Identity’ competition. The creativity and ingenuity of the responses to the other questions, however, gave the panel of judges a much harder task in choosing the winners. In this article I will review some of the answers and reveal the winning entrants.
‘One of the best things about Poland’
Both students and teachers were proud of what Teresa Mastalerz called Poland’s ‘historic perseverance’, and Renata Szczepaniak ‘the invincible spirit of solidarity of the people’. As Teresa went on to explain, ‘that’s how we have managed to preserve our identity.’ Equally common were references to the ‘unspoilt beauty of the landscape’, ‘superb cultural heritage’, and ‘incredibly generous, friendly, and polite people’. Ewa Ullman pointed out ‘the unconventionality of intellect and certain boldness in art’, while others explained that Poland has ‘retained its national uniqueness and adapted several features from other cultures’, and that ‘we can take both from the West and the East at will’.
Other aspects of Polish life were rated highly too: ‘freshly baked bread’; ‘Żywiec beer’; ‘the surgical clinic at Zabrze’; ‘Polish women’ (nominated by several women); ‘the best onions in the world’; and ‘ambivalence – Poles believe in God and vote for an atheist President’. Teachers picked up on the theme of Poland’s ‘ubiquitous unpredictability’ (Tomasz Siuta), highlighting the ‘contrasts foreigners would find fascinating, with beautiful poetic landscapes, intelligent people, and potholes in the roads’ (Aleksandra Gelner), and ‘her split identity, because while still looking back, she is striding ahead towards Europe.’ (Anna Twardowska)
It was reassuring to hear more than one teacher echo this tribute to ‘the growing group of well educated young people, because they are the hope of our country’.
‘One of the best things about the UK’
Variety in the UK was much appreciated, as summed up by Marzena Puto: ‘you can visit one country and experience different cultures, accents and landscapes’. The multicultural nature of the United Kingdom was praised as a means of ‘making people understand and accept cultural differences’, and ‘combining national identity with cross-cultural integrity’. ForKarolina Wojdała, the UK ‘has been able to accept numerous influences and create a rich and radiant culture, all the time preserving its heritage.’
Entrants were also very grateful for the English language, which ‘has become an international language by means of which various peoples can understand each other’, and which ‘opens invisible doors, being a key to the world of film, literature and multicultural understanding’. We should remember, however, that the English language belongs to anyone who wants to use it!
British ‘eccentricity’, ‘sense of humour’, ‘individualism’, and ‘ability for self-mockery’ were all valued, but perhaps Lena Novhorodtseva summed up best the prevailing sense of a land of contrasts:
“always near Europe but never in! Amazing wedding of openness and isolation! The extraordinary contrasts! Traditional Britain with its tea, fog, Big Ben and English reserved character and modern multiracial, multicultural and open-hearted Britain”.
‘One of the best things about Europe’
‘Travelling across Europe’, said Jadwiga Sawicka, ‘feels like wandering round different rooms of the same house.’ A strong sense of celebrating diversity and yet maintaining unity came through the responses, with optimism about ‘a continent without borders and prejudice’, with ‘cosmopolitanism and friendship’. The opportunity to travel and explore this cultural diversity, (‘there are hoards of fascinating people and places to encounter wherever you go’), was a major attraction. Many gave the European Union as the means to this end, but it was clear that the relationships envisaged within a new Europe would be reciprocal. Nations had ‘a lot to give and no less to share’ ,and whatever form of union was decided upon, many agreed with Anna Pławecka that this would not endanger cultural diversity, because it leaves space for preserving our own identity. The last word on diversity belongs to Tomasz Siuta: the unique mixture of northern predictability, eastern unpredictability, southern sensibility and western sense…..makes Europeans the community of mystifying paradoxes.
In the end, the panel were only able to separate the two first prize winners from a considerable short list, and other winners were chosen by a prize draw.
The ‘Identity’ competition revealed that in Poland diversity is appreciated, and there is an awareness of multiculturalism within individuals as well as societies. This echoes the words of Jan Karski, the Polish resistance leader from Łódź, (who was also featured in the Identity competition), upon hearing that he had been made an Israeli citizen:
“Now I, a Pole, an American, a Catholic, have become an Israelite. Gloria in excelcis Deo!”
Learners of English:
Teachers of English:
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