The identity crisis of the semi-international student at Edinburgh


From a first meeting, I could pass as a born and bred Brit. I’ve got a bog standard London accent, I am a proud Marmite devotee and I probably apologise too much. And it’s true, I am British by nationality, but having lived ~abroad~ since I was 8, I sometimes feel like I’m floating in identity limbo. 

A certain incident where I confessed, to the shock and surprise of many, that I didn’t know whether full fat milk comes with a red or blue lid, left me wanting to shout ‘I’m not from here!’ in self-defence— except technically, I am.

‘Where are you from’ is the innocuous question that sends people like me into a cold sweat and sparks an existential crisis. I don’t feel like I’m from London – I have hardly any friends or family left who live there and I don’t know how an Oyster card works for god’s sake – but I’m not really from Luxembourg either. What do you mean? What does ‘from’ even mean?

The culture

I had Sky at home in Luxembourg (I’m only a bit ashamed to admit I’ve seen almost all the seasons of X Factor and Strictly) and I am well acquainted with all of the weird and wonderful ideas that this country’s advertising industry comes up with, from the Go Compare man to those cute little meerkats. I went to a British international school, and did GCSEs and A levels so it’s not as if I’m completed isolated from British culture.

I am British enough to own personalised Marmite

I’m down with the sarcasm and weather complaints, but after moving back to the UK to come to uni here in Edinburgh, it took me quite a while to get used to the overt friendliness of strangers – in particular shop assistants. At home, you’re lucky if a cashier cracks a smile, let alone actually helps you with something or asks you how your day was – at first when accosted by a grinning helpful face, asking ‘are you alright there?’, I would reply in a panic – ‘yes, I’m fine, how are you?’

The language

I’ve inherited my vocabulary from a) my middle-aged British parents and b) my international friends – so even though I use more cringeworthy British expressions than a lot of people I know (blimey! what a faff!), I sound like an old person and am definitely not what you might call ‘down with the kids’.

My creepy habit of repeating ways that people say things comes from a fascination at discovering new words and accents that you would NEVER hear back home – the one girl from Cumbria in my class at school was practically a tourist attraction.

exemplar 1 of Luxembourgish, which IS A REAL LANGUAGE

And I know it sounds completely obnoxious, but after coming back to uni after the holidays I have to retrain myself to only say my sentences in English, and not add in random foreign expressions – because it’s quite embarrassing if you just suddenly say something in a language most people don’t think exists.

Either way, people act impressed that I can speak a couple of extra languages to a decent standard, but I feel like a fraud when I know so many people who can speak five, completely fluently – something that sadly isn’t quite normal for your average Brit.

The food

When you’ve spent a good chunk of your life in a country where the ‘British’ section of the supermarket consists of a few dodgy tins of custard, you develop a feverish excitement when confronted with the average UK supermarket, or at least I do. PG Tips? Cadbury’s chocolate? Crisps in more exciting flavours than paprika? These things of wonder will elude you no longer.

When I came to uni I was thrilled at the possibility of being able to get my hands on some of my favourite treats so easily. Being able to roll out of bed and into Tesco to stock up on Mini Cheddars or scotch eggs at all times of day is something you appreciate when at home, all the shops shut at 7 or 8pm and double cream doesn’t even exist. 

On the other hand, sometimes I find myself getting annoyed by the little ways that the food in the UK falls short in comparison to the oh-so-cultured continent. Why is it so hard to get decent fresh bread without bankrupting yourself in an artisanal bakery? Why is there such a small selection of cheese in the supermarkets? Why are most croissants so dry and gross? These are the crippling first world problems that no poor soul has to contend with if they live in France (or in my case, a country that’s basically France).

real baguettes don’t have those weird little dots on the bottom

The fashion

Apparently I also dress quite differently to a lot of my peers. Back at home, I hated how all the girls would seem to be dressed the same – dark jeans, leather jacket, Longchamp bag – but I had to admit to myself that however unoriginal it was, at least it looked alright. I didn’t wear uniform at school, and I’m not sure if a single Jack Wills hoody has ever graced the streets of Luxembourg. Again, apparently this is a bit unusual.

I’m told this is not a typical British outfit

It seems like the last word any student here would want their style to be described as would be ‘chic’ – and no matter how hard I try to experiment with snazzy visible coloured socks, I seem to have absorbed the pretentious European way of dressing, which basically means under no circumstances do you dress weather-appropriately. I don’t own a proper pair of trainers and most of my shoes are suede, cue withering looks from Scots as I nimbly hop across Edinburgh’s puddles in my loafers but doing so whilst eating a pack of Hula Hoops.

I live a life of contrasts, with my identity forever in limbo.