My first visit to London and My Cultural Identity

When we were told we’d go to the UK, I was surprised because for one, we didn’t speak a word of English. Luckily, my mum had a friend who lived there (she since returned to Portugal). My mum simply loved the royal family and followed their history and stories so close. I knew some history, due to my extensive reading about the history of France, I was aware of the continuous rivalry between the 2 nations. I was fascinated with the UK’s monarchy, especially since prince William was born in the same year as me. I admired princess Diana’s kindness and beauty.

My mum booked the tickets for us to travel to the UK. Back then, the cheapest way to travel to the UK, was by coach. Then, we’d have to cross the English Channel in a boat. It was long but fun also. There was so much entertainment we could do in the boat; there was a cinema, a soft play. We met nice people also. My mum always took many pictures whenever and wherever we went.

Once we arrived in the UK, it was so cold as we were in winter. What struck me was that the sky was covered with a thick grey fog. The weather is what I remember 30 years on, always miserable, it was either raining or simply the sky constantly being covered with a grey blanket. However, the British people were (and still are) so cheerful and nice. I remember how polite they were, especially to us as foreigners. So we went to my mum’s friend’s house. The first night there, as we were watching TV, I was so gob smacked. I saw a news reader black. In fact, each time we watched the channel ITV, he was always there. I even retained his name. I would have the pleasure of meeting Sir Trevor McDonald’s during my graduation 17 years later in London. 

Back then, in Switzerland, you’d never see a black journalist or black people on TV full stop. 

After settling in in this new city, we wanted to discover London. As we hit town, I saw many black people, either bus drivers, or policeman or simply black people of any walks of life. No one looked at them weird (well apart from me). I must admit, the same was for us, only when we spoke, people looked at us because we couldn’t speak the language. I was still not impressed with the depressing weather and the food. However, I felt so at home in the UK, just like I felt in France. We only stayed in London for one week. The day before our impending departure, we were treated to a restaurant in Chinatown. I looked around London with such amazement. So much light, so much going on, it’s not peaceful like Geneva. I also remembered how big London was compared to Geneva.

 Then, I saw my name in big lights for the iconic film “Thelma & Louise”. In London, people called me Thelma and not Telma. Seeing the film’s title, I wanted to watch the film so badly. My mum said it was not for my age and I will watch it when I will be older. My curiosity and eagerness to watch the film was unbearable. I was simply too young, only 9 at the time. My curiosity, always lurking, got the best of me. I would watch the film 3 years later. It remained my top 3 favourite films of all time. I also wished and hoped that one day, I would be famous.

When I returned to Switzerland, I missed the UK already. However, we would return to the UK 2 years later when a crime shocked a whole nation and the whole world. I felt so boisterous and arrogant towards my classmates. I obviously made up some stories about my time in London. I also realised, Portuguese nationals who lived in Geneva, would only travel to Portugal not discovering other countries. Obviously we were different. Not only did I stand out for my personality, my colour and not following what my other Portuguese friends did, I enjoy discovering other parts of the world. Of course, I always love returning to Portugal, but after going to France and the UK, I wanted to see more, just like the great famous Portuguese explorers did in the 15th century. They were the first to set off before the Spanish, the French and even the British. I also learned that no matter where I am, or going to, my Portuguese origins will always be with me, even whilst living in Geneva.

While reminiscing of 1991, it was such an eventful year for us. As Portuguese, we were Catholics too, but we haven’t yet been baptized. The priest at the time made it very hard for us to be baptized because he considered us too old. Also, we didn’t have godparents yet. My mum chose a childhood friend of hers for my sister. For me, it was supposed to be my favourite aunty, my mum’s 2nd oldest sister, but she declined because she was either too busy, or she already had a goddaughter. Then, my mum was on the search for a godmother for me. It took her a while, but then, she found the perfect real life fairy godmother for me. In a way, I felt bad because I was not an easy person. Whoever dared being part of my life would see I wasn’t easy to deal with. But, nothing seemed impossible with my future godmother who not only was Portuguese and shared the same name as my sister ‘Maria’. Despite me missing my father profusely, my religion and life offered me a 2nd family for better and worse.

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