It is green, there are a lot of farms, it’s quiet and to the general public perception, endearingly backward. The scenery ranges from rugged, dramatic cliffs plunging into frothy turquoise ocean, to babbling creeks meandering down roly poly hills to white sand beaches. There are hardly any people here, and they have funny accents.
People drive 4x4’s for a reason, and if your car’s layered with anything less than 2 inches of mud splatter and manure, you’re a bit of a ‘poof.’ Wellies are acceptable attire in Tescos, on the school run and surprise birthday parties.
Maybe it comes from having a smaller population- smaller communities means closer connections and stronger family ties. Everybody knows everybody and everybody knows everybody’s business, cousin-in-law and skeletons-in-closets. Families don’t live here, generations do. All of this is lovely, and although a bit bizarre to me at first, the idea of being involved in community and having an extended family that you not only know the names of, but have actually met, is growing on me.
The thing that is the most alienating is the sheer, unwavering and completely sincere patriotism. This grated on me at first, but I’m starting to find it less offensive now after six months. Here’s an exemplary comparison
I’m from West Sussex. Could you imagine anyone in Sussex, East or West for that matter a) asking where, exactly, you were from and b) actually caring?! Do we, in Sussex, have a specific name for people who are not-from-Sussex? Nope? Because the Cornish do.
There is of course, the well-chronicled Devon/Cornwall divide, which is actually a very serious issue. But not only do you have to be on the ‘right side of the Tamar’, in fact anyone living within a PL postcode (so, half the county,) is regarded with a fair share of suspicion.
In New Zealand, I came across a very similar thing. Everyone was very proud to be kiwi- undoubtedly like Cornwall, there is much independence, beauty and roughing-it to be proud of. But it is like these two groups of people are competitng in a patriotism contest that none of the rest of the world is bothered with. Listen to the local radio stations. Either the USP, slogan or name of nearly every product, service or provider has either Kiwi or Kernow in it. But they’re only selling to Kiwis and Kernows.
Example; I bought a sack of potatoes the other day from a local, side of the road stall next to a field of potatoes, from which they had clearly come. The only passing trade this man would possibly get is Cornish people. It was in the arse end of nowhere. And yet, he’d made a great effort to package his potatoes in sacks that said CORNISH POTATOES. Just in case.
Another specificity I laughed at (and then got told off for laughing at it) was that when I signed up to the doctors surgery. Name, address, telephone number, date of birth- all standard form questions, as was this; ‘Ethnicity’ and a little tick chart with the following options (in this order.)
How is your COUNTY an ethnicity?! I have so many questions for whoever thought of this..
Do you have to be born here to have Cornish ethnicity?
Or, how long must you have lived here? Ten years? Twenty? Fifty? Can you only be posthumously Cornish?
Do these people have a Cornish passport we don’t know about?
If they are asking this question, is there preferential treatment in Cornish doctors surgeries if you are a local?
How can you prove it, short of bringing along your birth certificate?
Finally, why does NOWHERE ELSE IN THE UK classify your ethnicity based on a) what county you are from and b) whether that county is Cornwall?
So the only forms that are asking if you are Cornish are Cornish forms- is it because people are really so stubborn that they won’t tick a box claiming they are British?! Because what difference does it make?
But who am I to judge? At this point in time, I’ve only been living here two, nearly three months. Not enough to feel at home anywhere, regardless of how welcoming or wary they are of outsiders. I wonder if I’ll ever fit in. I asked Rob this question, after all, I’d find it really hard to consider living here forever if I can’t see it as my home. I know I may never be a true Cornish, but can I at least live in Cornwall without be constantly reminded of this fact? And at the moment, six months pregnant, having some solid ground in which to lay my roots feels like a priority.
Those that know Rob will be aware he’s not the most philosophical person, so you’ll be as surprised as I was with his eloquent response;
“Being Cornish is a state of mind and a privilege. The more you relax into it, the more Cornish you’ll be.”
Oh and I almost forgot, he finished with, “And you can start by getting rid of those poofter wellies.”
That’s more like it.