Nomadland (2020) by filmmaker Chloé Zhao is a story about a woman, Fern, who, though initially thrust onto the road due to her husband’s death, then chooses to live her life as a nomad. Free from social obligations, Fern takes the uncommon if unpopular choice of going solo, passing up numerous calls to take the more typical option of living a settled life. Bleak at times, I was drawn to the Best Picture and Best Director Academy Award-winning film having grown up as a kind of nomad myself – a cultural nomad – moving from country to country as a child. Thrust into the lifestyle at first, I too experienced the feeling of being at once an insider and outsider in all the communities I entered and then left.
As a concept, cultural nomadism is attractive and well received. The theologian and paleontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said in the early part of the 20th century that the age of nations has passed. In practice, though, living the life of a cultural nomad can be complicated, in part because social values are wedded to politics, and this complexity was brought home to me this week when I was summoned to apply to become a settler in the UK through the European Settlement Scheme. Scrambling to download an app to have my ID checked on the deadline date of 30th of June 2021, I protested what I saw as a tedious bureaucratic hoop to justify Brexit. I have Permanent Residency, I muttered submitting the online application, so why do I need to Settle? Do I now have to love Marmite, too?
A century after Teilhard de Chardin said that the age of nations has passed, here was proof that it hadn’t. But no matter, if I wanted to stay and work in the UK the way I had before the nation voted to leave the EU, I didn’t have a choice. Now all I could do was try and see the upside of an accepted application – at least I’d finally belong to a new community of hopeful settlers! With the 4th of July just around the corner, I couldn’t help but wonder if the residents of the US felt this way when the 13 colonies broke away from Great Britain in 1776. The irony –
Lest I forget, Happy Independence Day 2021 to Americans all over the world! And p.s., for the record, if I get accepted as a Settler, I’m still not going to love Marmite, which I guess is a way of saying I’m still going to remain a loyal nomad at heart.