Josna Rege

252. In the Eurozone

In 2010s, Books, Britain, Education, Inter/Transnational, parenting, places, travel, Words & phrases on April 5, 2014 at 10:55 pm

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When Nikhil was in Kindergarten, one of his first homework assignments was to look at a world map and answer a number of questions, including how many continents there were.

Together, we looked up what a continent was. The dictionaries we consulted seemed to agree that a continent is defined as a large, continuous, discrete mass of land, ideally separated by an expanse of water. We left Nikhil poring over a map of the world until he had figured out the answer to the question, and the number he came up with was six (Eurasia, Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Antarctica), or seven if you counted Greenland. We told him that Europe was usually considered a separate continent, but he insisted that the definition did not support that conclusion, and we backed him up and helped him write the justification for his answer. I still agree with his conclusion, and according to Universe Today, so does “the geographic community, the former parts of the USSR, and Japan.” In my view, the reason that Europe is considered a continent is political rather than geographical, part of an ideology constructed in the era of European colonialism, as Samir Amin has argued in his book, Eurocentrism.

I myself have always felt that Europe needs to be de-centered, meaning that all Europe’s tastes, cultures, values, and achievements should not be held up as the pinnacle of achievement or universal norms to which the rest of the world must aspire, but rather, as regional characteristics. One of my pet peeves, for example, is that European classical music is simply called “classical music,” as if there were only one classical tradition, the European, and no other cultures had their own, different classical forms, systems, and traditions.

I am currently visiting Germany, the most powerful country in the 28-member European Union (EU). I have dual citizenship, both U.S. and British, and by virtue of my British passport I am a citizen of the European Union. But in the past whenever I’ve travelled to Europe it has been to Britain, not to the Continent, and the Britain both is and is not part of Europe, both by geography (as an island) and by political affiliation (as a result of its so-called special relationship with the United States). Although it is part of the 28-member EU, it is not part of the Eurozone, the group of 18 countries who have adopted the Euro as their common currency.


Yesterday I withdrew cash in the form of Euros for the first time, and handled new, unfamiliar currency rather than the pounds and pence that Britain hasn’t been ready to give up. Although from a British perspective it is easy to understand the reluctance to give up their national currency, this combined transnational identity has a powerful appeal. I like the idea of being a citizen of the EU as well as of Britain, the country of my birth, of being able to move between and work in the EU’s 28 member countries without a visa or work permit. At a time when the world is dominated by the United States as the sole superpower (though China may soon be a close contender), joining together in the EU gives smaller countries much-needed economic and political clout. But I will always be on the periphery of a European identity, not only because I hold a British passport or because I live in the United States, but also because Europe persists in defining itself as the center of Western civilization and the inheritor and custodian of the civilizations of Greece and Rome. I personally don’t see or want to see the world artificially divided into categories of “East” and “West” and believe, with Samir Amin and others, that there were other influences that went into the making of Europe, notably those of the Arab Islamic world.

Still, it’s very interesting to be in the heart of the Eurozone, in a self-confident, financially solvent, social democratic, smoothly functioning society that serves its citizens well. From this vantage point, little Britain looks poor and provincial. Two weeks from now, when I travel there, my perspective will no doubt shift again. But I still agree with Nikhil that there are only six continents— perhaps only five, since in Latin America, North and South America are considered one continent, not two.


Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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  1. Europe and Asia are politically separate but physically it can be called Euroasia. Also for a traveller moving from one European country to another Euro came as a boon for them. Otherwise it would have been very difficult for the travellers to move from one European country to another.
    M kumari

  2. […] In the Eurozone Decentering Europe (is it really a continent?) and reflections on the EU […]

  3. I’m all in favor of Euros; very convenient for travelers on the Continent. (Did you know that Ben Booz republished Treat in a Trout in Yvoire so she’d have some Euro income?)

  4. thanks, josna, looking forward to more of the “travel challenge” one little point, though….one could, of course have a discussion with respect to the observation that Germany is a country that serves its citizens well. while it is true that “we” are so much more solidly better off in terms of public infrastructure and education than other countries in Europe, let alone the larger world; and while it is true that Germany might serve some privileged, mostly white groups of its citizens very well, and while it is true that Germany’s middle class might still be more stable and comfortable than the massively endangered formerly stable white middle classes in other European countries, growing numbers of people, many of them from migrant communities, would not see themselves being served well at all…. bine

  5. I believe that you (and Nikhil) are absolutely correct in affirming Eurasia as a single contiguous continent (as the crust is currently configured). I can also see the validity of recognising Greenland as a continent, in the same way that Australasia is so recognised.
    As a British citizen who has been living in France for eight years, my view on the EU, and the UK’s relationship to it, may differ from yours, although I don’t think this is the arena for political debate. It has, however, given me a subject to discuss in my blog.

    • Thank you for commenting Keith. You’re quite right to remind us that the continents have shifted and are continuing to shift (after all, we were once all one landmass). I’m not sure what my view is–it shifts too, depending on the standpoint that I take. I think that a blog can certainly be a site for political discussion, and would be interested to hear your views, especially as a British citizen living in Europe.

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