Earlier this year, I decided to treat myself to a DNA test from a well-known company, which specialises in genetics and family trees as a sort of Christmas present to myself. Honestly, in a way, I was looking for a semi-logical explanation as to why I’m so interested (some might say obsessed) with Northern Europe and it’s languages. A sort of genetic predisposition. It wasn’t quite so far fetched – living as I do in the north east of England, it seems unlikely that I wouldn’t have any Scandinavian blood in me at all, because as most of you will already know, the area was a regular stomping ground for Viking invaders.
The results came back early in the morning, a few days ago as I was getting ready for work – I can remember almost holding my breath as I waited for the app to load on my phone – and I have to admit, I was disappointed. I’ve posted the preview of the results over to the right. There was more detail on the website, which went on to reveal that the average native Brit has around 60% British DNA – being mongrels as we are. It came as a surprise (or rather, a shock) to me that I was genetically more British than average; especially considering that recently I have been feeling intensely disconnected with this island and its inhabitants. I just wonder what my ancestors were doing? Maybe they were sheep farmers high up in the Northumbrian hills, and they didn’t come down for about a hundred years, so they missed the Vikings altogether. Maybe they were in Ireland! I’ve got some Irish in there which is exciting, and me being me, has filled me with a desire to learn the Irish language.
I don’t really know what to say about any of this. I’m not a geneticist, and I’ve got no idea what any of this really means. My other 2% was made up of ‘Western Europe’ and ‘Finland/Northwest Russia’, but these were only traces and apparently don’t necessarily bely an ancestor from any of these places – which is kind of a shame, I could quite fancy myself being a Finn, Estonian or Northwest Russian. And it does leave me without any semi-logical explanation as to why I’m such a nerd about Scandinavia. It’s funny really, because people have often said that I must have some heritage from there… so now I guess I can show them proof that I definitively do not. And in a way, that’s nice.
I sometimes think people use a genetic predisposition or ‘talent’ to explain away their own failings. People often tell me they’re impressed by my ‘aptitude’ for languages and that they wish they had my ‘head for languages’. I disagree, and don’t think I’m especially talented when it comes to linguistics at all. And it’s a little odd – on the one hand, I know it’s a compliment, but it’s also vaguely insulting. It’s not like I just woke up one day being able to speak all of the languages I speak – it took a lot of hard work and determination, and I think that becomes minimised if people write it off as ‘talent’. Michael Phelps wasn’t born swimming like a fish, Jessica Ennis Hill gave up practically her entire life so she could practice and hone her skills, and Zlatan Ibrahimović put in a hell of a lot of hours on the pitch before he could kick a ball like that… calling these people ‘talented’ is an insult to all of that hard work.
Honestly, that isn’t the point I intended to make when I started writing this post, but we’re here now. As always, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you all next month. I’m hoping to have some more travel blogs coming up this year – I’ve booked a trip to Bratislava in the summer so you can expect to see that in August. Might squeeze in a weekend in Amsterdam, too? We’ll see. Please feel free to leave comments – whether you agree with me or not, there’s nothing wrong with a nice, civilised debate.