Thunderous applause and Billy Braggs welcome Shappi Khorsandi to the stage, where a stool draped in the St. George Cross awaits her. Early on in her set, Khorsandi tells us that she wasn’t born in England; she arrived at three and a half when her family was exiled from Iran. Having lived in the United Kingdom for forty years, she is now an Englishwoman with a strong sense of pride for her nation.
Khorsandi talks about the racism she faced growing up with Iranian parents in England. There were skinheads who told them to leave the country and carwash attendants who called them ‘Irish,’ or stupid. In an effort to contrast the heritage that so often made her stand out, she adopted a posh accent and sought groups of like-minded people, eventually finding solace in music (like that of Billy Braggs) and its scene.
Her heritage and her nationality continue to be dually important in the next generation of her family. Khorsandi jokes that her eight year-old son is the perfect posh retrained Englishman, while her daughter is a passionate and dramatic Middle Eastern woman. Both are reflections of Khorsandi herself – at once an overly polite, occasionally avoidant Englishwoman and warm, hospitable woman of Iranian decent.
Khorsandi’s message about being truly English without being born in the country is particularly resonant in the light of today’s global refugee crisis. She recounts visiting refugees in the Calais jungle, talking with displaced peoples yearning for the safety of a Western European passport. The story poses the question: Should the accident of birth be a condition for freedom?
There is a feeling of freedom for Khorsandi in being recognized for the Englishness in which she has so much pride; her identity is just as, if not more, important than pleasing a crowd with her stand up. In Oh My Country! Khorsandi does both; she exudes Englishness with charm and geniality while winning over the entire room with her wit and ingenuity. She is quietly but unabashedly patriotic.