I’m living in a different country, so I guess you could call me an expat and I apologize in advance if I ever come across like the backpackers on the Simpsons. You see, German people are really good at observing and they will tell you, what’s all not that great (which is not the same as ‘being rude’).
When I meet other Germans in Australia, they sometimes seem terribly German. Admittedly, I may go a wee bit German on my better half occasionally, but sometimes Australian pace and German pace just don’t mix. Moving house is a good example for that but please, let’s not go there. People used to call me “so European”; the longer I’m here, the more they say “so German”.
The difference between a migrant worker and an expat may simply be a question of your own perspective. Either way, living in a different country is not like visiting one; even for an extended period of time. A high school exchange student is interesting. As a University student, you are in an international environment and surrounded by many like-minded people. Yet, if you live and work in a different country and have an accent, you will be a foreigner. Unaware, I’ve joined the club of us and them.
I am a Caucasian, heterosexual person; I can blend in okay. Nevertheless, my life here sometimes seems harder. As a foreigner, there may be services you don’t have access to, depending on visa requirements there may be jobs you cannot apply for and even though my command of the English language is alright, sometimes I have no idea what’s happening. Suddenly, you are friends with a whole bunch of other expats or second generation ‘foreigners’ and you will find yourself in situations where you cannot express yourself properly.
Living abroad, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to criticize the culture around me (except for Tony Abbott) but that doesn’t keep them from criticizing me. I’ve been called a recycling Nazi or got in trouble for panning friends for drunk driving, which is somewhat of a sport here. (Observation, not rudeness.) How much does a foreigner need to assimilate? How much do they let us?
While we’re talking about all this Germaness, I was born and raised in the former GDR. Our generation grew up with a high awareness of recent history and an anti-fascist mindset. Little does the world I live in reflect my values or ideals and I had to move to the end of the world to discover the German in me.
Excuse me, I am not my history
For a while, my Germaness seemed like a decent icebreaker but I soon grew tired of the resulting small talk. South Australia is a state with many German roots, so if you don’t run as quickly as you can, people just go on and on about the battle of such and such or their family history. These conversations are generally one way streets and require tactful smiling and professional tongue biting. No, I do not know the so and so’s from blah blah blah and I cannot recall being related to any. Never tried pig knuckles. Naw, I have not visited Neuschwanstein Castle. Yes, I do take offence when you scream in slow motion at me. Sorry, being German, my small talk skills are limited; especially when it comes to tennis. Nope, not at all a walking German encyclopedia and most certainly not from Bavaria. Please, let’s talk about the weather.
Generally you get away with nodding and keeping your mouth shut. I strongly recommend this strategy, as it keeps you out of trouble. For an extended period of nodding, say at a wedding, make sure to have a plate of food in your hands. You cannot say anything wrong while you’re eating. Just for the record, I’ve never met a foreigner and lectured them about their country.
When I got greeted with the Hitler salute for the first time I was sixteen, in tears and in rural America. I then did something that I would never, ever do; I went to my guidance counselor and told on that boy and boy, did he get into trouble. For the rest of the school year, no one bothered me. I cannot say, this felt like a victory.
Recently, this happened to a German friend of mine at work here in Australia. Mind you, her profession requires a PhD if you want to play and I kid you not, the guy who did it was Greek, which adds a whole new spin on this story. I can assure you, my dear friend is not involved in any right wing activities nor does she have any decision making power when it comes to the financial future of Greece.
Excuse me, I didn’t sign up for this
After about two and a half years abroad I experienced somewhat of a culture shock. Occasionally, I still get culture puzzlement. Why do people water their concrete? Why do they need a car this size? Why are there still open fridges in the grocery stores? I guess these all fall in the category of ‘wasteful’. (Maybe a bit recycling Nazi-ish?) I like living here and there are quiet a few things I don’t agree with in Germany either.
Australia is not like I know it from Skippy or Neighbours when Kylie and Jason were on, I’ve met one person so far that can actually play a didgeridoo and I am still looking for one that can throw a boomerang. Our Japanese friend is not incredibly Japanese, our British friends don’t seem all that British and a dear Australian friend is probably the most organized person I’ve ever met.
Stereotypes can vary. I believe Germans regard people from the Netherlands as tolerant and very likeable (except when it comes to soccer). In South Australia Dutch people are referred to as super stingy. The labels we get attached are somewhat arbitrary, yet society accepts them as truth. Do you honestly believe, that no German person ever rocks up late for work?
So, what is all this? A whole bunch of bollocks. Live is pretty much the same everywhere. It generally involves paperwork, chores and responsibilities. It helps to pay your bills on time. People are pretty much the same everywhere. You meet good and bad people, people that communicate well and people that don’t, people that live below the poverty line. People that work hard and want to see their loved ones healthy and safe. People with very big hearts and an open mind. It takes time to settle in and find your place and roots need time to grow.
Call me naïve, but wouldn’t it be more fruitful to look at what unites us, rather than our differences?