Or how I committed a cultural faux-pas in my own country.
Over 10 years out of the country, I have focused a lot on other cultures. I always tried to ‘assimilate’ well enough but of course I was not prone to making mistakes or embarrassing myself a little because I was not from there and didn’t totally understand the culture.
I learned that this can also backfire in your own country.
The other day I was teaching an English conversation class.
Hoping to tackle a somewhat light-hearted topic I chose to focus on ‘culture’ and how a native sees his/her country vs. an outsider.
Little did I know that asking some, seemingly simple questions, would stir up so many emotions. The question that turned the whole conversation sour was:
What makes you proud to be from your country?
In my head, I thought people would mention the good response and results during the pandemic, the fact that the country is organized, the high standard of living etc.…
However, the answers were not the problem.
It was the question.
The word proud and ‘your country’ do not belong in one sentence for most Germans.
And I, the German (and clearly not so German in this situation) had not realized the controversy and uncomfortable feelings this would bring up.
What is the first historical event linked to Germany, and how do Germans feel about that? I don’t think I need to go into details here (WW2 is the hint).
And how are students in school taught to think about it?
I honestly don’t remember the details of the content in our history class. However, I left high school with the underlying sentiment that I should feel very guilty about our history and that Germans shouldn’t praise their country (the only exception maybe being during the world cup). One might LIKE something in the country but never say that they would be ‘proud’. And apparently I wasn’t the only one who carries that thought with them. Most Germans I have met would react the same way.
I’m writing this for two reasons:
One, to show how you should not only be mindful about other cultures but also your own and Two to point out that if you run into a German, you might want to steer away from this phrasing and topic in general. Somehow I often got asked about WW2 as soon as I said that I was from Germany while traveling. That, to me was very strange as that is nothing that is ever used as a conversation topic among people here. Anyway, I know that this can seem like a harmless question to ask what you’re proud of regarding your country, but here’s a little heads-up about cultural tactfulness.
“Omg, you have to find a job. What if you don’t find one? Teaching at a language school? You’re better than that!“
“Where are you going to live? Germany has become so expensive and it’s impossible to find affordable living space.“
“What about your pension? You have to make sure you won’t die poor. Lots of people are affected by this, especially single women of your generation. You will have such a hard time when you’re old.“
“Ok, in order to get your health insurance, we will send you a document by snail-mail (which will take between 3 days to 1 week). Then you have to fill it out and send it back to us. And then we’ll process it. Three weeks later: Yes, we received your application, but it hasn’t been processed yet. We’ll send you the confirmation by snail-mail (good-bye digitalization!)“
Welcome back to Germany.
People often write about culture shock. Arriving in a new country, not knowing how society works, how to speak the language properly, feeling lonely among all the novelty.
But what about ‘the return’? It’s less glamorous, that’s for sure.
You’re going back to ‘your own country’ so ‘you’re going back to normal life’ is what I can imagine people thinking and what I’ve heard people say.
For me, that couldn’t be further off the truth.
I’ve been in Germany for several months already and this whole new reverse culture shock has hit me.
Mind you, I have never really lived in Germany as an adult. I had always only returned for visits, transitioning periods…
This time I’m here to stay. At least for a while.
I feel like a foreigner. Because my job involves me speaking English to 98% of the time. Because I don’t know how everyday-life things work here (anything regarding bureaucracy, how to rent an apartment,…) . Because I am not aware of any current issues specific to Germany and I don’t understand what’s going on in the country.
I feel like an outsider. Because people cannot really comprehend the lifestyle I’ve been living (then again no surprise, I get that everywhere…)
I feel naïve. Because somehow, I thought I’d feel more at ease in Germany this time, because I was so tired from traveling around, always having new impressions, speaking different languages… so that everything would be easier in the country I was born.
I feel confused. Because here I am, always having proudly proclaimed that I had no plans of returning to Germany…
I feel as if I’m betraying everyone by my actions. Because everyone seems ‘shocked’ by my decision to be here for now
And I also feel alright. Because after all this is just another ‘let’s move to a new country phase’ and I have started finding like-minded people in this corner of the world as well. I’ve found what matters a lot to me – gorgeous nature and people that I really care about.
I have indeed seen many people return. People I thought would stay abroad forever. And I was so surprised. But now that I am back I can also see reasons why they would.
I used to cringe going back to Germany and hearing German. Not the one spoken by my family or friends but the one from everyone else around me. It confused me and I always felt desperate to speak English.
This time though, it hasn’t been bothering me. I have hardly been noticing it. I notice it more when I struggle to come up with the right German word or I would say something that makes others laugh. It doesn’t occur that much, luckily. Writing job applications in German, however was very hard (which is why I’ll always keep this blog in English ;))
In a way it’s easy when you actually understand everything for once. It makes certain things go much smoother. I don’t fret anymore when I have to make phone calls because I dislike making those in any language other than German or English.
Having said that, bureaucracy is a pain here in Germany and I’d rather not discover more of it. …very few things are done electronically. Instead, you still have to do everything on paper and the post it in the mail which makes everything take forever.
As you can see, digitalization is a word people don’t seem to know much here. There are still heaps of places that don’t accept cards to pay and the mobile internet connection is a disgrace. I’m not kidding, but there are actually places in the city where you will have no connection or the lowest signal possible. People are very scared about radiation and health concerns and rather seem to make some sacrifices than being ‘connected’ everywhere.
On the other hand, I’ve also come across some aspects I highly appreciate here. I love how quite a few people care about the environment, such as using little plastic, supporting reusable materials, organic products and local businesses.
I like how there are good public transport links around the country, so that you don’t have to rely on having a car.
Distances here are rather small and you can head from one big city to the next in 1h or be in the middle of nature within a short amount of time.
Also, having grown up here, a lot of memories have been resurfacing. I’m rediscovering places that I used to spend lots of time at as a child.
This was my primary motivation to move to the Lake Constance area (as well as the fact that the lake carries my name – only in the English version though, in German, it’s called ‘Bodensee’ ).
I would spend every summer at the lake when I was younger. We used to go on bicycle tours around the lake, which would take several days and we’d sleep in ‘hay or straw – hotels’, dumping a sleeping bag on a pile of hay or straw. I have fond memories of those times and this area was what I used to call ‘my second home’.
So somehow I ended up here. As if it was meant to be. Close to the lake and the mountains. Rural area, no big city nearby. For now, that’s where I’ll be.
Will I stay here forever?
I don’t believe in forever, so we shall see when the big world will call me again 😉
For now, being here is a big enough adventure as I feel like being abroad every day 😉