2. Ask Germans their opinions on any and every subject, whether it’s how deep to drill in a wall or the names of the four gospels in the New Testament. The average German may not know the answer to this second question but your interest could get you invited over for a glass of wine once he realizes how well you speak German.
3. Go on long walks (under no circumstances wearing sneakers, sweatpants or gold chains) where you have the potential to meet other Germans as well as pick flowers, which you can then bring to your neighbor’s house (preferably with a homemade cake if you’re invited to cake and coffee hour). These seem like small cultural details but the Germans are the world’s largest consumers of cut flowers and drink more coffee annually than they do beer.
4. Try to keep head accessories limited to wool hats, ear muffs, head bands and baseball caps. Scarves worn anyplace but around the neck can lead to anxiety, staring and political talk at the cake and coffee table, which you do not want.
5. Compliment, often, the perks of living in Germany (efficiency, quality engineering, punctuality, industriousness and tolerance.) Do not, under any circumstance, mention the social welfare system. If this is brought up, pretend that you have no idea how the welfare system works or how one might even access it.
6. Be sure to be seen picking up trash on your block, taking your recycling to the dump or responsibly putting your trash in the appropriate container. It doesn’t matter if the German in front of you threw away his trash inappropriately; foreigners have to be especially careful of breaking Germany’s moral rubbish codes.
7. Never have your home country’s flag anyplace visible in your car or home, as this could be construed as having an affair with another country and will undoubtedly lead to all problems associated with any "open" relationship (suspicion, jealousy, questions of loyalty, etc.)
8. If you have kids, try to learn at least five German nursery rhymes, three Grimm fairytales and all Latern Festival related songs. When these songs are sung in school events, be sure to sing loudly and clearly so that the school acknowledges your child is not from a sozial schwache Familie or that it’s not a bad thing that your child has a Migrationshintergrund.
9. Even if it’s a Wikipedia synopsis, become familiar with the plotlines of “Faust,” “Die Buddenbrooks,” and “The Magic Flute”. Again, it doesn’t matter if the average German knows this or not, you are the exception and not the rule.
10. When going shopping, be sure to be well dressed, coiffed and perfumed, and avoid carrying large bags. Or, if you have shopping bags with you when you enter a store, be sure to complain about how heavy they are and ask to leave them by the register so no one has to bother searching you when you leave.
I'm relieved I didn't get any "Do blacks belong to different social classes in the USA or are they all poor?" or the "What is your kids' hair texture like?" questions last night.
Two questions did give me the impression that I was supposed to somehow congratulate integrated immigrants or speak about why I/my parents were so integrated. While I don't want all immigrants to be lumped into a pot/drawer, I also don't care to diss those who don't have their act together. That is divisive and helps no one. We all know the statistics.
The language and job thing is a no brainer and I don't think I really need to go there. But if a person can speak German, work and pay his taxes then let him live how he wants, geesh. So what if he doesn't live amongst or like Germans, hautpsache, he is contributing to German society in a his/her own way.
Anyway, I think I have blogged ad nauseum about this topic, so I'll give it a little rest for now.
Next stop, Nürnberg . . .
Go read Buschgirl! Recommend it, give is as gifts, leave a review on a book website and be merry!
Christian Wulff, Germany's President, has been the only voice of reason since the integration debate heated up a couple of months ago.
Even before Chancellor Merkel and her CDU party member, Seehofer, began polarizing the immigration issue, Wulff made a speech (on Germany's reunification day) that said Islam was as much a part of Germany as Christianity and Judaism. It was an important wake up message that Wulff is spicing up this week on a visit to Turkey, where the majority of Germany's immigrants hail.
Wulff has also been criticial of the sweeping generalizations of all Turks and immigrants, which is what brings me to the point I'd like to address in this post (if these annoying red words haven't already).
As a black American I am well aware of the pervasiveness of stereotypes. Regardless of our class and education, my friends and family have been racially profiled by the police, wrongly accused, offended, marginalized and patronized long before political correctness became a part of the American psyche.
How did this happen? Constant images of black Americans in the news as criminals, welfare recipients and prisoners, backed, of course, by statistics that appeared everywhere; politicians who threw these statistics into every speech; entertainment that confirmed negative caricatures; curricula in schools that rarely taught examples of successful blacks; harsher sentences for "black offenders". . . the list can go on and on.
The process of throwing people into a drawer can be long and, as we have learned in the United States, can take even longer to reverse.
When one group of immigrants is demonized (by politicians or in the media) all immigrants feel offended. When there are few distinctions made between hard-working, law abiding, society contributing immigrants and immigrants uninterested in German society, then Germany will steadily lose and repel the former.
Ask an Indian or an African or a Turkish engineer (which Germany desperately needs right now) how enthusiastic he is about finding a job in Germany when he reads the current headlines. A German friend recently lamented that a brilliant scientist friend of hers from Sudan wants to leave Germany because of how he is treated on a daily basis.
Is it because every German he meets is a racist? Probably not. But everyone he meets has read headlines telling them that immigrants are more likely to have no education, live off the dole and be criminals.
Never sleep on the power of a headline or a quote repeated over and over again. Milllions of people don't really read or even know how to process what they read, so a headline or a soundbite can have a lasting impact on a busy brain.
If them ain't fightin' words . . .? (from CDU's Horst Seehofer) who said that the CDU is no longer backing a multiculti platform, rather standing behind Germany's "dominant culture" ideal.
So tolerance is out of style, multiculti is dead and immigrants in Germany need to assimilate to the German dominant culture already, basta. And, as Chancellor Angela Merkel recently said, immigrants need to "accept Germans' Christian roots, otherwise they are in the wrong place."
(correction: Angie does indeed refer to Germany's Judeo-Christian roots, still. . . Advocating for a dominant culture and/or religion is a familiar and dangerous platform here.)
So let me get this straight. These words are supposed to help the integration debate? What are they going to do now, pull that old "Germany is not an immigration country?" out of their hats again? This kind of language is embarrassing for Germany. These politicians sound like a bunch of rednecks standing at the side of the road while visitors drive by "their land."
Of course immigrants should learn German, get jobs and a grip but making the sign of the cross in the Bundestag is not going to help this issue. Germans can't complain that the Islamic religion is intolerant while German politicians keep yacking on about Christian values. Is Germany a secular democracy or is it not?
The return to conservative values is offically a trend all over Europe and in the United States. The problem with these societies, according to the crux of this trend, is that they have lost their grasp on the founding values that made their countries so darned great.
Why these values always become synonymous with "Christian" values is beyond me, as Christianity is not explicitly mentioned in the German Grundgesetz or the US Consititution? How do we so quickly buy into the belief that democratic values are only Christian values?
And newsflash, I speak fluent German, was raised Catholic, I'm educated and I am still asked however on earth I learned to speak German, as if I'm a monkey incapable of attending a German course. I am not served water in a stuffy Logenhaus full of white Germans. I am duzed by Germans who do not know me. I am asked ridiculous questions about the color of my skin or my hair and my Christian upbringing didn't shield me from any of that ignorance.
Multikulti, Mr. Seehofer, is neither understood nor valued. A statement like "Multikulti is dead," coming from a politician, basically digs a grave for integration. Nice work.
Click to read the entire article at Deutsche Welle.
This shouldn't surprise me in a country where a third generation German of Turkish descent, soccer star, Mesut Özil, had his loyalty to the German team repeatedly questioned when Germany recently played against Turkey. It was ridiculous to hear the speculation about where Özil's heart really lies. Why didn't the journalists just come out and ask, "Can a German with Turkish background really be German, a loyal German?"
Why is that so hard to believe? Why is Lukas Podolski's loyalty, a Polish born player on the German national team, never questioned? Or Miroslav Klose's, also Polish born? I never saw any headlines questioning their identities? Is it because they can pass as "German looking?"
What does a person have to do to be seen as German? I know there is a special friction with Turkish immigrants here but why is it so difficult to believe that Özil feels German or that I feel American?
When I went to Haiti last spring, I stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone knew I wasn't from there and several referred to me as a blanc (white person/foreigner). Why? Because I'm an American, born and raised, no matter how much I love rice and beans.
At a reading recently, a woman candidly told me that it is still weird for her to see a black person and hear him speak "Bavarian". At least she was honest. But when will this stop feeling weird for Germans, I wonder?
If you can be born and raised in Germany and still not be considered German, then just what does it take?
I'm packing my book, some sweaters, an umbrella and a light armor and making my way around Germany and Austria. But before I get on the next train, I'd like to debunk a few myths concerning Buschgirl:
1. Buschgirl is not a travel book! Buschgirl ist keine Reiseliteratur! Somehow, the book has landed in travel sections all across Germany and is currently sharing shelves with Reiseführer, Hotelführer and Feinschmecker. . .do not be fooled! Buschgirl is a biographical tale (aka memoir, Erringerungen) of my life in these here parts. . . .
2. Irony/Ironie, tongue in cheek, eye winking/Augenzwinkern is a part of the Buschgirl experience. I'll say no more about this point, because that would, well, destroy the irony. (not so much a myth per se, but FYI)
3. Although I'll be reading in Freiburg in January, I do not live there, as I have read somewhere on this vast Internet.
4. Please check the schedule of readings on buschgirl.de or on the C. Bertelsmann website for accurate listings. I have spotted some mistakes.
5. I wrote the book in English but it is only available in German at this time. While I can be (quite easily) persuaded to do some readings in English, only German copies of the book will be sold. But, for those of you German-as-a-second-language folks, this is pretty simple German and easy reading.
Can't wait to meet some of you in person. Until then . . . let the currents flow!