On being an alien in Germany

There is something that has bothered me lately. Actually, it has always been bothering me, but lately I feel the undeniable need to try to come to terms with it. It is the question what it means to live in Germany as an alien.

I think what triggered this chain of thoughts was the article about translating I wrote for the European Theatre Convention. In this article I describe how being bilingual means carrying two different sets of world views and how my mother tongue interferes with my expression in German and, in general, with expressing my personality.

I, who am a Bosnian-Croatian mix (which is complicated enough, by the way), discuss the topic of being a foreigner with my Kazakh friend regularly. We share our thoughts and experience and ask ourselves and each other how we can live in Germany without suffering too much from our longing for our lost homes. What are our lost homes actually, and where are they? Are they geographic places or rather moral standards, the system of values our parents have applied while raising us? Or maybe the ideas of our cultures, which we, who don’t live in their homelands, carry in our hearts and minds?

© trashbus / Renata Britvec, 2014
© trashbus / Renata Britvec, 2014

And what about our emotionality. Our emotionality is probably what causes us the most difficulties in dealing with people from or in countries in which open and loud expression of emotions is socially not accepted.

Germany has always struggled with the fact that it is an immigration country, and although in the last couple of years it seems to have accepted its status, the discussion about migration and migrants seems so shallow. I perceive it as shallow for several reasons: First of all, the discussion is always restricted to those terms “migration” and “integration” – what it is that needs to be integrated is never being discussed in a satisfactory way, at least not for my taste.

Also, there is no such thing as “the migrant”. We are speaking of very different people from very different cultures in very different times, and we forget that each one of those migrants has a personal history which caused them to leave their country. I think what Germany simply does not understand is that no matter to which extent a migrant or foreigner or alien is integrated into German society, they still have a heritage and a culture and a personal history and an emotionality and way of expressing this emotionality that is different. And these are things that you cannot get rid of.

So here’s what’s gonna happen. I want to write a series of essays in which I describe certain events or experience from which I want to deduce my more general thoughts on the topic of being an alien. I would love for you to follow my thoughts and contribute something. Maybe some of you can relate to what I write. Maybe some of you don’t live in their mother countries and are experiencing similar difficulties. Maybe you do live in your homeland and find it difficult to understand other cultures. Although I primarily want to write essays to deal with and understand the subject better, I would really appreciate it if a dialogue could evolve. So please do stop by and leave a comment if you feel like it.

And by the way: The truest and most poignant contribution to the topic of migration I have ever “read” is a book without words – Shaun Tan’s wonderfully illustrated picture book The Arrival. Maybe I will even write something about this important and touching book in one of my essays.

4 thoughts on “On being an alien in Germany

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  1. Interesting topic, I can’t wait to read your essays about this.
    I’m not sure if I can contribute anything special, but the subject drew my attention.
    Myself, I’m a mix as well, between 2 (well, actually 3- it’s a bit complicated too) cultures/countries or how ever you should call it. And I must say, somehowI have never really felt ‘at home’ in any of these countries. Often I questioned myself “where do I belong” – well, I still do not know.


    1. Well, there you go! I’m sure you will be able to contribute, but please don’t feel obliged to do so. I have already jotted down the first couple of anecdotes I want to share with you. Now I will have to decide which one comes first and then of course write it … I feel excited, kind of …

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I look forward to reading your essays.
    I was an alien – (I really felt this way during my years in Japan) for a total of 8 years – and now, in my own country for close to 20, rather miss it. Although I remember the discomfort and sometimes resentment I felt about being considered an outsider even as I felt ‘home’, I now miss aspects, too. You’re kind of ‘off the hook’ if you know what I mean.
    And the problem with being back in one’s own country is that lingering itch for the rest of the world. I like to describe myself as a global citizen and imagine myself venturing off again in my dotage when my kid is fully launched. Who knows.


    1. Dear Tricia,
      yes, “off the hook” describes it pretty well. And feeling foreign in your own country after you spent a long time in another culture is also very common. I’m looking forward to what you will contribute! I’m really excited now and will try to post my first article as soon as possible!


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