It’s been a while that I wanted to publish something about the fact that being a German expat is not very flattering.
I’ve spent several years, trying to avoid being categorized like German and the fact that I’ve never lived in Germany makes it very difficult for me to really feel or even appreciate the fact to be German. – I recently have also obtained the Swiss nationality for the simple reason that I worked in Switzerland for a long time and, first and foremost, that my husband is Swiss (update in May 2015).
Germans are not allowed to show National Pride…
Recently I got involved in a discussion about the fact that in Germany, it seems to be some way forbidden to feel or even show National Pride because of the Nazi Regime and some stereotypes related to this. A former colleague of mine even resented that ancient Rome fell under the invasion of Germanic tribes (and Mongols).
Why I feel even guilty to be German
When I was 6, I happened to be called „Hitler’s daughter“ by a 7 year old Italian boy. We were living in Italy and we just moved to a new place. I remember my mum approaching the mother of this boy and introducing us as new neighbors. I didn’t hear the reaction of the woman, but I remember my mum turning towards me and my sister and telling us that we had to leave.
I remember how the boy looked at me with disdain and called me „Hitler’s daughter“. He also added that he would never ever play with a German girl.
I didn’t understand and asked my mum what he meant. My mum explained us what happened during WWII and why some people were so upset and angry towards Germans. – Since then I’m very aware that being German is not something to tell out loud let alone to be proud of…
I felt responsible for what Germans did during WWII and this guilt did somehow become part of my life. Not only because of this incident, but because of many more that followed when I was much more aware of what it meant to be German.
When I was a teenager I refused to tell people that I’m German for several years, as I had Italian friends who had typical prejudices towards Germans, especially blond blue-eyed German girls, for other reasons of course, but still… I did everything to look more like my Italian friends and the fact that my sister had brown hair, brown eyes and really looked like an Italian helped a lot. We both speak Italian with native fluency, so nobody would have thought that we were German…
The life as a German expat
When someone asks me where I come from, I always tell that I come from Italy (it’s true), Germany (as my parents are German), Switzerland and the Netherlands… I just list up the places I’ve lived in.
The fact that I still have a German passport doesn’t mean that I feel German. I feel German when I speak German. I like German literature and the German culture, I have great German friends and love to teach German. – It’s the language of my family, the language of Goethe, Schiller, Herder, Schlegel etc.
What I really dislike are stereotypes and prejudices about Germans, but I dislike stereotypes and prejudices of any kind.
As my children are growing up as Germans abroad too, I would like to give them a positive feeling about being German.
How? By teaching them that the German language is worth to be learned – it doesn’t have to sound “hard” and bossy. I teach them German history, yes, also about the WWII. I teach them that people in a certain political and social condition, tend to follow a strong leader no matter what, as history has shown us several times.
When they will be old enough, I will watch “The Wave” with them, in order to make them understand the social and political mechanisms of that dark period for Germany.
Sometimes, when we watch cartoons like Phinneas and Ferb, I feel very uncomfortable about characters like Doctor Heinz Doofenshmirtz: he talks with a strong german accent and he is „the routinely bumbling, incompetent and forgetful evil scientist“. My son already noticed that evil characters often have German accents in films and comics and he doesn’t like to be called German. But I guess this is something he has to live with…