Stranger or outsider?
A "stranger". With kind permission by © David Rodríguez

A stranger in a new country: Germany

in Opinion/Society

Have you come to experience your dose of “the German treatment”? Do you feel alienated and can’t help but blame your cold surroundings in this country? Then this is for you.

Do you feel ostracized in this country?

As a stranger in a strange land, the honeymoon period with your new country of abode will inevitably come to an end sooner than later. It’s usually when life sticks an oar in that the enjoyment of the new country is sucked into the whirlpool. Obviously, you can’t help but blame the surroundings for this turn for the worse. A vicious circle.

Those bad experiences you make start wearing you down. On top of a long day, the awful service you receive from a waitress feels like a personal insult, the passive-aggressive manner of the train conductor like a threat of physical violence, and the old man who hits you with his stick as you ride your bike through the pedestrian zone (shouting “Verboten!”) like a declaration of war.

German country stereotypes alive
© Marco Verch

It’s not you, right?

Once you return home for a visit to meet familiar faces in your old stomping ground, you tell all those anecdotes to your friends over a glass of beer. They are made believe that their preconceived ideas about the land between North Sea and Alps only pale in light of the shrill colours of your narrative.

“Honestly, why are you still putting up with it?”, they may ask. Then you may fall silent before you can muster a half-hearted reply. “Err, you know, the beer is good, and, err trains are on time, and, err err I really like my job.” And you know you’re not being honest. Because if you were, you’d have to admit that there’s just one reason why you’re here: your decision based on free will.

Excursion: Take a moment to contemplate those preconceived ideas people have about any country you can think of (including your own). It’s like a library of prejudice. When visiting a country, we purposely reinforce these negative stereotypes as we seek them out subconsciously. It’s mostly with a sense of triumphant reward whenever we can put our experiences into neat little pigeonholes and say, “there you have it, how typical!”

How can I make do with alienation?

We may dream of discovering an El Dorado in some corner of this world, but seeing that we’re coined by the way we were socialized in our country of origin, it’s hard to imagine that a foreign country can be more convenient to our needs. We’re all in some way driven by profound humanist needs, such as the perpetual strive for love and goodness, happiness and mutual connection. Unfortunately, opinions about these concepts are as different as characteristics of individuals.

With a usual propensity to put ourselves first, we tend to be ignorant of the lives of others. This is why other people’s conduct juxtaposes in opposition to our ways, thereby embodying a perennial adversary to our needs.

Away from home, things tend to become even more difficult as we find it hard to fathom the unspoken rules of a foreign society. It can feel as if we’re condemned to keep rolling a boulder up a hill, and we keep encountering the same obstacles over and over again. The notion of an inhumanly cruel environment makes us struggle to brace ourselves against that boulder; it’s a Sisyphean challenge.

As tough as it may sound, it’s an inescapable challenge we must feel compelled to accept – in the name of humanity. Finding a way to do it with a smile on our face may offer relief. Upon acceptance of the inevitable, “the struggle itself… is enough to fill your heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy” (Albert Camus).

Sisyphus rolling the boulder uphill
Public domain photo.

What’s my prerogative?

Let me share a personal anecdote with you. When booking my train to the airport for my Christmas travels, I thought “why not, treat yourself” and booked a first-class seat at a table. The prospect of legroom and convenience, safely stashed away from the kettle-packed second-class compartment was too sweet to resist.

Come the day, I get on the train and take my seat. Apparently I’m the only one in the whole compartment. Congratulating myself on my sage prudence, I start reading my Kindle.

A mere two minutes later, my silence is rudely interrupted by a mother and her two children. My journey appears to have taken a turn for the worse. Skylarking kids and a mother raising a hue and cry in what seems to be a Romani language; I’m right in the middle of it. At one point, the boy next to me holds on to my coat with his chocolate fingers, leaving visible brown marks on the light-grey wool. “This is bloody cashmere!”, a voice inside of me screams, while my lips remain firmly sealed. I give the mother across from me the best of my forced smiles, but her unblinking eyes just return a steady look.

Eventually the conductor pops up and asks for tickets. The mother of two and her kids must evacuate the compartment, leaving me to ponder concepts of natural rights, privilege and prerogative. And humanity.

A cosmopolitan butterfly that feels at home where people are friendly and coffee is strong. As a person with a wide range of interests and a low attention span, he succumbs to the charm of novelty all too readily. Literature, film, photography and politics on Mondays, playing dead and g(r)ooming dogs on Tuesdays. Hand him a beer and he’ll talk about football, tell him a lie and he’ll tell you two.

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