February 5, 2014, by Guest blog
Adjusting to life as Hamburgers
Hamburg is a cosmopolitan city and holds its own in terms of diversity. People from all backgrounds settle here and seem to have few problems adjusting to life as Hamburgers (yes, Hamburgers!).
It’s hard to write this while remaining tactful, not to mention politically correct, but if I’m going to write about cultural challenges then I need to be honest.
We lived in Rheinland-Pfalz (one of Germany’s 16 states) for six years while I was little, and in the tiny rural village we lived in we were the outsiders. It was the kind of place where you’re born, you live and you die.
We made friends who we’re still in touch with, but in a village of 400 people, suddenly throwing four Brits in is bound not to go unnoticed. We looked the same as everyone else but we weren’t always treated as such.
Fast forward to December 2013 and I’m in Hamburg. I travelled to Bonn to meet my Dad, as he still works there, and my Granny, aunt and her husband, who’s Kenyan, flew over to meet us and we planned a weekend perusing the Christmas markets. There’s usually no need to mention my uncle’s nationality, but the small-minded people we encountered when we took a trip to a town close to where we used to live made it impossible to go about our weekend as we could have done here in Hamburg, where diversity is not only commonplace, but welcome.
We stopped for some Kaffee und Kuchen at a little coffee shop, and the atmosphere created by two older couples was palpable. We left sooner than we might have done and stood outside, deciding where to go. I turned and saw them still staring at us and felt my blood begin to boil and I had a deep sick feeling in my stomach.
I couldn’t believe that some mind-sets are still so backwards, which caused me to do something I never would have a few months ago. I went back inside and said, in German, ‘If you have a problem, feel free to say it,’ at which point they laughed, saying they had nothing to say. But silence speaks volumes, and in that café it was deafening.
I re-joined the family outside and felt calmer for saying something, but scared because I’d actually spoken up. I could psychoanalyse myself and say that suddenly all those feelings of being looked at like that as a little girl came to the surface, but I’m not that little girl anymore and times have changed.
I’m not one to go looking for a fight, but I’ve experienced a part of Germany which is the antithesis of what we encountered there, and I couldn’t let it go.
There’ll always be cultural challenges, but I will always be glad I faced this head-on.
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