Patriotism – this term causes a sense of detachment in me. Not feeling quite English enough to fit into this rampant English patriotism that fills my social media during political debates, especially relating to Brexit, and sports events.
I was born here, yes, but I moved to Heidelberg, Germany at age 7 months with my mother after my parents split and came back aged 8 not knowing a single word of English. I’m in that grey area where people don’t know how to feel or think about me – at least in the political sense.
The first key difference for me comes in through the ‘where are you from?’ question. The question that always fills me with dread as a debate starts up in my head. Do I mention where I was born, where I lived in Germany as well as Surrey and subsequently North Yorkshire? Or is that too long winded and just a bore to the average person? I usually stick with the good old ‘lived in North Yorkshire and am half German’. Keeps it short and everyone can move on, keeping my own sense of personal identity out of it.
This same crisis emerged first in the form of a language barrier. Whisked off to England aged 8, I was placed in a school not knowing a single word of English… without an interpreter. To the monolinguists, imagine being placed in a classroom in a language you are not familiar with without help. That is how I felt.
My English may be better, but I am filled with a sense of glee when I see Heidelberg castle, the hills, and food that I don’t feel when stepping out into any of the English countryside
Thankfully I was able to pick up English with ease in this way, even if it was a brutal way of introducing me to the English language, and now my English is better than my German… go figure.
Though as I have learnt, language and culture are forms of identity much more complicated for those who have experienced a similar upbringing to mine. My English may be better, but I am filled with a sense of glee when I see Heidelberg castle, the hills, and food that I don’t feel when stepping out into any of the English countryside which are unique qualities in itself.
The friendships I forged there make my connection to there even stronger. Hence the grey area in patriotism – my identity doesn’t match with my location and plagued me as I was trying to form my own identity in my teenage years.
Germany’s National Socialist history doesn’t make this identity consolidation any easier. In fact, there is a word for this in German – Vergangenheitsbewältigung (“overcoming the past”). It is a term specifically used in the context of coming to terms with Germany’s National Socialist history. This feeling is constant, and I actively work through it, without forgetting its effects on many different groups of people. My German identity goes beyond my country’s past.
Speaking a second language marks you out and, as an introvert, this was my worst nightmare
My teenage years were also marked by the curiosity of my peers, whether they were friendly or not. Speaking a second language marks you out and, as an introvert, this was my worst nightmare. From those who called me a Nazi, a mix of English and German, to pestering me to say a swear word in German.
One time, aged 14, an 11-year-old in quite a nonchalant way said, ‘you are a Nazi… your people killed all the English’. I have heard it all, and at that point I was so used to it I didn’t raise an objection like I should have. Whilst there were a couple of friendly voices, I learnt to drown them out and get on with my day. I won’t be able to reason with all of them, and sometimes the debate is simply not worth it.
There is a positive to my lifestyle of going between the two countries regularly, and one that most well-seasoned travellers can relate to – packing. Over the years, I have become the most organised suitcase packer, and know exactly how much I need to pack depending how long I am gone for, no matter how much or little time I have to do it.
My friends may call me a minimalist for it, but I save myself a lot of money on baggage. Basically I am saying this – invite me on a holiday the night before, and I will have a perfectly packed bag ready by the next morning.
Learning two different perspectives on life has certainly brought forward some intriguing and enlightening conversation with people in more recent years. Whether that be debates on if shops should be open on a Sunday (they aren’t in Germany) or Cadbury vs Milka chocolate, it is amusing to listen and to watch them unfold. I feel privileged to have had such an upbringing.
Though seriously; Milka chocolate is way better than Cadbury’s. Nothing will change my mind!
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