The “Union Jack” - official british flag. Photo: Martin Bernetti / dapd.
Hello. I’m Daniel, from England.
That’s how I introduce myself now, most of the time, since coming to live in Germany. Half scared of using my (admittedly, not that bad) German, and half enjoying the interested rasing of the eyebrows and the interest in the fact that I’m not from these parts.
One of the first questions I’m asked by bemused Germans is:
So, why have you come to Germany?
I search for a mild, friendly reason somewhere between ‚I just ended up here‘ and ‚I learnt German in school, I’ve visited more places in Germany than I had in Britain and I’m currently living here to complete a long, difficult obsession with the country I now call home‘ – but whatever my explanation, many of the natives I’m introduced to seem to find it odd that I would come to their country, and not a place with year-round warm weather, where the parties never end, the people are always beautiful and the streets are paved with gold.
To be honest, I really did just ‚end up‘ here. Sure, it was helped along by having learnt German in school, which gave me a head start in the challenging and rewarding process of discovering a country beyond its tourist facade. But, coming from a country of many parts with strong pride and defined cultural identity, I found it a little odd how much Germans seem to question someone moving to their country as if (unless you were escaping a country in turmoil, or were desperate to use Germany to gain illegal work or leech from the state) you had made a mistake.
Indeed, there are things in the UK which I found much easier and simpler, which, when I explain the differences to Germans, some gape open mouthed in amazement or confusion. We don’t have to register and de-register with the town hall when we move house. We don’t have to carry ID cards. Our shops are open on Sunday and our cashiers help us to pack our bags and our electronics shops all accept MasterCard. And we can cross the road when it’s safe, regardless of what the pedestrian crossing light says. And like every foreigner who bitches about his new-found home, he’s bound to be faced with the sometimes quite philosophical question of:
If it’s so good back home, why don’t you just go and live there?
It’s a difficult question to answer and for some expatriates in Germany, it’s not as easy as simply moving back. The answer is simple – there are many wonderful and amazing things about Germany that you just get used to! For those living in the big cities of Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, and others, it could be as simple as the energy and vibrancy of living in such bustling metropolises. For those living outside of these areas, it could be a tight-knit community of Ausländer, banding together in a kind of vulnerable, but contented way, unlike any kind of experience you could have back home. Or perhaps it could be Germans themselves, who, for the most part, seem to reach across differences of opinion and interest to extend a hand of friendship and invitation which just isn’t found at home (something which, I’m sure, many Germans would find incorrect – themselves finding their fellow countrymen rude). Put better, most people seem to ‚give you a chance‘ when it comes to friendship.
Or perhaps it’s the fact that I’m not at home; I’m somewhere where there’s always something new or surprising to find out. What is with the German obsession with pork and sausages?
And why do so many people, ironically or otherwise, listen to Schlager music?
If you’ve lived in Germany for a short time, you’ll know what I mean.
However, the fact is: it’s not so good back home. It’s okay, but the UK has its flaws too. In reality, it’s difficult to really say what I like about living here, until I go back home to compare. The grass is always greener on the other side. But even if I find my real place in German society, I’ll still always be:
Daniel, from England