Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Education of a Wandering Man

“We are, finally, all wanderers in search of knowledge. Most of us hold the dream of becoming something better than we are, something larger, richer, in some way more important to the world and ourselves. Too often, the way taken is the wrong way, with too much emphasis on what we want to have, rather than what we wish to become.”

Louis L’Amour: Education of a Wandering Man

Monday, May 5, 2008

Losing My Mother Tongue

Today I got a chance to practice my German. While I have no trouble expressing myself over the phone, talking German to someone in person becomes more and more difficult. It’s like I can’t snap out of the reality surrounding me. During the first five minutes, I made horrible grammatical mistakes and accidentally fell back into English a couple of times. It was pretty embarrassing. Maybe she thought I was putting it on, to seem special, or to show off how well I’ve settled, or something equally retarded. I’m not proud of losing my grasp of the German language: For sixteen years it provided me with a framework to think and communicate. Looks like the framework has come tumbling down… No, I’m being dramatic. The conversation started to flow once I had overcome the initial unfamiliarity. But it’s true that I don’t feel at home in my native language anymore. I’ve lost the feeling for it, when I used to be so eloquent (in writing at least). Why should I be surprised? Surely language is simply another part of the culture that I have grown alienated from. Sometimes, to make up for my “linguistic degeneration”, I sit down with a copy of Faust and revel in Goethe’s mastery of German. It might feel more foreign now, but the pleasure sure is more intense!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

"She's one of us!"

Last week I attended a seminar with both German and New Zealand participants. When everyone had taken a seat around the table, and we were about to start, somebody pointed out that we had in fact created a division of nationalities: Germans on one side of the table, New Zealanders on the other. Not unbeknownst to that person, I was German, but had clearly chosen to sit on the “New Zealand side” His error was duly pointed out to him by the Germans, in the form of mild protest, evoking in me a feeling of warm content. He, however, exclaimed in response: “she’s not German, she’s one of us!”, leaving me with a feeling of soppy lightheartedness and an irrational sense of pride. And I didn’t even like him.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Freedom of Being "Not Quite Right"...

I like having a split cultural identity. It’s liberating in a way. You stand back and reflect where others are mere puppets of socialisation. Sure – you’re more detached – but you can observe what other people don’t even know exists. It brings out the core of your personality: stripped of cultural manipulation. To some extent, at least. If ever there was a perfect recipe for self-discovery, emigration is it.

Friday, April 25, 2008

How To Overcome Homesickness: Remedy No 1

In the context of migration, the term “home” is often understood as the country of one’s cultural identity. Depending on an immigrant’s ability or indeed willingness to integrate, his cultural self-perception will change. An immigrant striving to adapt may, ironically, strive for homelessness. Biculturalism flies in the face of a unitary notion like “home”. After five years away, familiarities wane and impressions change, weakening any sense of belonging. Yet the remnants of a now foreign cultural identity can’t be eradicated. We are who we were shaped to be. The immigrant is shaped to be dissociated. He doesn’t have a home.

Remedy No 1 for overcoming homesickness is thus to realise that one has foregone the ability to have a cultural home.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Self-imposed Torture

I was a shy child who loved being at home. When my friends invited me over to play, I usually invented excuses. I lost many friends this way. The thing is – I didn’t like people very much. They either bored or scared me, and being at home was so enjoyable. Yet, I was thirsty for travel and longed to go away. So I did, again and again and again, on exchange, horse riding holidays, language trips, always harbouring a little resentment towards myself for abandoning my home, or for not returning to a place that I had already learned to love.

Not all that much has changed. I’m still averse to social interaction, I still love the place that is now my home, I still feel the need to go away. So I do, again and again and again, on walks, tropical holidays, road trips. Until I leave for good, again.

With the result that there exists a multitude of places that I would like to make my home.

The place of my first memories: A house somewhere in Swabia, with a garden full of plums and cherries.

My teenage room, a sanctuary.

A village in the Provence, where I thought I had a soul.

New York, a city that makes me feel alive.

Wellington, where I am happy.

The ever-present craving for more. Saying goodbye has become a ritual, but it is painful nonetheless. The more I see, the more I will have to miss. I’m spoilt for choice.

It’s self-imposed torture.