Today a fellow expat asked the question ‘what do you do to integrate in German society?’. As I will soon be celebrating my 6-month anniversary in Hamburg, it seems the right time for some reflection. How did my integration so far go, and in what way could or should things be improved?
It speaks volumes that I had to think a good while about my answer to this question. I eat currywursts and bratwurst and schinkenwursts and what have you, but other than that, I’m not so sure. I do try to speak German whenever I can (well, apart from with German friends and flat mates, that makes me feel rather shy..), I join in in local festivities out of anthropological curiosity, and I’ve even had my first voluntary hot lunch. But I don’t think I will be supporting the German national team in the EC this year, and I only wish Bayern Munich to reach the next round in the Champions League because it means more football broadcast on television. And I certainly don’t want Borussia Dortmund to reach the next phase of the Europe League, at the costs of my beloved Liverpool!
When asked the question in the opening paragraph, some people answered that they hang out with German colleagues or join German sport clubs. Although I don’t mean to belittle their efforts I have never felt the specific need to hang out with certain people merely because they are nationals of the country I’m currently living in. I love the chats with my Belgian and Scandinavian colleagues, or with my Spanish, Polish, Chinese and Brazilian ex-colleagues and enjoy spending time with them because they’re nice people, not because of their nationality. I don’t feel the need to join a German club in particular, just because there are Germans in them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Germans. In fact, there are quite a few I really like. But I’m not specifically looking for them, I judge people on their character instead of the location that they were born. I am open to people of all nationalities – although I do admit Germans and I usually get along rather well, despite our historical differences 😀
Living abroad tends to make you extra aware of your own background. Especially now I’m living in another country for an indefinite period of time it makes me reflect on how integration issues are handled in the Netherlands. The focus is always very much on being part of Dutch society, about gaining at least a dual identity – if not forgetting about your former. But I don’t think even if I lived here for another 50 years, I could forget where I came from originally. I am Dutch and will remain so, despite my jokes about getting a second passport for travel purposes.
I don’t feel either integrated or part of German society. Instead, I feel part of a larger international community, I feel Dutch and I feel European. And I am just wondering how big a problem that really is. Does me not making much of an effort to integrate into German society really bother anyone? As a Dutchie living here does not require a lot of adaption really, as the Dutch and German mentalities are really very much alike. We are Germanic siblings, so to say. I do not have radically different views on LGBT rights, religious freedom or freedom of speech that make me not adapting to German society a real issue. As I live most of my life within the expat community however one would probably argue with some justification that I am not integrated and also don’t do enough efforts to become integrated, other than eating some national food and speaking a few words of German every now and then. And yet I wonder, who am I really bothering with this?
Now go ahead and shoot me.