It’s asparagus season in Germany. If you’ve ever been in Germany around this time of year, or know Germans and have heard them talk about the “white gold”, salivating as they were describing it, you know what a big deal this is (and if you don’t, but want to find out more, I recommend this YouTube video one of my podcast guests made about it).
I have always hated asparagus. Ever since I was a little girl, trying to force down one of those slimy white finger-like spears of stringyness, eyes watering, mouth rebelling, insides screaming, I have loathed this vegetable. I think I’ve always been a pretty crap German, even when I lived there (I’m not keen on beer either, and I hate Herbert Gr¨önemeyer*, but I digress). And now I’m not even sure I can still call myself German. You see, it’ll be my 48th birthday later this year, and I left Germany when I was 24. Yes, my roots are firmly planted on the shores of a beautiful Bavarian lake, but they’ve grown way further than that. These days, I get anxious when people ask me about my home country (home country?! What home country?!); I really don’t feel qualified to talk about it as a place I know well. Maybe it’s because I’ve only ever been an adult outside of Germany.
Talking about passports, next year, I’ll have reached the point of not having been registered in Germany for 25 years, which means I can no longer vote there. I must admit that I have only voted a handful of times over this quarter century, but as I’m not American, I don’t have a vote here either, and the thought of being vote-less scares me. The time has come to think about dual citizenship. Apparently it’s not the most straightforward process at the moment. It’ll be easy enough to obtain US citizenship, however, I don’t want to give up my German passport, which means I need to apply for a “Beibehaltungsgenehmigung” first. This is an official document that states my permission to apply for another passport while maintaining my German citizenship. If you don’t have this permission, and start applying for another nationality, Germany can withdraw citizenship. Of course I don’t want to be in that position, so I need to start thinking about how to approach this. It’ll be easy to come up with reasons why I should become American, but not so easy to explain why I need to keep my German citizenship.
When people ask me if I still “feel” German, I genuinely can’t find a satisfying answer. I mean, I guess I do, but I’m not sure in what way. I have changed so much, and of course, Germany has changed a lot too since I left in 1998, even though it’s a very traditionalist country, and a lot of things will probably never change. I’m trying to keep up with its culture and politics – watching TV, news, reading the paper, listening to podcasts. It gives me some sense of connection, but I’ve recently discovered another hugely important source of information: Expat blogs, YouTube channels and podcasts. Expats living in Germany posting on social media. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate those channels, and how much I’ve learnt by following them! So here’s a heartfelt Thank you, my fellow broadcasting expats! Keep blogging, vlogging and sharing the knowledge. One of my recent favourites was a blog post by Adventures of Steffi (a Brit in Germany), about German comedians. Before you ask, yes, Germany has a sense of humour, and now can proudly show off a very lively and extremely talented pool of comedians. I love it. I’ve discovered a whole new world!
When people ask me if I’m planning to move back one day, I panic. It’s like, back where? It’s not my home anymore. I am actually pretty terrified of moving to Germany. I think there are a few reasons for that fear. One of them is the fact that I don’t know how things work, I don’t know how to do things in Germany. Yes, you say, but surely you can figure it out? I guess so, but there’s a big difference: unlike a foreigner new to the country, I’ll be expected to know how things work. How to buy a house, open a bank account, recycle the proper way, etc. How to get my German drivers’ licence back (would I even get it back?). I’ll be expected to be proficient in German life. But the truth is, I haven’t done much adulting in Germany, and the problem is, I wouldn’t get the same grace as a foreigner. I would feel like a fish out of water, grasping for straws that are over 20 years old.
Let’s take the German language, for example. I’m planning to write a post about this in more detail, so I’m trying to summarise here. I’ve mentioned before how the German language has changed a lot since I left. And since I stopped working as a translator a couple of years ago, a profession that is indeed extremely linked to language, I’ve been watching this change with mixed feelings. I’m a linguist, so I don’t want to come across as someone who bemoans the decline of a language, the horrible new words, the bad grammar, etc. No. That’s all part of language evolution, and so I accept it, adapt to it, try to understand it. I don’t have to like it though, and while I’m confessing this, I might as well confess that this is a huge part of my quitting my profession as a translator. I simply don’t feel comfortable with my mother tongue these days, and seem to be incapable of following the direction it is heading. Maybe that’s just a sign of having been away from Germany for so long, and maybe that’s how a lot of expats feel about their mother tongue, but I feel a real disconnect. I think this is to do with a development that’s going on globally, and which I actually really applaud and support. It’s the attempt to make language more gender-equal, more all-encompassing, less sexist. In German, it’s called “Gendern”, “gendering”. The way this is dealt with in the German language, however is, in my mind, hugely problematic, and I actually can’t shake off the feeling that it’s simply an attempt to emulate English (which is the major force in the change of the German language, but which has a completely different set of rules that don’t easily translate to German). Hear me out. I listened to a podcast the other day, which happened to be a conversation with the Green party leader who might become Germany’s next chancellor, Annalena Baerbock. The hosts, two gentlemen around my own age, introduced her as their “Gästin”. This word does not exist in German. Or rather, it didn’t used to exist. The German word for “guest” is “Gast”, which happens to be a masculine noun in German. For those of you not familiar with German grammar, here’s a quick guide: German nouns are divided into three genders, one more than the French and Spanish have, for example: der Gast = the guest, die Sonne = the sun, das Mädchen = the girl. Problematic? Maybe, depending on how you look at it. A girl should be feminine, not neuter, of course. And why is the sun feminine, but a guest masculine? But that’s how the language has evolved. In French, the sun is masculine. So there. To me, just because a word has a certain gender doesn’t mean it’s demeaning; in other words, just because the word “Gast” is masculine, we don’t need a feminine equivalent. This would be never ending! And reading the paper and listening to the news, these things crop up all the time now, and I’m really struggling to keep up without feeling a bit lost and confused. And I hate, hate, hate that I feel like that about my mother tongue, and that this makes me sound like the old-fashioned, backwards-looking grammar police. But why are they trying to make an already pretty complicated language even more complicated? As I said before, I’m a linguist (and a feminist) and should embrace all this…. I understand that creating the word “Gästin” is mainly symbolic, a sign that the hosts are aware of the masculinity of the word, but come on!! Needless to say, all this doesn’t help bridge the gap between me and my German-ness.
I haven’t talked about this with any of my German friends, so I have no idea how people in Germany feel about this linguistic development. Is it just me, am I just too far removed from the country to be able to empathise and understand this? Please help me out here, explain what’s going on!
And now I’m off to grab myself some nice German chocolate. My heart did a little happy dance when I spotted these gems at my local Texas supermarket earlier today. I probably don’t need to tell you how many of them I bought. I guess she’s still in there somewhere, my little inner German….
*a little note about Herbert Grönemeyer:
Herbert Grönemeyer is Germany’s most successful musician. I listened to a podcast about the most famous German music from the past 20 years, and to this day, Gröni is the unrivalled number one. I’m not surprised, really. When I was growing up, everybody loved him; he was God in terms of German musicians. Most of my friends were fans. And later, when I lived abroad, other Germans I came across all loved Grönemeyer, and were flabbergasted when I declined invitations to see him play in London, and later in San Francisco. I just never got it. Yes, okay, he writes interesting lyrics, but I just wouldn’t willingly listen to his music (I can already feel the German readers bristle). In my quest for German culture, I listened to an interview with Grönemeyer (incidentally, it was the same podcast that I mention above, Alles Gesagt, and this particular interview was 5 hours and 15 minutes long. The title: Herr Grönemeyer, warum werden Sie von den Deutschen so geliebt? Mr. Grönemeyer, why do the Germans love you so much?). Listening to this interview, I was surprised to find I had a lot in common with Gröni. He also spent a big chunk of his life in the UK, still owns a house in London where he spends a lot of time, and his kids were mostly brought up as little Brits. He adores the English, especially their sense of humour, and so much of what he says thoroughly resonates with me. I really liked him after the interview (and especially the more gnarly parts where he’s not happy with the questions, and the conversation becomes a little tense). But I still don’t like his music.