Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Attitudes of some foreigners in Germany

On the second day of class we were all sharing our experiences as foreigners (or immigrants) in Germany. The discussion went well and it was interesting. We talked about how different life has been here as compared to home, we talked about things that excite us, and things that aren’t easy to cope with (especially when it comes to communication), and how we feel being away from familiar people, surroundings, food, procedures, etc. We could, to some point, relate to each other.

It was great until the topic changed.

I heard one of my classmates announce – I quote in his own words – “…ich sag’ Ihnen, die Deutschen sind rassistisch.” Translation: “…I tell you, Germans are racists.”

My eyes widened like I saw an idiot… I thought, wow, what a heavy point to make especially one that can be proved otherwise! He explained that he was at a local swimming pool with a friend having a conversation in their own language and that’s when everyone started to stare. And that was it. Just staring.

Well if it’s only staring then I get stares too, hell I even got mocked in my face once but instead of reacting I decided to move on. I’m not the one with the problem so why should I stoop down to the same level?

This guy hasn’t attended class for a week now, and I’m pretty sure I know why.
It not only takes a lot of guts to claim something like that, it also takes away all the respect anyone has for you.

“Open your mouth when you’re angry,
and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Not every foreigner is lucky enough to have the most perfect experience in a new country. But not every foreigner has the right attitude that allows them to appropriately behave in a new country either. I realized an issue with regards to communication.

  • Not speaking the language even after decades in the country

In Singapore I noticed this problem too. It isn’t a big issue but it exists nontheless.
I needed to buy shoes so I went to my favourite store. Found a pair that I liked and asked the salesman for my size. He smiled and said “Yes.”
I waited.
He’s still smiling.
I asked again.
He said, “Yes” and smiled again.
”Do you understand me?” I asked.
He started backing off. I went to the saleswoman instead, and she didn’t understand me either. They started to mumbled some words in chinese, with a strong accent.
Oh God. No english. I walked out of the store empty handed.

I understand that the majority in Singapore speaks Chinese (Mandarin to be precise), and I don’t have a problem with that. I learned a little Mandarin myself when I worked as a kindergarten teacher and found it pretty cool. The only problem is when no one understands me speaking english - my country’s official language. That’s just way too weird…

When you move to a new country and you don’t speak the language, would you think that the locals should attempt to understand you or the other way round?

For me it makes a lot of sense that I learn German because I’m in a country where it is widely spoken. A large number of Germans speak english, but that won’t do anyone any good, would it?

Yet there still are people who speak not a word of it even after being here for 10, 20, 30 years. And I really wonder how they do that, or why they do that, and what they’ve been doing the whole time. I’d feel so helpless, hopeless, and more alien than I already am. I’m really curious how one could think that they absolutely don’t need that knowledge.

  • Judging way too quickly

…was what this classmate of mine did. He was in a fairly uncomfortable situation, and he immediately judged it as extremely negative and took it all a little too personally.

Sometimes it’s best to give someone or something the benefit of the doubt. In a new country one has yet to get to know what it’s like, why something is (or is not) this way, what makes the locals tick, how they do what they do, and so on and so forth.

Not all foreigners are able to give it a chance. They think most things here are supposed to bejust like the way they are back home. The expect they locals to have the same thinking as they do, and they enjoy the disappointment in the end.

From my understanding, I find the Germans to be very friendly and considerate people. But they are less likely to make the first move. When we moved to our own place, none of our neighbours said hi. By chance I bumped into one of them in the basement and I took the initiative to introduce myself. How I loved the look on her face when she found out I could manage some sentences in german. Until now she’s been really nice. She gives me old newspapers and magazines to read, hence helping me with my german too.

Another neighbour we have, a guy, we introduced ourselves to him too and he immediately said, “We’ll be great neighbours! We should go out together and have a beer some time.” And I thought, wow, not bad… no words from the neighbours for days and they open up so suddenly and so easily the moment we say hi.

And that’s what I mean. I hear from many of my foreign friends that Germans are so stuck up and snobby and arrogant and all that, and yes, that’s how they may seem because they’d rather keep a distance. Of course, there are people who are stuck up but they don’t have to only be Germans. Some Germans are only most likely to speak when they are spoken to. And once they do, they are likely to be the ones who then take over the conversation. All you have to do is let them do the talking and you’ll learn so much about them in such a short time, because they’re also known for being very straight forward and honest. :)

Besides people, certain situations are also new to me. Like transportation, laws, procedures, employment and education systems, and the like. There is this tendency to compare them to what things are like back home, a tendency to claim that this or that makes no sense to me, could be better, or different, etc. But that’s not how it works.

In a new country, a foreigner is either the guest or the visitor. Someone different and unpredictable. Not the beacon of hope or the hero that can change everything. Over time it gets easier to understand why things are the way they are. Even if it comes down to no understanding, knowing how things work can help to make the odds acceptable.

Observe, listen, and initiate - three things which I find useful to do when being new in country.


  1. Just out of curiosity, which country does this classmate of yours come from?