Madame Nathalie lost in translation
Most of what is written now will probably be lost in translation and lost also because it is written. No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to describe her accurately enough: she is Nathalie Licard, a French woman who has been living in Germany already for 20 years. She is also a well-known TV entertainer – famous for her lovely voice, vibrant performances and, believe it or not, because of her particularly strong French accent.
The unintentional jokes
Yes, you read it correctly – she is a celebrity because of her charming accent and the adorably chaotic way she speaks German. Therefore, every time you read her quotes in this article, you have to imagine a strong French accent with it!
One of her favorite phrases is: “Ich bin wie ein gekochtes Gemüse”, which would literally mean “I am like a boiled vegetable”, only that no-one in Germany had ever heard of this idiom before she came up with it. And there is a whole list of the phrases she has come up with during her two decades in Cologne.
When Nathalie tells a joke, she adds: “Die hatten humor” (which sounds more like: de atten umor – ed.) meaning “They had humor” to describe that the people around her were laughing, because in French it actually sounds good: “Ils ont de l’humour.”
Last week Nathalie’s kitchens water tap was broken, so she tells: “Man sollte mich reparieren”, which means strictly speaking that somebody ought to repair her. What she actually meant, was, of course, pretty clear right away, but by that time I also “had very much humor”.
When Nathalie has a gift for you, she might say: “Ich bin ein Geschenk für Sie”, which would translate to “I am a gift for you.”
Exactly because of such unintentional jokes, she has become quite famous. She says it happened coincidentally. “There are many people who think that I talk like that on purpose. That is not true. They simply need to understand that I learned German only in my thirties,” Nathalie says. “If I listen to my recordings, then I cannot even believe how strong my accent is. My inner ear cannot hear that while I am speaking.”
German grammar nightmare
Nathalie would like to get rid of the grammar mistakes she makes in German. “Now I am trying to do that – unfortunately 20 years too late, to be honest,” she says laughing, explaining that three months ago she begun a language exchange tandem. “My problem was that I was not corrected when I started learning. Now I meet with a German and we speak half an hour in French and half an hour in German. That is the best thing ever!”
A bit later Nathalie explains her frustration with German grammar: “The structure of the German language is in my opinion totally absurd. And then the articles: I do not give a damn of what gender is a table or a chair. But if you don’t know the articles, then it’s impossible to decline the noun correctly. That is why I simply do not decline the nouns! If I do not know the article, why on earth should I even start declining it then?” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
She gets even more emotional when she starts talking about separable verbs: “That is brutal and inhuman! Here you see that the Germans are much more disciplined, because in German you have to wait until the end of the sentence to understand what the talk is about. Maybe because of that they interrupt each other less. We French are more the interrupters.”
Coincidentally in Germany
How did it happen then that this very French lady ended up in Germany? Nathalie explains once more: it was all a coincidence. “I met a German and I simply came to visit him in Cologne and then I stayed. In the beginning I did not work and I could not speak German at all – it was disastrous!” she starts explaining. “I really did feel myself like “gekochtes Gemüse” (the famous boiled vegetable once again – ed.). Through my acquaintances I had a possibility to start working in a production company as a student assistant, pretty much as a maid-of-all-work.”
The company happened to be the same that started producing Die Harald Schmidt Show soon after, a German late night talk show hosted by the comedian Harald Schmidt.
“This student job included moving chairs and tables. I told them: “I can also move the chairs and tables, I do not have to be a student for that”,” Nathalie explains. “I was lucky, because Harald Schmidt talked a bit of French.”
When her contract ended, the producers decided to put her in the call center – even though she did not speak any German. “It was only there that I learned to speak German. In the beginning I couldn’t understand a word! At some point I finally understood the word “Ticket” and learnt by heart the sentence: “Für die Tickets müssen Sie Ticket-Hotline anrufen”,” Nathalie describes and adds laughingly: “That did not go very fast though. It actually went especially slow. The problem with me learning German was that I could not take many language courses, because they were too expensive.”
Coincidentally a TV star
Nathalie’s TV-success followed also accidentally. “It was actually an idea of Harald Schmidt, because he is a Francophile and our conversations amused him,” she tells in a very serious manner. “Since his show is a comedy, then they thought: “O.K., she is not speaking so well German nor English” and then they sent me to interview famous people in English and exactly because I could not speak the language.”
So it happened that Die Harald Schmidt Show started sending the Madame Nathalie to report from everywhere, including from Festival de Cannes, Berlinale and even from the USA. She has asked Woody Allen, George Clooney, Nicolas Cage, Will Smith and “you know the Austrian with big muscle” Arnold Schwarzenegger the questions in her broken English.
These interviews are very funny, but so is the way Nathalie talks about her experience. “I was lucky. I prepared some English sentences, but I did not understand Will Smith’s answers at all,” she begins. “So I asked what he thinks the ladies find most attractive about him. He said his ears. My English was fortunately enough to reply: “Yes, you are right, they are telling “welcome”.”
About these stories and her other German-French observations Nathalie has written a book in German. Yes, you read it correctly – in German! “It was not my idea,” Nathalie begins in her humble manner. “The publisher asked me if I would like to write a book. I thought they were completely out of their minds! At that time I was out of Harald Schmidt Show and did not really know what to do. Then I thought: O.K., why not?”
She says she could not have done it without her co-writer, but to her surprise many of her mistakes were left untouched in the book. “It was an unbelievable mental experience. It lasted nine months and on the first day I wrote four sentences, I think,” Nathalie recalls. “It was the hell! It really was.” But it was worthwhile: the book was sold out, all 15 000 copies of it. “I was very proud,” she admits. Despite that she is not willing to repeat this nine months of hell and the part two is definitely not on her agenda.
Life in Cologne is in Nathalies opinion great and she wants to stay here as long as possible. “When I would have to return to France now, I would not even know what I could do there. I am not known there, nobody is waiting for me there. I would have to do a normal job,” she explains.
The only thing she does not like in Germany are the “miserable” supermarkets. “I miss my French supermarkets: we have so much better selection in every range of products,” she says.
Nathalie likes the mentality of Germans – she likes that they are so direct. “I find this direct way to communicate very pleasant and funny,” she admits. “There are not many things that I do not like over here. Cologne is great! This is of course only my experience. I am sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed living somewhere in a small village. Cologne is very cosmopolitan and open, so are the people I have met here.”
Moreover, Nathalie finds the TV people in Germany down-to-earth, unlike the stars in France. “The TV people in France are definitely more arrogant than over here,” she adds. The same goes with how open the German society really is: “I find that the German society has maybe even a bigger acceptance of multiculturalism than the French society. I find that people mix well in Germany.”
Being a French immigrant
In her opinion the problems with integration start with lack of education and social welfare problems. Once you have a job and know the language, there are no real integration problems, at least in bigger cities, like Cologne.
“For me it was only the problem of the language. Other than that I was welcomed very pleasantly by the Germans. The people were always excited to find out I am French,” Nathalie describes. “I am sure that it isn’t the case for many other nationalities, but in my case it was really positive.”
However, she is well aware of the negative examples: “One of my friends from Tunisia speaks perfect French. She told me once that people thought she is French. Then the Germans were very positive and glowing. And the moment she told them that she is from Tunisia, the moment the faces changed. Of course, she took it as an insult.”
If Nathalie is asked whether she would like to become German citizen, since she has lived here so long, she starts laughing. “Honestly, if the next day I would say I am German, nobody would believe me anyway!” she says, referring to her original chaotic way of speaking the language.
But exactly this German that she speaks has become her trademark over the years. The accent and the mistakes are what make it so great: she is a proof for that you do not have to speak perfect German to be accepted in German society. Our imperfections make us unique.
Watch Nathalie Licard in TV Total.
Jazzing in a free world
On a Sunday in November I meet an accomplished Romanian jazzman and a composer Nicolas Simion for breakfast. I stick to my usual Italian cappuccino and he chooses a big “London” breakfast. We are settled in to talk for a few hours in a nice Turkish place close to Clodwigplatz in Cologne. I must admit I know as little about jazz as I now about classical music. My career as a musician stopped in the second grade when I was obliged, back then still in the USSR, to learn how to play an accordion, which was two times bigger and heavier than me.
How the musician was made
Nicolas Simion was born in Dumbravita, a small town in the Carpathian mountain chain in Transylvania. He attended a musical school and studied classical music at the Conservatory in Bucharest. His first impact with jazz music happened when he was only 12 years old. A friend of his introduced to Nicolas a few famous songs by Louis Armstrong and he remained very puzzled and disappointed. “This music is definitely not for me,” thought the young Nicolas back then. He only changed his mind seven years later. He was in a military service at the age of 18, where he met a very talented amateur gypsy musician Lon Fieraru, who could play clarinet, saxophone and a guitar. “He did not know the keys at all, he would just turn on the radio and start improvising together with the radio.” That was it – the turning point for Nicolas. “If he can do it, maybe I can do it do, just like a monkey,” laughingly says the jazzman. At the age of 19 he bought his first saxophone and started to compose jazz music applying his knowledge of the classical music.
A long way to the free world
In 1983 after finishing the Conservatory, Nicolas was a freelance musician performing in bars, pubs and at weddings, and in the meantime practicing jazz and developing love for improvised music. He realized that he could not stay in Romania to achieve his dream to become a professional jazzman. Life as a musician in back then torn Romanian State was very difficult. “In the West you could still have a life as a musician, but to live life as a jazzman in the totalitarian Romania was impossible,” recollects the musician.
In 1988 he managed to obtain a travel visa for Poland to participate in Warsaw Jazz Festival. He eventually missed it because the Romanian customs officers made his time difficult at the airport: Nicolas had three musical instruments with him without permission. “They just did not want me to leave,” says the jazzman. He still remembers the feeling he had being on a plane to Poland. “I am going to the free world, I will do my best not to come back,” thought Nicolas. Soon after the missed concert and with an expired tourist visa, he took a night train to go to Vienna but he ended up living in a refugee camp in Hungary for several weeks. Since he could not speak Hungarian, Nicolas was not allowed to teach music: “They said they would give me an easy-for-my-soft-hands job and I found myself working in a factory. It was like living in a Soviet gulag, waking up at 5 a.m., putting on a grey overall and going to work.”
After six weeks he took another night train to Vienna with the same idea to emigrate to the West and to lead life of a musician. “I was so lucky because the customs officers in Austria did not even open my passport and did not see the two red crosses on my expired tourist visa to Poland.” Nicolas remembers that he had the very same feeling again: “now I am really emigrating to the west and doing my best not to come back”. In Vienna he stayed for some weeks in a refugee camp again and “it felt like I was put to a jail with 30 people from all parts of the world in one room sleeping on awful metallic beds and wearing stripped pajamas,” recalls the musician. In several months a long trip to the free world that lasted ten weeks was over, he received the political asylum, always remaining faithful to his music.
The beginning as a musician in the free world was also hard but, as Nicolas looks back: “I was strong enough to resist and I met people along my way who supported and believed in me.”
The found freedom to be a musician
Now Nicolas Simion, in his 50ies, but with a charisma and enthusiasm of a young man, keeps on smiling, throwing jokes around about his life, but remaining always rather serious about the music. As a true romantic, he confirms that the best moment about being a musician is “when you don’t have any money, but you play your saxophone and it does not bother you anymore what is going to happen tomorrow.”
Nicholas does not like to make plans for the future. “I am an old-fashioned guy, maybe I will go back to my small home village in Romania to plant potatoes and tomatoes,” he says laughing. For now he continues to tour the world with his amazing music. His music creation on over 30 CDs are a proof of over 30 years of hard work and dedication. “I am like a small bear that keeps on moving; the dogs from time to time bark from different sides, but I keep on walking,” describes himself Nicolas.
When we are about to leave the Turkish place, Nicolas draws from his jacket one of his most acclaimed CDs and gives it to me as a present. We walk together a little bit and then I rush home to listen to his authentic “Transylvanian Jazz” that represents the musical roots of his home country. After this magnificent 60 minute jazz experience I can proudly say that I know a little bit more about the jazz world and a jazzman that found his path in the landscape of contemporary jazz. A jazzman who made his dream to become a professional musician, in spite of all the difficulties, come true.
More global than Indian
On a cold yet sunny November morning I meet Uma. I had looked her up in a community of expats in Cologne and was intrigued by her website that I asked to meet her in person. In the first five minutes of our conversation I get to know that she is a marketing communication professional who often works full time, juggling life in her various roles as a mother, a spouse, an independent consultant, a volunteer, a student at The International Association for Human Values (IAHV) and sometimes a teacher, where she offers short workshops in breathing techniques and meditation in her after work hours. Amidst all this Uma says she also makes time for regular yoga, creative activities with kids, travelling, social causes and writing. She impresses me with her positive attitude to life.
She was born and raised in Chennai (east coast of India). Uma recollects that even as a child, she was always in multicultural groups. India’s diversity brought together people of different cultural backgrounds in schools, universities and workplaces, so she is kind of used to this Multi-kulti. And, to add to that, her marriage to her then colleague, a man from Delhi, makes her household a two-state India. Adapting to another Indian culture, food and language in her marriage while living in cities that neither she nor her husband grew up in has helped her stay opened minded. Here is an excerpt from my conversation with her.
What was the most difficult part about moving to Germany?
My earliest memory of overcoming a difficulty in Germany was learning to drive on the right hand side – coming from Asia’s left lane driving – and adapting to the limitless speed of the Autobahn. And that, I chose to do driving lessons in the seventh month of my pregnancy – my decision – in a language that I barely understood, remains till date, one of the most difficult thing about moving here. Imagine, accelerating at 120 km, with a baby kicking and pushing. It was more than just an adrenaline rush. Learning to dress in layers is another difficulty that persists even now.
How does it feel to be an Indian woman in Germany?
Well, my fundamental identity is not my nationality, although I know that’s how most people perceive me. I think the chances I have had in life make me feel more global than Indian. Of course, I am proud to be an Indian and I’m grateful for the chance I have to break some of the stereotypes about India. You know sometimes, Europeans tend to see Asian countries and culture though a pinhole camera. Many things you read or see about India in the news are true, but to assume that applies to each one of the one billion Indians is being prejudiced.
Tell me more about your childhood…
I come from an educated and well-to-do family. I grew up in an environment that gave me and my sister the best of two worlds – an educated and intelligent business world that we experienced through a diligent and successful Dad and an educated, wealthy and philanthropic world that came through my Mom’s large well-known family. It was mostly my mother’s foresight and parenting techniques that helped me and my sister be the fiercely independent and sensible women, that we are today. In the 80s and 90s – a time when Indian mothers pushed their daughters to conform and abide by conservative rules and regulations imposed by the society, our mother encouraged us to be independent, taught us to think for ourselves and gave us the chance to find our own limits. And my sister and I would not be what we are without her foresight.
Do you raise your daughters in the same way?
Absolutely! My husband and I do the same. We provide them with opportunities to learn and experience different things without cluttering their minds with our personal judgments. We also let them know that irrespective of what they meet in life or make of life, they will always be welcome in a safe and warm nest called home.
What is it that you don’t like in Germany?
Hmmm, well, some trivial things like less sunshine, taxation, lack of extended childcare for working mums, etc. But if I think deeper, I would say the western world tends to mistake the Asian politeness as a sign of personal weakness and I have had to come up with creative ways of changing that perception.
What would you like to change in Germany?
Stop it from changing me too much! I don’t want to change anything in anyone, but I would like to bring IAHV’s programs to schools, universities, workplaces and other such communities in Germany so people can be the change they want to see in others….hmm…I know what you are thinking ….that it sounds mighty and too big and philosophical even, right? But it is better to have might goals than petty ones you agree?
Do you feel integrated in the German society?
I feel integrated and belonged everywhere, not just Germany. Happiness is independent of Geography.
My last question to you Uma, what do you think the future holds?
No idea. And not knowing what the future holds is in some way, exciting. But I hope to combine my working hours with certain social projects that help people improve the lives of people around us. So, the future for me will have a significant social agenda – an agenda that goes beyond fund raising – an agenda that requires time, effort and skills.
An American living the medieval fairytaleby Inga
It is a gray and rainy October day when we set out for Mechernich to meet a countess. A countess who truly lives in a castle. Growing up with all the fairy-tales with princesses and the magic that surrounds the aristocrats, my fantasy has now no limits and I am excited to see how the myth fits the modern day reality.
We drive up to the castle Satzvey, known better as Burg Satzvey, and everything still fits perfectly the fairytale-like medieval fantasyland. Any second a princess could come out from the castle. Instead a man appears to the courtyard – tending to our reality check with jeans and winter jacket.
The magic returns once we enter. Finally we meet the countess – Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnich welcomes us literally to her castle. The proverb “your home is your castle” acquires a totally new meaning in this setting and brings back the medieval charm.
Gräfin Beissel is an American with the most interesting background you can imagine: she is born in Bonn, because her father was a U.S. diplomat, she has lived and studied in four different countries and, last but not least, has become a countess along the way.
A dreamer or not?
Her eyes light up when she tells us the story of how her husband, Franz Josef Graf Beissel von Gymnich, won her heart.
“In 1983 I accepted an invitation by my future husband to a fantastic medieval weekend at his family castle and was enchanted by the fairytale ambience I encountered here. Renaissance banners were hanging from the turrets, Venetian gondolas harboring opera singers floated on the moat with over thousand guests in evening attire attentively listening,” describes Gräfin Beissel. She admits that she was skeptical at first: the count had told how great the event was going to be, but the circle of friends thought that the then young antique dealer was a dreamer. This night changed her life forever.
“The next day I awoke early to an unrecognizable sound. Leaping to my guestroom window, I saw to my amazement the lord of the castle himself dressed in jeans driving a tractor and pulling a trailer, onto which he proceeded to empty the garbage amassed at last night’s party,” she continues. “I was impressed seeing him doing this heavy labor alone. I then realized that this indeed was no dream.”
The couple got engaged few months later and married in 1984. Next years they spent building up the first and one of the most popular medieval jousting festivals in Germany. Soon it grew out into a full event calendar from Easter until Christmas, keeping the family busy with attractive events on most weekends.
During the years the countess has tried out every work in the castle similarly to her husband. “Selling tickets at the front box office, serving our guests, washing dishes, writing press releases, inviting VIPs and taking personal care of them and much more,” she brings examples. “Late hours and no free weekends for years and years were a matter of course, and still are. We are lucky in having found an excellent successor in our daughter, who founded her own event Agency, Patricia Gräfin Beissel GmbH in 2011 and now runs the event business at our castle, as well as organizing historic festivals elsewhere.”
Accepting the local culture
Despite the fact that Jeannette Gräfin Beissel has lived in Germany over 40 years, she still feels American. “Certain characteristics such as the American sense of humor will never be lost to me nor a certain easy look on life, which seems typical to many of my US compatriots,” she explains.
Nevertheless the countess stresses how important it is for foreigners to learn the local language and culture: “People who come to live here in Germany and become German citizens have not only the right, but also responsibility as citizens to learn the language so they can communicate.”
According to Gräfin Beissel, one of the biggest obstacles in German integration is the widely discussed problem with communities where people don’t speak German. “I believe it is important to remember your own culture, but when you come to a foreign country you must try and understand the traditions you find and accept the culture in your new homeland,” says the countess. “Of course this does not mean giving up your own beliefs and own religion, your own traditions and your own way of dealing with life, but still you must respect your hosts’ ways of thinking.”
“It’s going to take a while for this whole integration process to really melt together in Germany, I feel that many here still have problems accepting a global melting pot idea,” she continues. “I have encountered some quite amazing personal stories,” she adds. “Such as when I met with women entrepreneurs whose families immigrated here just one generation ago and whose parents were in some cases illiterate. These women learned the language, gained high level degrees and are now successful in their various careers.” They have become German citizens without forgetting their roots and in becoming members of the German society do their part in contributing towards the gross national product. In some cases more so than their fellow-citizens.
It’s going to take a while for this whole integration process to really melt together in Germany, I feel that many here still have problems accepting a global melting pot idea.
Being a part of the community is the key, says Gräfin Beissel. She has founded the Jeannette Gräfin Beissel von Gymnich Stiftung, to help children in Germany who have difficult and traumatic family backgrounds. “I’m an American. Why should I take so much time to help German children? Because I live here with open eyes and see where help is needed. I am doing this because I am part of the community, it is my responsibility,” she adds.
Life in this German castle, as well as her many honorary activities and writing books, keep the countess as busy as when she first moved in 30 years ago. Burg Satzvey still shows its magical side when we end our conversation, however, the charming countess has showed us also the modern-day reality of creating this enchantment. It is her fairy-tale world that has come to be through many years of hard work.
Entrepreneur whose measure of profit is not moneyby Christine Bukania
Not many people would freely admit to have been nicknamed after a pig when they were growing up. But then, Veye Tatah (41) is not like many people. She is a straight talking, confident and successful entrepreneur who has established two business enterprises and a non-for-profit organisation from the ground up. And the pig in question is no ordinary pig, it is Snowball.
Snowball is one of the characters in George Orwell’s epic novel Animal Farm. He is intelligent, passionate, idealistic and endowed with oratory skills that help him win the adulation and following of other animals on the farm. These attributes are what made Tatah’s four siblings give her the nickname. “Even as a child, I was very smart. I came up with all sorts of ideas, which my brothers and sisters implemented, so they started calling me Snowball,” she says.
Getting paid to talk
Indeed, it is one such idea that propelled her firmly onto the entrepreneurial path. In 2003, while working at Dortmund University, one of the professors asked if she could prepare African food for a graduation party. “Some people liked the food and wondered if they could get it at an African restaurant. Realising that there was no such restaurant, I saw a business opportunity and grabbed it,” she says laughingly.
She set up the Kilimanjaro catering and events service that year. The company caters to both personal and corporate parties and events. In the busy summer season she has up to seven events per month. “It is a seasonal business, so I cut operational costs by using my own pool of fifteen people that I can call when I get a contract. If the event is large, I outsource additional labour from established companies,” Tatah explains her business strategy.
The entrepreneur explains that her regular income comes from her consulting firm, which she set up in 2007. “While I was employed at the Information Technology Department of the Technical University Dortmund, I was often invited to train and give talks by different organisations. I realised I could make it a full time job,” Tatah narrates. She quit her university job to set up a consulting firm that offers IT services, project management and intercultural training. Like Snowball, whose rhetorical skills were unmatched on Animal Farm, the entrepreneur admits that her speaking engagements are the most lucrative part of her consulting work.
Growing up in Cameroon in the eighties, Tatah had a typical African middle class life, and attended a good catholic boarding school. It may not be the environment that breeds revolutionary minds, but she always knew she was different. “If something bothered me, I had to do something about it, or else I would have internal unrest.”
When Tatah came to study in Germany in 1991, she was disturbed by the negative image of Africa in the media. In 1998, she started Africa Positive – a German language magazine that provides alternative and balanced news about her home continent.
Africa Positive – Tatah’s windmill
Africa Positive is to Tatah what the windmill project was to Snowball – A difficult job, but one whose benefits far outweigh the challenges. Her close confidant, and deputy chairman of the advisory board Hans Decker says, “She’s passionate about this magazine. She calls it her third child and I agree. I don’t think Africa Positive would function if she was not there. She is the driving force behind it.”
Today, Africa Positive publishes between 5,000 to 12,000 copies of each quarterly edition, depending on the orders. The magazine boasts of subscribers in Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain and Holland. What started out as a magazine is now a fully fledged non-profit organisation called Africa Positive e.V. which is engaged in education and integration projects in and around Dortmund.
Tatah shakes her head wondrously as she explains that the magazine was her foundation for success. “I worked twenty hours a week, attended lectures, ran a magazine and raised two sons. I think those early lessons, discipline and sacrifice are what prepared me to run my business.”
She is still doing it today. Her small, bustling office not far from the main train station of Dortmund is a hive of activity. She joins her team to answer phone calls and plan an upcoming event, while somehow supervising her youngest son Doh (12) who is eating lunch and doing his homework in the conference room. Her older son, Verki (16) does not hang around his mother much, but twice a week, he helps out in one of the education projects being implemented by Africa Positive e.V.
For Tatah, the line between work and family is almost nonexistent. She is happy that her partner understands and shares her work ethic and values.
If you do something that comes from the heart, you’ll not feel like you are working. I involve my children in my work. That way, they learn what I do and we spend quality time together.
Tatah may be a successful businesswoman, but it is obvious that her greatest source of pride is the work that Africa Positive e.V. is doing. Decker seems to have some concerns about this. “Money is not important; she just wants to do a good job. I hope that in five years, she can still do what she loves to do and earn a good living from it,” he says.
Tatah is not worried. She categorically states that her measure of success is not financial achievement. “We are reaching out to people and changing minds. You cannot buy that with money.”
In Orwell’s novel, Snowball finds out the hard way that reform has formidable enemies when he is chased from the Animal Farm. For Tatah, there seem to be no worries on this score. Although she does not talk about it, she has received nothing but high accolades for her work. Hopefully, it will stay that way.
The global nomad storyby Eve
When meeting a person for the first time you usually ask where he comes from. Most of us would not hesitate and give a straightforward answer: “ I come from England” or “I am Kenyan”, but for Alex Cotoranu (27) it is a difficult question. He is puzzled every time someone asks him that. “It’s complex, but I have learnt to adjust my answer,” he says. “I am Canadian originally from Romania who studied in Sweden and now lives in Germany.” Other times he would say, “ I am Romanian who grew up in Canada, studied in Sweden and currently working in Germany.” However, he is not a stereotypical Canadian and he does not associate himself that much with the Romanian culture or the people.
I am actually more worldly, I have adopted things from different countries including Romania, Canada, Italy, Sweden and now Germany.
How the global nomad was made
It all began when Alex Cotoranu was only five years old. Growing up in a revolution-torn capital city of Romania Bucharest in the 1990s, his family was forced to escape the numerous street protests, violence and instability that marked the end of the Romanian communist regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu. The decision to move for the first time he says “is not always yours to take.”
Key moments from Cotoranu’s childhood in Romania are still engraved on his mind. “I remember coming out from my grandparents’ apartment during winter months in a stroller and wearing a new pair of winter woollen socks that my grandmother would knit for me every year. I will never forget saying goodbye to my grandparents,” he says with a nostalgic smile on his face. That is exactly time his love for travel and relocation really begun.
Having relatives in Hessen and wanting to guarantee a safer future for Alex Cotoranu, the family moved to Germany. Cotoranu attended a German kindergarten, picked up the German language really quickly and made new friends.
One day, Cotoranu learnt with a great surprise that the family had decided to move to Vancouver, Canada. “I did not know what to expect. I thought people would be really big and tall there and I would grow up a big Canadian guy,” Cotonaru says laughingly. He began to attend a Canadian school with only 5 Canadian children; the rest came from all over the world. In Canada he learnt to understand that it was okay to be different and to come from a different country. Canada felt international and yet it felt like home.
His first deliberately independent decision to move took place when his parents sold out everything in Canada and decided to move back to Germany where they had both found interesting job offers. Cotonaru’s decision was motivated in equal measure by his wish to move close to his parents and his roots, and his own desire for change. He also wanted to be in a different environment for his studies. “Having been in Italy for two months on an exchange program, I felt that love for Europe was growing in me again. I decided to be in the moment, take the opportunity and do a Master’s degree in Europe,” says the young global nomad.
Two years after coming to Europe, Cotonaru was living in Copenhagen and studying interaction design at the University of Malmö. University life began again, with the associated freedom of living alone, enjoying a big city, as well as, outdoors and biking culture in Scandinavia. “ Sweden is a special place for me,” Cotonaru smiles. It is a country where he met his Iranian wife Avissa, whom he met studying for the same Master’s program in Interaction design.
New job, new city
Together with his wife, Cotoranu moved back to Cologne where he found an internship in the Communications Department at the European Aviation Safety Agency. Cotonaru seems to enjoy his job to the fullest. “I love to solve problems of interaction between people. I am always looking for news ways of doing it. I love to be creative,” he says.
Has Cotonaru’s experience made him different in the work environment? Does his global nomadic character show? Filippo, an Italian colleague, who shares an office with the young multilingual, is convinced that the international experience has shaped Cotonaru’s personality. “He has the ability to adapt easily to different situations, he is open-minded, creative and aware of different cultures,” he confirms.
What the future holds
The surest thing on Cotonaru’s mind now is that he might move again. Although he thinks he might move back to Canada in about 10 years, he is willing to let fate have a hand in it. “Anything is possible, you always plan one thing but you end up doing something different,” he admits. As a nomad, the urge to move towards the next horizon is very strong. As Cotonaru puts it:
Once you have the taste of it, you want to have it more.