I lived in Germany three times in three different periods of my life: once for a year before going to university when I was 18; once for 3 months on a scholarship for an advanced language course when I finished university in Brazil; and the third time again on a scholarship for 2 years, in 2011, for a Master’s degree. Obviously I experienced them all in different ways, but the first time was, as you can already imagine, the one I have more stories from.
The first time I lived there was my first time abroad ever. I was almost 18 (in fact I turned 18 during my stay in Germany). I went there for an exchange programme, which means I attended high school for a year and lived with a German host family in a “Dorf” (a very small town). It was 11 years ago but I remember as if it were today. When I left Brazil temperatures were above 35ºC, when I got to Germany thermometers showed -2ºC and everything was covered in snow. I had never been so cold in my entire life. It was also the first time I saw snow. As probably all South Americans who see snow for the first time in their lives my first instinct was to touch the snow. I wanted to feel it. It was not a very smart move (my hands got blue, then burnt and got red when I put them under warm water – oh yes, I learned my lesson), but I was happy. And I kept on smiling for weeks, until the cold was no fun anymore and I realized the winter was still going to take a while. And that was and still is my biggest struggle in Germany and Europe: the incredibly long winters.
Taking the bike to go everywhere was also a big challenge for me (and still is, although I live in the Netherlands now – where you can’t imagine a life without a bike). The first time I had to cycle 13km in the evening to go to a disco and then another 13km to go back home I thought I wouldn’t make it. Of course the “Erlebnis” had to be shared with my entire family and all my friends in Brazil and it also made it into the journal I kept.
Now that I have lived both in Germany and in the Netherlands I must say I find the Netherlands a much more multicultural society. There are many foreigners in both countries but I feel foreigners have a much easier time in the Netherlands than in Germany. It’s much easier to come around with only English in the Netherlands. I even got a job without speaking proper Dutch. I also feel more integrated here than I felt in Germany although I speak fluent German and lived there for 3 years in total. German society is a lot more closed. I had the feeling Germans preferred Germans, in the sense that they usually had German friends, German colleagues, etc. In the movie theater, all movies are dubbed into German, for example. If you want to watch a movie in its original version you have to go to a small theater somewhere. In Brazil and in the Netherlands, movies are played with subtitles.
That being said, I think the fact that so many foreigners live in Germany does not make it automatically a multicultural society. For a society to truly be multicultural, foreigners and native people have to integrate more, to share more of their daily lives, to see each other as fellow countrymen. While I lived in Germany I noticed foreigners would usually hang out with foreigners and Germans would hang out with Germans. There were also neighborhoods where mainly foreigners would live and where you could find all kinds of African and Asian stores, and although at a university level you wouldn’t notice it(because people usually just mix up and hang out regardless of the nationality), in everyday life you usually see Germans hanging out with Germans and foreigners hanging out with foreigners. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean Germans are racists or have some kind of prejudice. Not at all. German people were always very helpful, kind and friendly to me. I just mean that it is obvious that you will hang out with people with whom you have more things in common (language, background, habits, beliefs), and in this case of course Germans have more in common with Germans than with Brazilians, or Arabs or Chinese people. It is just natural.
From my (very) narrow perspective I just think German society still has to figure out a few things regarding integration of foreigners. I know there are policies out there and several nice projects trying to ensure foreigners get the same opportunities and feel more integrated in the German society but I’m not quite sure they are turning out the way they were supposed to be. But that’s a very sensitive topic and I am no specialist. So who am I to judge?
One thought on “Incredibly long winters”
"As probably all South Americans who see snow for the first time in their lives my first instinct was to touch the snow. I wanted to feel it. I was happy. And I kept on smiling for weeks, until the cold was no fun anymore and I realized the winter was still going to take a while."
Today a young Brazilian is telling her story and sharing her opinion of German multikulti: "I think the fact that so many foreigners live in Germany does not make it automatically a multicultural society."
Read more: http://staging1.multicoolty.com/incredibly-long-winters/