I am a German native who moved to the United States 16 years ago. Not only do I have both passports today, I also live and work in two cultures and languages, American and German. I received my Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Bonn but as jobs in that field were far and few, I became a copywriter, editor and translator for English and German. Since 2000 I have been self-employed, which means there is a lot of constant pressure to keep the ball rolling but it is also great because it allows me to pursue my two passions, cooking and gardening. My book and blog Spoonfuls of Germany is my way of exploring Germany’s much overlooked diverse and rich food culture and the many fascinating stories behind it.
What brought you to the USA?
The short answer is: I won the Green Card Lottery, a program where the United States gives resident visas annually to natives of countries that have low rates of immigration. The long answer is that I had reached a point in Germany where I was simply fed up. I do not look German, I have a foreign name (my father is from Tunisia) so people constantly commented on how well I spoke and wrote German, or asked me where I was from. If your entire work evolves around language like mine does, these well-meant compliments get very annoying. Friends told me, “Wait, Germany will change, it will get better,” and I believe it has changed a lot since then, but I did not want to wait for that.
Has your lifestyle changed when you came to the USA?
During my first three years I lived in New York City and my lifestyle did not change much compared to Frankfurt where I had lived before. But then I met my husband who lived in a rural area with his two young children. Becoming a parent and moving to the countryside was a huge lifestyle change. I was also absolutely clueless about anything that had to do with the kids’ school and their other activities. To introduce them to my world and heritage, I started cooking the comfort foods of my childhood based on my German grandmother’s recipes. That’s how I got into German cooking, and it has had me in its grip ever since.
What strikes you most in the USA as to compare it with Germany?
What I like better in the United States is that there is more professional flexibility and entrepreneurial spirit of the individual. For example, in your work you are not tied to your degree or field of study. People are less reluctant to start a business on their own, or change careers even when they are older. I do not think I would have dared to become a freelancer in Germany at the time. The downside of this greater independence is that here you are really on your own, and there is no social safety net to catch you if you fail. Until most recently, my biggest worry was health insurance but luckily health care reform has resolved that.
What I like much better in Germany is the responsible handling of resources and higher environmental awareness. It drives me nuts when people let their car idle or drive even the shortest distance, when stores and restaurants have their air-conditioning so cold that you risk pneumonia, excessive packaging… the list is endless.
Is multikulti dead in Germany?
No, on the contrary but I think Germany is still finding its own way of being a multicultural society. Germany is traditionally not an immigrant country like the United States. The pace of immigration, starting with the first “guest workers” in the 1960s to political refugees from all over the world today, was faster than the mentality of every “indigenous” German was able to change and adapt.
What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Multiculturalism means that people of different cultures and ethnicities coexist and give each other the space to live their differences. In that respect I think Germany is on its way to becoming a multicultural country, much more so than it was when I still lived there. I doubt that today media professionals like Linda Zervakis or Cherno Jobatei are confronted with the same compliments about speaking accent-free German as I was.