I was pondering for quite a while if I should write about this. A certain situation threw me a bit off balance not so long ago and my friends and family have already heard quite a handful about it. Nothing pleasant to go through or to write about – that’s where my doubts, whether or not I should dig at this again, came from. In the end, though, I believe more people might be sharing similar experiences when living abroad, so here it goes.
I often make jokes about cultural differences and all the funny situations they cause. On the last weekend of May it was no different. While running errands on a Saturday afternoon, I got asked by a local TV reporter who I’m cheering for in the German Cup final, that was taking place in Berlin on that very day. Well, I quickly realised, that casually saying I might actually skip it altogether but watch Barcelona in Copa del Rey later is not a good idea, when I saw the look on his face. Afterwards, I was jokingly telling people, that I was pretty convinced it was the end of my TV career in Germany and that there was a 97% chance I’m getting deported for not sharing the German spirit.
Since life seems to have a twisted sense of humour, the joke was on me. And it was not funny this time.
On my way home that night, I picked up a phone call from a friend in Poland and exchanged a few words with her in our native language in public. Because why not. What followed was so unexpected and surreal, that it still didn’t sink in completely, even though weeks have passed. Apparently, a group of guys at the same station did not like what they heard. And I don’t mean the content of the conversation – I mean, that it wasn’t German. And so the fun started. Shouting at me, throwing out one insult after another and repeating lame slogans, where “Auslander raus” was the softest thing that came. I hoped to lose them when the ubahn comes or that on it, with other passengers around, they wouldn’t feel so confident anymore. Nope, not the case. Now they had an audience, so the real game began. What I hope would stop in a setting with people, only increased. Nobody reacted, but I don’t blame them. It’s hard to stand up for someone else when your own well-being and safety might be at stake. And those were not kids or teenagers making a joke out of it and thinking it would be cool to make a foreigner feel uncomfortable and have a laugh about it. Which would already be worrying and pretty alarming, considering the content. But three men in their 20s-30s, dead serious about what they were saying. You could hear, that they really believed in it and that made it even scarier. Ganging up, insulting and visibly threatening to a person who is not only half their size but also alone. I hope it made their day. Maybe they at least feel more manly for scaring someone, who was outnumbered and had no way of defending themselves in the circumstances. Congrats, mission accomplished.
Yet, it’s not about me. I will get over it and move on. But just last year in Poland a local professor was beaten up in Warsaw for speaking German to his friend. In a European capital. A place, that claims to be developing and cosmopolitan. In XXI. Putting it next to me yesterday, in Berlin, in a situation, that could be seen as similar – I’m baffled. I’m confused. I’m angry. What is going on? Is this how modern patriotism is supposed to look like? I am still astonished. Not only by what happened, but by the way the people behind those actions truly believed in their words and were ready to assault someone, either verbally or physically, for not fitting a standard they have painted in their heads. Being slightly out of a set frame turned out to be a huge problem. Something is seriously wrong with this picture. The incident has been reported. To be honest, I still don’t feel 100% safe like before, but I refuse to be scared and to be silent about it.