It can get sticky, this situation of writing about a country that isn’t yours. Regardless of intention, or even the bottom line of affection and appreciation, sometimes it can come across as me sitting up pretty and privileged, in a bountiful country, poking holes in the way it does things. I get it. I bristle similarly when I read comments from foreigners in a similar situation to mine, about the way Germany does things, and I am a foreigner. ‘Suck it up,’ I think silently, ‘you chose to come here.’ ‘Well does your home country do things better?’, I chastise. ‘If things here are so bad, why are you staying?’ Of course, such a response lacks the logic of the simple fact that inhabitants of a country who work, support the social system, actively partake of cultural systems and traditions, and learn the language, are completely entitled to have a problem with the way their country of residence does things. But it’s a knee-jerk reaction, this one of ‘if you don’t like it, why are you here?’ and one we all have.
It would be foolish, then, to imagine I am exempt from provoking a similar reaction in others. In among celebrating my life here, I do complain about the weather, I make good-natured fun of cultural quirks, I express bewilderment over processes and ways of thinking that conflict with those I developed living on the other side of the world. For the most part my German readers have a laugh, or gently point out where I am misreading or misunderstanding. Every now and again someone wades in and tells me I am flat out wrong – and that’s fine too, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That is precisely why I published each and every comment I get, whether it’s good or bad.
I got a comment recently – and I have had another one along this vein, on the same post – and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, I can see how and why the reader responded the way he/she did. The comment itself was, yes, quite caustic, and came from a place of obvious frustration – you can find it at the bottom of this post, if you’d like to read it – and at mentions of the perceived substandard way my own country does things, I bristled in the same manner I imagine my commenter did when reading my post. (And, obviously, I don’t agree with much of what was levelled at Australia in the comment, but that’s another story for another day.) I ended up writing an email to the commenter, because I felt I needed to. And as I wrote, I realised my response outlined the precise place from where I write.
For that reason, I have chosen to share the email I wrote in response. Not to call out this commenter, nor to invite people to pile on with agreement or disagreement – but more to further explain my position both as a foreigner, and as one compelled to observe and comment.
Dear – ,
Thank you for your recent comment on my blog – thank you for reading me, and thank you for taking the time to share your opinions on what I write. I appreciate it.
I will write this in English, because I can better express myself in that language.
I never intend for my observations to come across as arrogant, although I appreciate inference is something different to implication. What I imbue my writing with, is not necessarily what readers will take away with them. So, while most of my observations are lighthearted and if not, then grounded firmly in a very rational understanding I possess, that a) nowhere is perfect b) I chose to live here c) there is generally reason behind how things operate here – I understand how it may not read so.
That being said, I like to think I balance my frustrations with my adopted homeland, with my love for it. The fact that I live here, by choice, and receive the many privileges of residing here, does not mean I must agree with how absolutely everything here is done. Just as you residing in Australia and receiving the many privileges of life there, does not mean you must agree with how absolutely everything there is done (and you clearly don’t).
Moreover, I do not believe my country to be perfect. In many, many ways, we aren’t. I see our shortcomings in most areas of life, and I am not proud of them. In fact, there are many aspects of our culture, of which I am deeply ashamed. Our education system needs an overhaul, we have long treated our Indigenous people appallingly, we need better environmental policies in place.
Along this vein, I have written, on several occasions, about how, when I compare my homeland with my adopted homeland, in many key ways, Germany comes out on top. But, again, that does not mean I have to agree with everything that Germany does. There are, and always will be, aspects of life here, that frustrate me, or are in opposition to the way I grew up. Quite like how there are aspects of life in Australia that evidently, and vehemently, frustrate and upset you. Both of us are entitled to feel that way. Neither of us must, because of that, consider leaving the countries we live in. And at this point we must also consider the fact that, no matter where we live, where we come from is so often the deep well from where we draw our understanding of what is normal.
However, none of this influences the fact you find my writing arrogant. Regarding that, I can only offer the above explanation as the place of reason from which I write. Do the Germans piss me off sometimes? Of course they do. Does that mean I shouldn’t say anything about it, on a platform I have created to expressly share the ins and outs of my life as a foreigner in Germany? No, it doesn’t. Do I try and keep my tone in check, my tongue in cheek, and my blessings counted? Yes. If that doesn’t come across, well that is simply my failure as a writer.