Today I had lunch with a friend from Boston who moved to Munich with her husband and two kids in June. Without a doubt she is in full cultural shock mode. This is not the first time she had left the US. As a matter of fact she has lived in Europe for many years already.
When I asked her how she feels she told me that what seems to be so picture perfect (look at the highest rated passports, or countries with the highest quality of life, Germany always ranks high), is actually quite harsh. For example, she said people give her “stinky eyes” all the time when her kids are too loud. And that on multiple occasions the family has noticed other people mumbling things like “Auslaender”, which means foreigners but is usually not meant in a delightful way. And then she said this: “I feel like there is a level of racism in this country and people talk about it so openly as if these are facts that everyone agrees with.”
That really got me thinking. For my last blogpost I have been given a surprising amount of feedback. Not surprisingly, lots of snarky comments from Germans and a multitude of internationals encouraging me to keep on writing. Some of them asked me if I could explain why a party like AfD, a populist right party with strong ties to the Neonazi organizations, is now in every state’s parliament and in the German Bundestag, the national parliament. Of course, if I had a good explanation, I would probably work somewhere else. All I have are observations. And they have a lot to do with narrative, and the organization of Germany.
The founding order of the United States, the very idea of the country was freedom. The founding idea of the Federal Republic of Germany, was to not repeat the past. Whereas the degree of individualism knows almost no boundaries in the US, in Germany there are written and unwritten boundaries. One very written example is that denying the holocaust in this country is a felony, not freedom of speech. My favorite example of unwritten rules and restrictions in Germany is the German mama saying to toddlers: “One does not do that.” It is a society that is raised with a lot of “one does not do thats” and, believe me, there are lots of them, like the situation my friend from Boston finds herself in when the kids are “too loud” on the streets.
So how can one challenge existing orders, boundaries, rules, customs when they fall under the “one does not do that” category. That’s right, one does not. What if somebody does do it, addresses the fears of people, says what one should not say? AfD has done exactly that, in a very dangerous way. They address fears while presenting their own worldview with their own explanation. Explanations that lack any proof or sense, but that most likely does not matter. As long as someone addresses something that has been under the cloak of Germany’s hidden rules for too long.
It works the other way as well. Challenging things that are “ok” to say as not acceptable does not make you a lot of friends here. The other day after one of my rants on Facebook somebody asked me: “Then why did you even come back here if you don’t like the way things are.” An interesting question, which I did not understand at all. This is the country I was born and raised in. I think the status quo is unreasonably shitty and I would like to change that, critique that, but instead I get asked why I am even here. One does not do that!