< SWITCH ME >

Thursday, 05 November 2015 18:36

Am I a threat to the German way of life?

Written by
Biergarten
Photo: Peter Alfred Hess; Licence: CC BY 2.0

In the face of increasing calls for limits to be placed on EU migrants in her home country, E&M's Frances Jackson, a Brit based in Germany, wonders if she too is a burden on the state.

For the last four years, I have been living in a country that is not my own.  I wasn't born here.  I didn't grow up speaking the language.  And if you stopped me on the street, I probably wouldn't – apart from a provisional UK driving licence that expires in 2017* – even have any proper ID on me, as I worry about losing my passport, so prefer not to carry it around every day.   

Don't tell anybody, but I am one of those EU migrants you've heard so much about.  I came to Germany – in part, at least – for the cheap higher education and have stayed firmly put since then, going as far as to secure myself a PhD scholarship in the process.

As Europe witnesses the largest wave of mass migration since the end of the Second World War, and anti-foreigner rhetoric continues to rise around us, creeping steadily into the political mainstream, I have been giving a lot of thought to my own status as a sort of "economic migrant".  Does my presence pose a threat to the German way of life?  Am I putting unsustainable pressure on the country's infrastructure?  And if not, why not?

Does my presence pose a threat to the German way of life?  Am I putting unsustainable pressure on the country's infrastructure?  And if not, why not?

 

I mean, I've got some pretty strong views about how things could be done better here.  For example, I am of the considered opinion that Germen, –women and –children would be a lot happier if they stopped using lemon and instead embraced milk as their accompaniment of choice when it comes to tea.  I also believe that biscuits should be baked all year round and not just in the run-up to Christmas.  And nothing, I repeat, nothing, will persuade me to start wearing socks and sandals around the house.

Granted, I own a Dirndl, have a weakness for Butterbrezen, and, on paper, am probably more of an asset to the state than a drain on it.  I arrived here with a First from Oxford and soon topped it off with a Master's from one of Germany’s top universities, after all.  But still, surely that does nothing to erase the fact that – to use the language of the more xenophobically-inclined – I don't really belong here.   

A DOUBLE STANDARD?

I know that I am not alone in this situation.  There are countless talented young Europeans dotted all around the continent, living in a country other than that of their birth.  It is one of the hallmarks of modern life, a triumph of the European project, you might say – real freedom to live and work where we choose.

Fortunately, for my part, I have never experienced anything approaching hostility here.  I have had no difficulties making friends or dealing with public officials.  On one occasion, I've even had to listen to a crotchety old neighbour complain about the many "Scheißausländer" in the area, apparently blissfully unaware that he was in fact talking to one of them.

Dirndl
Photo: akante1776; Licence: CC BY-ND 2.0

Of course, prejudice is by its nature, well, prejudiced, but it does seem deeply unfair to me that just because I can pass – physically and linguistically – for a German, I should be spared, while someone whose complexion is a little darker or who hasn't quite got their head around all those verb conjugations may be subjected – at best – to impatient looks and condescension; at worst, to downright discrimination.

What's more, I have a sneaking suspicion that even if I weren’t able speak German, I still wouldn't be treated all that differently, as I come from a country that enjoys a similar level of social and fiscal development to Germany.  Although I admit that lower tuition fees did play a part in my decision to continue my studies here, there is no real sense that I am taking advantage of the system.  However, I do wonder how my experience might differ if I were to have been born in a European country that can't match Germany's economic clout.

It's not that I would like to be discriminated against, but this hint of a double standard, the whispered implication that there may two tiers of EU citizens – those whom we welcome, and those whom we suspect of harbouring designs on our social security, based purely on their nationality – strikes me as posing a far greater danger to the future of Europe than all the treaties and trade agreements in the world.

* Typical foreigner; can’t drive for toffee.

Last modified on Thursday, 05 November 2015 19:33
Frances Jackson

Frances Jackson is a former E&M editor and occasional contributor. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Munich, where she is pursuing a PhD in Czech poetry. Given the chance, Frances would probably spend all of her time in kitchen and is currently cooking her way around the world. She has also been known to dabble in literary translation.

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