Another day, another expat writing about her inability to fit in in Europe. If she were a Mexican writing in Spanish but living in the U.S., there would be an uproar. If she were Tunisian writing in Arabic but living in Germany, there would be people calling for her to go “home.”
Because this immigrant on a spousal visa in The Netherlands speaks English as her first language, however, she regards herself as “cute” and her readers — worldwide but for a website based in New York — see her life as exotic, unique. It’s not.
It’s not cute to not be able to speak the language of the people around you. These people whose lifestyle you’re proud to be adapting to are not exotic. You are not unique. Your life is not enviable.
I know because I’ve been there, been through all the stages of being a foreigner in a country I’d always fantasized about living in. I thought I was cute. I thought Germany was exotic, my life unique. It wasn’t. It isn’t.
Unlike many “expat” women, I did not come here for love and have the great German-language-speaking husband waiting for me here to handle the bureaucracy. I am not a traveling spouse. I did not get a shit ton of money and offers of language courses because my (ex-)husband had made some brilliant career back home and a three-year stint abroad was the most logical next step in a globalized world.
Although we arrived in Germany right after the integration courses became mandatory for immigrants, I somehow managed to talk my way out of them (likely because I spoke mediocre German, studying for a year before I arrived). By nature of his German citizenship, my ex wasn’t allowed to attend them, although he knew less about the country than I did and could barely order in a restaurant when we arrived.
I’m saying this because the opportunities for language learning were not handed to us in the way that they are to many English-speaking immigrants and yet both of us managed to become fluent in German. We managed to learn not only how to speak but also how the culture and society works and though some things — like the necessity of wearing slippers indoors and keeping your kidneys covered at all times — still baffle, it broke down a lot of barriers here. Barriers in our own minds.
I’m saying this because the level of willfulness that many English speaking immigrants who come here willingly show in their refusal to integrate has reached its peak and its getting frustrating to read.
Despite having a load of German journalists on hand in the country, the Wall Street Journal has its English-language correspondent tweeting about an inability to understand the concept of airing out your apartment. EVERYBODY IN GERMANY UNDERSTANDS LUFTING, JUST ASK A GERMAN. Their expat blog published a bit on the Sunday quiet rules. THIS SHIT HAS BEEN COVERED ALREADY, THANKS.
Get out of your expat bubble. Take a German course. Talk to a German. Stop bragging about your inability to speak the language and therefore fit in.
I’m not saying don’t keep up with your English. I’m not saying don’t hang out with the other ladies from the American Women’s Club nor am I telling you to stop watching your movies in English. Some things need to stay as they are, and we all know the dubbing in those movies is terrible. But at least fucking try. Enroll yourself in one of those ueber-cheap, over-filled classes at the VHS. Get yourself a tandem partner. If you have kids, have them teach you the language they can more easily pick up. Stop telling yourself that you are “genetically unable to learn a second language.” There is no such thing.
And for heaven’s sake, stop assuming that just because everybody speaks English to you that they don’t think you’re an asshole. It’s cute when you’re a tourist but not a permanent fixture.