Are you xenophobic? No? Sure?

2015-05-25

Prejudices towards foreigners, more precisely refugees? Of course I don’t have any! That was the common opinion of the participants of my last Red Cross seminar when we talked about this topic. Needless to say, I thought so too. No matter in which country I am, I’m always treated like a foreigner, so how could I have prejudices towards other foreigners? We watched movies about refugees and their situation here in Germany and even though I’ve never talked to a refugee I felt a lot of empathy towards them in their disastrous situation and couldn’t understand how locals could be so rude to them.

Maybe I’m a bit paranoid, but I’ve got the feeling that the other seats in the compartments around me are occupied first before someone dares to sit beside me since I’ve coloured my hair, so it caught my attention when someone sat beside me during my train ride from Switzerland back to Germany. I was sitting alone in a section, reading peacefully a captivating book when said someone sat beside me and said Guten Tag in broken German. I tensed a bit, looked up – a young African guy looked at me, a little bit older than me, I estimated – and replied quickly Guten Tag, eager to continue my read. I read two more sentences when the voice beside me sounded again. Wie geht es dir? (How are you?) First I noticed he used the informal du to address me instead of the formal Sie – something that doesn’t happen often here and shows that he’s not very familiar with the German customs. My second thought was Should I ignore him or not? After all, since my earliest childhood the phrase “don’t talk to men you don’t know” was drummed into me and my first impression of him wasn’t trustworthy. “Good, and you?” I finally replied, facing the book, a short glance to my left.

Suddenly a thought hit me. Hey, maybe he’s exactly like the refugees from the documentary you watched. Someone who wants to make friends somehow, who wants to get to know other people in a country he feels lost. How can you condemn the repellent reactions of others if you’re not reacting differently?

So I decided to dedicate my attention to him. He’s from Somalia, 26, and came here two years ago. Our conversation proceeded in German and English and was very interesting – aside from the question an interested guy asks a woman (“are you married?” – WHAT?!). Well, actually that was interesting too because it told me something about his culture – early marriage. He told me amongst others that he wanted to practice German and talks to people in the train for this reason but that is mostly being ignored. Telling me this, he demonstrated their reactions very vividly – repellent body language, face averted, no eye contact – and with a bad conscience I recognized my first reaction.

Our conversation ended shortly before his alighting with me not wanting to give him my number, but it gave me a reality check nonetheless. So often we judge others for their misbehaviour and don’t realize that we act exactly as them. I’m ashamed to say that my first reaction emerged of the feeling of caution and I’m not sure if it was because he was a guy who randomly started a conversation or because he spoke broken German and looked foreign. After all, he turned out to be a decent guy who’s really making an effort to integrate himself in a society that doesn’t always give him the feeling of being welcome.

Feel free to share your opinion and stories!

10 Comments
    1. He may have had better luck in India where most passengers talk sing discuss argue in trains😊 its just the culture perhaps. Maybe not xenophobia? 😊 nice post.

      1. Thank you for your comment, Susheela! Oh that sounds cool, I’d like to experience it one day! And I guess you’re right, many foreigners have told me that they think the Germans and Swiss people are pretty cold and closed. That might be a cultural thing however there are some people who complain about too many foreigners in their country and who don’t welcome them and I guess that has something to do with being afraid of someone who has a different cultural background (and look) because they don’t know what to expect from them.
        Again, thanks for reading and the compliment!

    1. You are so thoughtful and I can’t agree with you more on your closing statement. A wonderful reflection! Countries like Syria for instance where there is now a non-stop wars and fears, it takes our humanity to welcome them with open mind.
      BTW, my understanding is refugee will not get permanent status and they should return to their home country once their country is in peace..isn’t it the case?

      1. Thank you for reading and your kind comment, Indah!
        I did some researches but I’m not 100% sure about the situation in Germany. As far as I know the asylum-seeker first don’t know for a couple of months if they can stay or not and during this time they are bound to stay at “home” doing nothing because they’re neither allowed to work and nor have the money to pay a course to learn German. This wears them down after all they had to go through. I think afterwards they only get a right of residence for a certain period of time and the public authorities check like every year (I’m not sure) if they still have reasons to stay here, if not, they’re sent back, as you said. That doesn’t apply to all refugees but I think it’s the process the newest ones have to go through. I understand that the state can’t accommodate everyone but sending them back to their country where nothing awaits them after letting them build a new existence here seems inhuman to me. I hope this wasn’t too elaborate, haha.

        1. Thank you so much for comprehensive explanation! :) It makes sense that they have to return to their home country after certain period especially if the war is over etc…this is perhaps to avoid brain drain in the refugees homeland..

          1. You’re welcome, I thought it was a good opportunity for myself to refresh my knowledge. I didn’t think of brain drain, but do you think that it makes sense to send a Syrian lawyer back after years of war and destruction and when he could build up a new existence in Germany? I’ve got the feeling that it’s more to “get rid” of them again once their hardship is over.

    1. I’ve had the same thought since I’ve been addressed by foreigners too and my mother is very active in helping refugees in our village. I, too, react a bit repellant, but it really depends on the situation. I’m pretty sure I don’t do it because they look foreign or speak broken German because I have the same reaction to German strangers, especially men. The thing is just that there are some really disgusting men – disgusting in their behaviour, harassing and assaulting women, and catcalls in the street by 40+ year old men when you’re only 21 are anything but flattering and have caused me to really keep my distance from strangers. But if someone asks me for directions or something like that I do not have a problem with talking to them so long as I am in a public place.

      1. Thank you for your interesting comment! It’s good that you are able to analyze your feelings and know that your repellent reaction comes from them being disgusting men and not from their origin. Luckily (for me) I’ve never had to experience anything as bad as you, I understand that you’ve become more cautious because of those incidents.

        I hope you’ll have more positive encounters in the future! And btw I think it’s awesome and really important what your mum is doing!

    1. So glad I stumbled upon your blog! I love stories like this. People always surprise me when I travel, and I don’t know why I still am surprised when I find amazing people unexpectedly!

      1. Aww thank you, Alexandra! I feel flattered :) I’m glad you found me, your blog is awesome!

Let me know what you think!

%d bloggers like this: