Friday, 8 August 2008

Going to the Other Side.

An article about the life of south Asian immigrants, living in Bremen, Germany.

Crossing the borders of a country and going abroad is pretty straightforward; all you need is a visa and a passport. Things however get a lot more complex, difficult and sometimes dangerous when one has to stay according to the rules and regulations of the new host country and follow a new culture. When a person realizes that even the most basic activities such as eating or enjoying a party is carried out differently, he does tend to feel a little uncomfortable, or in other words, goes through a “Culture Shock”. South Asia is an area filled with different religions and languages, thus giving birth to different cultures. The European culture on the other hand is less dependent on religion and therefore, it is comparatively a lot less conservative. For example, drinking during a celebration or making out in public is perfectly normal in Germany, however, in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and even in parts of India these would be considered as an offence. Thus, it can be seen here that the amount of cultural distance between the Europeans and south Asians is a lot which unsurprisingly leads to a very high intensity of “Cultural Shock”.
“I came here in the year 1979 as a student and did my post graduation here” said Kamal, a 51 year old former Bangladeshi who now is a German citizen. He lives here with his family and at the moment owns a call shop located nearby the main station. “After finishing my studies I decided to start my own business here as I thought that would be a more profitable idea” he said. Kamal, who has now been in Germany for the last 30 years, is just one of the many south Asians who had initially come here with student visas and ended up opening call shops and other small time business stores. One of the main reasons as to why south Asians tend to start a business rather than going for a more professional approach is because for most of them survival, both in Germany and back home in south Asia receives a higher preference. Many of them came from poor backgrounds and as a result, earning money for them and their family was the most important factor for them to focus on. There are however, many others who have entered the professional fields in Bremen and have been working as professors, teachers and doctors. According to Dr. Ajoy Kumar Palit, an Indian computer scientist who has been living in Germany since 1997 and did his PhD in Electrical engineering in Bremen, working as a professional gives you a lot more stress and is a lot more hectic than doing business. “I have been working over here for the past 10 years but even today I can’t stay in peace since I really don’t know if they will be renewing my contract the next year” he said.
“In the past 30 years of my life here in Germany, I never got too close to the natives living here, the main reason behind that is because they drink and also follow a different lifestyle which I cannot accept, since I am a very conservative person” said Kamal. He however, didn’t have any problems against the Germans and appreciated many different aspects of their culture. When asked if he was ever a victim of racial abuse, he replied “Yes, but they were very less and never too serious. You won’t be a victim of racial abuse if you mix around with the right people and stay at the right place.” He also appreciated the fact that Germans are clean, rule-oriented and most importantly are strict followers of time, something that must be implemented back home in south Asia. “I had become so accustomed to the German timing that I started having problems attending programmes in Bangladesh during vacations, since its always customary to be late back home” said Kamal.
The Indian scientist, Palit on the other hand, had something different to share. According to him, in the professional sector it is very difficult for a foreigner or a non-German to progress. “If I was in India or in the United Kingdom, I could have achieved a lot more than what I have achieved here” says Palit. He did face problems at work and felt racially discriminated a few times by his fellow colleagues, at the beginning. Stating an example, he narrated a story where he was embarrassed in a party, after a senior German Professor had questioned his profession as an assistant professor because he could not speak the German language fluently. “At present things are much better and these instances are very rare nowadays” he said. Asaad Abdul Rehman, a student, currently doing his masters at the Hochschule Bremen, feels the same way and says that at times he feels a little uncomfortable hanging around Germans, even though he has never been racially discriminated before. “Till date, my boss and my professors are the only Germans I properly interacted with” he said.
There are many other people like Palit and Asad who share the same views. Even though they were never racially discriminated, they never really felt too welcome amongst the Germans. The only possible explanation to this is the cultural difference. In south Asia, people tend to get too close to each other and they usually discuss their social matters even during the office hours. In Germany however, the social interaction is different in many aspects. According to the book “Doing Business with Germans” written by Sylvia Schroll Mach, Germans tend to keep their social lives separate from their official ones; they don’t tend to mix the both of them. The culture in Germany is more specific rather than diffuse, which means that people here tend to have a huge space for public appraisal; however, they tend to keep their private life well guarded, which is dissimilar or the complete opposite to the culture followed in south Asia. Also, according to the book, Germans don’t usually talk much to strangers and prefer to stay with their close friends and family. This difference in the culture is probably the main reason as to why some of the south Asians feel a little uncomfortable around Germans.
On the other hand, it would be very wrong to generalize and say that every south Asian feels the same way about German people. There are of course, many south Asians who have integrated well and inter-racial marriages have also taken place, thus, proving the fact that not all south Asians have a rough time in Germany.“Germans are a little hard to talk to at the beginning, however, once you get to know them, they can be the best of friends” says Lal Singh, who is currently married to a German and owns an Indian restaurant in Berlin.
On the whole it can be said that south Asian immigration in Germany is still in its basic stages. All though today a south Asian living in Bremen can find all the required continental spices and other food materials and probably get information of the latest Indian movies through the internet, the number of south Asians in Bremen or in Germany is still very less as compared to the United Kingdom, United States and the Middle East.
The one thing that all my interview clients did agree to was the fact that given a chance today, they would definitely go back home. The only reason as to why they are compelled to stay here is “money”, since it would be impossible for them to earn the same amount back in south Asia. In any case, no matter how secured or luxurious the life is, people always prefer to live with their own culture and their own kind, after all “Birds of the same feather, fly together”.


Antony K said...

actually, making out in public is a public offence in india and can cost u upto Rs.500 in fines.

Vishal said...

It's a very interesting outlook of Indians in Germany. I believe that when we work or study in a foreign country, we must make an effort to fit in and it will be appreciated. Generalization and prejudices are bad.