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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Monday, April 19, 2010

Short linguistical remark

Living in France, I am quite regularly asked 'de quelle origine je serais.' In Germany of course the question would be: "Woher kommst Du?" I feel this linguistical difference (What are my origins/sources vs Where are you from) stands for the differing perceptions of nationality in Germany and France. In France one is French if one has a passport, even if one lives here to some extent. When I meet someone on the basketball court (like yesterday) and we start talking, his assumption is that I am French, yet he wants to know where my slight (or massive depending on your point of view) accent stems from. When that same encounter takes place in Germany, the assumption is that the not-accent-free person is not German. This is not intended as some kind of a racist charge against Germans (far from it because trust me the French can give the Germans a run for their money most days of the week) but instead seems to point to a larger problem of integration into Germany which is far more difficult (if not impossible) as long as being German is defined by one's roots not one's life. In France (and the United States btw) where nationality is not based on blood but instead on the adherence to some (ill-defined of course) greater belief the situation is completely different.

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