About three weeks ago, I read in a psychology magazine that is apparently common to feel foreign in your home country after five to ten years abroad, especially when you seldom visit it. But is that really true? Can you generalize the feeling of sense of home at all? And what emotions do you connect with home? These and other questions sprang flashed through my mind immediately. Finally, I had turned my back on my home country, Germany, about six months ago. And now I wanted to go on a three-week trip to my family. Thus the article came along just the right time. Because even after the short time that I was living in Brazil, I had some concerns about my brief return. I am indeed familiar of saying goodbye and hugging each other for the last time in a while – due to my numerous trips and stays abroad -, but what about my own culture? Would I recognize Germany after all the crises in the last few months, especially the refugee crisis?
In particular, the language appears to be a sensitive crunch point. Three years ago, for example, I got to know a German at a Brazilian festival, the so-called festa de alemã, a poor imitation of the Oktoberfest. As she started to talk, I couldn’t imagine that she is a native speaker because her German was totally mixed with a Portuguese accent, combined with a touch of Hamburg Low German. In India, I formed the habit not to dream just in German, but also English became increasingly a part of my dreams and thoughts. That went as far that I mixed foreign words with German and could hardly remember idioms. And now is there another language I speak fluent: Portuguese. My family could feel it. So I talked automatically in English with my grandmother, started to speak German to my and used Portuguese swear words when I was upset. The five years as a guide of alienation are probably a little joke, because my chaos started after only six months. Other “returnees” told me about similar problems, as well as a German friend from Berlin. She even talks more to others in Germerican as in High German, and almost always counts in English. A clear evidence that this language is dominant in the subconscious mind. Usually one counts in the native language because he/she has been taught it from birth.
Apart from the language, the reverse culture shock is a classic problem. Who has never experienced that everything appears strange when traveling to a foreign country? Exactly this can happen with your homeland, too. Typical German behavior such as an excessive punctuality, extreme cleanliness and partly constant nagging can be quickly annoying. Just follow the “laissez-faire” and take a break from everyday life – as it’s a common practice in Brazil – should be good for some Germans. But that wasn’t a real culture shock for me. Rather I could see what the newspapers reported the last months: the still increasing number of refugees and the dangers of the IS. Because when I was in Germany, half a dozen terrorist attacks occurred, including the attack of Nice. On my trip to Grainau at the Zugspitze, I was also a witness of the expanding xenophobic mood in the country. An old-established Bavarian was accusing my Brazilian to be from Syria and freely expressed his hatred towards immigrants and refugees because all of them faked their papers and certificates to get a job in Europe. And 99 percent of them, anyway, just came to Germany in order to harm the country and expedite the Islamization. These are just some of many inflammatory slogans that I needed to listen to that night. Of course, the old man began his monologue by saying: “I am not radical right-wing, but …”. I finally had my culture shock. The country that taught me tolerance, peace and respect for all cultures revealed its ugly face to an extent, as I didn’t expect it by the media reporting. Because anti-refugee speeches which were propagated as a marginal problem seemed to blaze as an underground conflagration especially in the more conservative and smaller towns of the country. It’s probably only a matter of time until the political climate completely goes into return. A year ago, Germany presented itself – at least in my imagination – much more cosmopolitan and open-minded. And I personally was extremely embarrassed to tell my Brazilian about the incident. He was there that night, but because of his rudimentary knowledge of German, he couldn’t understand anything. And so I translated just the essentials.
Another problem for expatriates and returnees are friends and relatives. Usually contact maintains, but somehow you feel like you really don’t belong nowhere really. Finally, you can quickly lose the track because of all the acquaintances in this world. And just real friendships will survive stays abroad which last several months or years. Due to the distance, it’s quite difficult to be permanently a part of your old friends’ life in your home country. So you miss one or another birthday party, don’t go to the bachelor party or cancel a trip together. By doing this you learn quickly: Your home country and the people there will move on without you – and you have to decide if you can live to be just a small part of this or give up the contact. Because it isn’t always easy for your old friends to follow your new life or even understand it. For example, I was often asked why I give up a good life in Germany for a so-so adventure in Brazil? That was the dilemma of my return. I was glad to see everyone again, but turned my friends and my family into strangers? Had I missed an important part of their lives? The answer was clear: Yes and no. Maybe I still miss a few years of life abroad to feel such an alienation. Luckily.