Fear and Loathing

The buzzer went off, and whoever it was, held it down for a good few seconds too long. I ran across the living room and swung a sweater around my shoulders before pressing the button to hear who it was. UPS, he said. I pushed the other button to let the him into the building. I opened the door and stood in the doorway, waiting for him to come up the set of the stairs.  He called out, hallo? Hallo? And I said (in German), hi, I’m up here. So he grumbled and began the short climb up the stairs with a small package in hand until he saw me. He stopped dead in his tracks and made a face I can only describe as absolute loathing.

He rolled his eyes. I tried to shove it aside mentally. Yes, this interaction was worse than some, but not entirely uncommon. I smiled politely. He continued up the stairs until he stood in front of me. He shoved the electronic signature device toward me. I unhooked the little pen and signed my name. He wouldn’t even touch me. He looked pained to be standing so close. I took deep breaths. He placed the package on the floor in the middle of the cold and pebbly hallway, and left in silence. I waited for him to leave before I collected it. I was shaken.

Do you know what my offense was? I do. My brown skin. It’s not always my skin, sometimes it’s just a German thing or another. But this was about my brown skin. Turbulent times in Germany, you know? I know that I don’t “look” like a refugee, but I still look like a foreigner and it’s not a great time to be foreign when the AfD is preaching about home being home for Germans.

Not all Germans feel this way. Believe me when I say that in some ways, I’m welcome here. But this was not an isolated incident either. And if this is my experience, imagine how the refugees feel? Some of these people truly despise them, us. They see us as taking over their country and pushing the Germans out of the majority. They think we are taking their jobs, using their services, eating their food, taking their apartments and homes and making it our own. Their afraid of what we are going to do to their way of life.

The refugees offense? Escaping terrible situations in their home country and trying to live their lives in safety and peace. They came to protect their families, themselves.

I went to the Ausländeramt in November. It was packed with people who didn’t look like me, but didn’t look like the Germans either. More than a few Syrians. I’m married to a German, it’s supposed to be easy to get a VISA, I mean what are they going to do? Boot me out of the country? I’ve got a German American kid here. Besides, I’ve always gotten 3 year VISAs, I have my German language certificate from class. I’ve lived here for 6 years.

But it didn’t work out that way. My husband and I went in to our appointment, and you could tell from the beginning, they were fed up. This didn’t bode well. My VISA expired months before, and then it got stolen at a hospital in Brooklyn while I was there with my flu- dehydrated daughter. It was stolen out of our room. The only thing in there was two dollars and this German resident card. As it was expired, I thought it wouldn’t matter. Strike 1.

Strike 2: not looking German. The guy looked at me and I just knew, this wasn’t going to go well. He listened to my German, I was nervous, and I made stupid mistakes. To be fair, when I’m nervous in my native language, I also stammer and make mistakes. It didn’t matter anyway. He gave me a 1-year VISA, and I am required to take an integration course. It doesn’t matter that I took German classes here. It doesn’t matter that I’ve lived here for 6 years. As he said, “it’s not for us that you must take this course, it’s so that you will learn to fit into our society.” I scoffed at that. I know my face was red and I wanted to get out of there.

What he didn’t say about the course: it’ll cost us 1200€, and it’s about 300 hours, full-time. If I’m lucky and I do well, I will get half of that money back. But the hours? I’ll lose loads of time with my daughter. We’ll have to increase her hours at kindergarten, we will have to pay more, I won’t be able to write anymore, and it’ll be like a full-time job where I don’t get paid and I learn things I already know. Oh yes, it’ll be great for my language skills, but here’s the thing: I don’t learn well in classes. My learning style is best one on one, or small groups. But that doesn’t matter.

Now I ask again: imagine how the refugees feel?

For all my complaints, what is required of me is very little of what is required of them. I have a German husband to help me navigate, how do they do it? I came here for love. They came here to escape war, to save their children and their own lives. I have everything I need, things from home. What do they have?

I’m still waiting on the info to join an integration course, the guy said it’d come in the mail in December but I haven’t seen it yet. He said there will be consequences if I don’t do it. I haven’t decided what I’ll do.

I don’t want to go home just yet. Trump is President. Healthcare. Chaos. But I don’t want to stay here either. I have a feeling that Brexit was the beginning of casting out the others that don’t match the majority. Now Trump, maybe Marine Le Pen, Wilders, Frauke Petry here….. these times aren’t the best. If they don’t want me here, where do they want me? You can only take so many interactions where people tell you to go back to your own country, or your very presence infuriates someone else. Sometimes that crushes you. It makes you feel like maybe you are better off somewhere else. I mean, no one has ever asked me what it’s like to live in Germany as a biracial black American woman. No one has ever asked me what it’s like to continually ignore my culture, my “me-ness”, because it’s not respected here. Sometimes I oscillate between feeling like I’m an eyesore and feeling that I don’t exist.

If my husband is in the room, every doctor I’ve seen will cast me aside and speak about my results or health with him, despite knowing perfect English, despite it being my business. Even at the hospital, giving birth to our daughter, no one spoke to me. They spoke to him.

It’s hard not to be bitter. But at the same time, grateful because they definitely took my health in consideration, because our insurance covered everything, and their compassion for our daughter, those NICU nurses were… angels.

I can’t make people stop fearing me, or loathing me. But I have decided that I won’t be ignored, not anymore. And I’ve decided that I need to search for a home where my skin color is accepted, where it’s ok to be me, and my child can see diversity. I don’t know where that is yet. I just know it’s not at home right now, and it’s not here either.

If this post seems jumbled and full of complaints, bear with me. I’m working it out.

Thanks for reading!

 

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29 thoughts on “Fear and Loathing

  1. I’m sorry for all the things you have to endure, I have nothing to compare it to, but it still makes me sad… Personally though, I believe you and your family are better off in Germany right now… all things considered… All the best… Hans

    1. My husband agrees, and if I had to choose between the US and here, I’d pick here as well. These things happen in all sorts of places, to all sorts of people, nothing I experience is exceptional. But thank you for your support and comment!

  2. We did this integration course and there is a placement test, you don’t have to start from scratch. For the fee there is an option when the Immigration Office pays for it, and you have to pay only 1 euro per hour and half of it is reimbursed if your final (B1) is succesful. It requires only to write a letter to them that you would like that. It is recommended to do it in advance before the course starts as it pays only in that case.
    For the “homlessnes”, believe me, there are many who feel that way. We are Hungarians from Romania, and grew up under dictature. It was very hard for everyone, and even harder for the Hungarians there. Never felt like home. When the possibility arose I moved to Hungary, but there people called us Romanians (with despise of course).
    Here in Germany it’s not that bad, we are used with our status and at least it’s not our homeland (so it’s not that bad when we don’t fit in), and we can have a decent living. We are affraid too tough, that the right wing will gain power.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment!! The thing with the integration course changed because I married a German and he stated that he would cover my financial costs— so all spouses of Germans have to pay the full cost. We asked at the office about it, and confirmed with all of our friends. I’m ok with the cost, I guess. It’s the hours and the mandatory-ness of it. I’m sorry about living in Hungary and getting called Romanians, and the feeling of homelessness. Germany is not that bad, you are right, but I’m definitely nervous about the AfD…. it’s scary, right? Thanks again for commenting and sharing your story!

      1. I’m an American in Germany, married to a German, and I also had to go through the integration course. Maybe your state is different, but there is no national law that says spouses of Germans have to pay the full cost of the course. We paid a reduced rate (a little more than 1 euro per hour). And because I scored B1 on the test, we are getting our money back. I know that some people in the class paid more, but that was because they were choosing to take the course – it wasn’t required of them by the government.

        Like other people said, you take an assessment test at the beginning. Considering you’ve been in Germany for six years, you should already be at B1 level. If you score B1 on the test, they will exempt you, and then you might just have to take the Orientierungskurs (60 hours of German history, law, and culture).

        As far as the time load goes, you will only spend 3-4 hours in the classroom per day. My VHS had a 4 hour per day schedule, but this year they’ve switched it to 3 hours. I have yet to meet anyone whose course was longer than that. Plus, if you go through the VHS, they will give you all of the school holidays and breaks off. There are lots of parents in those classes. On more than one occasion, people brought their kids into the classroom for the last 30 minutes or so because they were out of school and had to wait for the parents to get finished.

  3. Hi Allie,

    “…write a letter … formally applying for a permit in order to look after the kids (§28 Abs 3 AufenthG als Elternteil eines minderjährigen Deutschen zur Ausubung der Personensorge). …” from https://www.toytowngermany.com/forum/topic/366735-non-eu-parent-joining-german-children-in-germany/
    That way you should be able to escape the integration course (given that baby O is a German citizen). There are many threads on integration problems on this forum, some of which might be of interest for you. Just as this one: http://www.info4alien.de/cgi-bin/forum/YaBB.cgi?num=1484602627/14#14

    Regarding the postman: I think you are reading too much into his behaviour. My guess is he was unhappy about that you made him climb stairs, not because of your skin colour (our postwoman even asked me to put our letterbox elsewhere as she had to walk 4 steps down to get to it). I maybe wrong and he was indeed a racist, but I think it´s not very likely.

    1. Thanks for the info, Peter! And thanks for reading— your response is similar to my husband’s a few years ago. He just couldn’t believe this would happen, and was confident that it was highly unlikely. Over the course of the past 6 years, he has seen it with his own eyes, and can now confirm that is real and it happens. But I can understand your misgivings. My post lady also hates walking up the stairs btw, but I know the DHL, Hermes guys, and they are always very friendly. This isn’t my first mishap with the UPS guy though, and I doubt it’ll be our last. Thanks again for the links, I’ll check them out!

  4. Hi Allie. I read your postings lately and I feel bad that I don’t have a great deal to offer you, but I hope you believe that I admire your courage and I would like to feel we are friends. I haven’t given up on the idea of making a trip to Germany in the not too distant future. If I do, I hope it would be okay for me to look you up. In the meantime, take heart and take encouragement from the good Germans around you. I know from my own experience there are many there. Just remember, there are a*&%$## everywhere, and we have our share of them here – of all colors!
    Jim Cloud

    1. Jim! Yes, you should look me up if you ever come back to visit! For all the bad moments I’ve had here, I’ve had double in good ones. But sometimes I feel the need to write about these things, not out of pity, but out of thought and explaining an issue that not everyone experiences. As some of the comments have come in, it would seem that what I’ve described doesn’t seem legitimate, which is really sad. I’m a bit disappointed. Anyway, I do have some lovely neighbors, and my daughter is having a great time at her very diverse school down the street, so in this way, it makes up for it. I’ve had bad experiences in lots of places, more back home than here, the only difference is that I didn’t blog about back home, and I wasn’t an outsider. So yes, friend, thank you for your comments, your support, and your kind words. And I do hope you’ll visit!

  5. My brother is mixed race, or bi-racial, or whatever you want to call it, and he has experienced racism in Britain… his own country. There are prejudiced people everywhere. I’m happy for you that you apparently only experience racism in Germany though. I was told I didn’t have to do an integration course in Switzerland because my German was good enough. If they had told me I had to do it I would have done it though. The guy at the immigration office has no way of knowing that your German is amazing when you aren’t nervous, or do you think he would have made you do the immigration course no matter how perfectly you spoke German based entirely on your skin colour?

    Interestingly, 90% of the DHL/UPS people who brought me things when I lived in Germany were actually Turkish, so for them to look down on foreigners would have been pretty weird. 100% of them hated having to walk up the stairs to give me my packages, to the extent that I would often find a card in my mailbox saying I could get my package from the post office despite the fact that I had been in the entire day and the doorbell hadn’t rang once. I wouldn’t worry too much about what DHL people think… as my boyfriend says, if they were intelligent enough to do something else they probably wouldn’t be delivering package. And sadly I often find that racism, intolerance, etc. is more prevalent among the less intelligent.

    1. Hey, thanks for your response! I have a certificate that I’ve taking German classes up to B1 level, which has always saved me from doing the integration course! For me now, it’s about the time– and not having enough to spend with my 3 y/o, and write books. You know? This isn’t about skin color, this is about not looking German, and the politics of having to assimilate people into your country who don’t look like the rest of your country.

      As for the UPS guy, I know it’s a natural response to think I’m just sensitive or reading too much into it, the truth is though, that this perpetuates a mentality of disbelief among people who don’t traditionally experience racism. My husband, up until a few years ago, was the exact same. So I didn’t talk about it because it doesn’t seem fair to have to prove what happened, what I experienced. This was one of those moments where I knew what was going on. It’s not my gut instinct to call it racist whenever something like this happens, but there are times when it’s legit. I’ve had this convo with my husband too, and we are still working on it. It’s easier to believe it doesn’t happen than to be confronted with the reality that because you don’t experience it and see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

    2. And also, I have had racist experiences in Germany, yes, but also, and far more frequently in the US. I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I only experience racism in Germany. It doesn’t matter where you go. If it happens, it happens.

      1. Thanks for your reply. Yes, it did come across as if you were saying it’s a German problem, so thank you for the clarification. I definitely believe it’s real, but sadly in the case of UPS/DHL guys I think the best thing you can do is ignore it.

      2. I’ve gone back and forth about it, and I feel like I need to say this; I find your responses problematic for several reasons. If I had given the impression that I only experienced racism in Germany, it was not my intention. However, this is a blog about my personal experiences in Germany. Instead of assuming that I only experienced racism in Germany, you could have asked. It would have been well received. However, you did not. I could point out what I took away from your previous post, but I won’t. I believe Liv addressed my issues above. Yet, I do have to say this— as the person who experienced the racist interaction, it is up to me on how I should handle it. Telling me to ignore racism smacks of dismissive privilege, and as you read, I did anyway. Yet, you felt the need, as a non-marginalized person to tell me, the marginalized one, how to handle this experience. I will give you the benefit of the doubt— I hope you didn’t intend to come off as an authority on the matter, but instead you merely offered some misguided advice on something with which you, personally, have no experience. I’m aware that your brother is biracial, but as you aren’t sure what to call him, I’m not entirely sure you care. OR you don’t know what else to say. The latter is fine, the former, in my opinion, requires some deeper thought and reflection. Nonetheless, thank you for your responses.

      3. Yes, I do know what to call him, I’ve just never heard the term “bi-racial” before and wasn’t sure whether you would find mixed race offensive (which is what he calls himself). I’m very sorry I’ve offended you. I think I’d better stop commenting now though. As you said, I am privileged and have no idea how it feels to experience prejudice so any advice I (try) to give you can only be wrong. I genuinely hope these racist incidents are few and far between and that most people treat you with the respect you deserve. (Mostly people excluding myself, obviously. Again, I apologise. I did not mean to come across as rude/disrespectful).

      4. Look, it’s great to know it wasn’t intentional. You can called people mixed race, or biracial, some even have called us swirlies. I appreciated your comments; they gave me pause, yes, but they also grew into a bigger conversation that made me reflect on how to respond. Do you know what I mean? I want this space to be open to discussion, as long as it is helpful and productive. Anyway, thank you.

      5. Swirlies is nice.

        I guess we both learned something… you learned how to deal with obnoxious comments and I’ve learned that I *am* the obnoxious one (insert less polite term here – I don’t want to curse on other people’s blogs) and should think before I type.

    3. I am going to assume you didn’t mean it to come across as such, but ‘whatever you want to call it’ – how extraordinarily dismissive. Does ‘it’ not warrant a term? I see your brother is also mixed race (or whatever you want to call it) and also experiences racism – do you respond similarly to his stories?

      I think a lot of the comments on this post veer dangerously close to the ‘well it as never happened to me/I have never seen it, therefore it doesn’t happen’ mentality, which is terribly invalidating and flat out wrong. Your stories of being a foreigner in Germany are your stories, and as valid as Alechia’s. But they are different, and they are different because you occupy different bodies.

      Yes DHL people can be nasty about walking up stairs, yes we all cop some attitude from them (got to say, I never do. Wonder why.). But Alechia, as a black woman in a predominantly white country is telling us what SHE experienced, and there is very, very little point to us piping up with ‘oh, he probably didn’t want to climb the stairs, that happens to me too.’ Perhaps what Alechia experienced is what Alechia experienced, and different to what we experience, and instead of dismissing it out of hand, we should shut up and listen to it. Enough with the comparing, enough with the ‘it can’t have happened like that’. Enough with invalidating the stories of minorities because they don’t fit your own narrative. Ehrlich.

      1. The stairs comment was a response to the previous poster who said they thought the DHL guy didn’t want to climb the stairs. I should have placed it directly under that comment though. The two issues are entirely separate – I am happy to believe he didn’t want to climb the stairs AND is racist. The rest I won’t comment on, except to say again that I am sorry I came across as rude and disrespectful. Obviously I wasn’t there at either occasion and I am coming from a place of privilege having never had to experience prejudice. Please believe me that I didn’t intend to offend anyone, I’m just terrible and expressing myself. I will leave this conversation now before I dig myself any deeper into this hole.

  6. I’m sorry to read about what you experience living here. I really don’t think they can force you to do that German course though! Couldn’t your husband try to argue with them that you need the time to spend looking after your daughter (or say job searching)? You have every right to be here!

    1. Thank so much for responding! We did argue, we’ll see what happens. I still haven’t received my paperwork yet. I have my certificate for German courses, and I have been picking up German again since I’ve been back. But I aim to do better and try to fit in more. It’s just a bit frustrating. I’m not worried they’ll send me away, I’m just not sure I want to go through this process every year, you know? Anyway, thanks again for your comment!

  7. Really sorry hearing about such a bad experience. Please believe me that not all Germans are racists (I am German 🙂 It also depends a lot on where you live. I am curious- which city do you live in?

    1. Oh goodness, no, I’d never think that. I’m married to a German! I hope I didn’t give that impression. We live in the Nürnberg area. I’ve been told Bavaria is a tough place for outsiders, and it’s much more pleasant in the north. Anyway, please don’t think I paint all Germans as racists. And thank you for your response!

      1. No, of course I don’t. It’s fine. By the way I live in Nürnberg 🙂 Yes, Bavaria can be tough, but again – it depends on where you live and (as usual) on the people right around you. The more in the country you live, the tougher it gets. Often people don’t have bad intentions when they don’t talk a lot or don’t seem to welcome outsiders – it’s just the way they (we) are: we don’t do lots of small talk here, and it may take a long time to get to know new people. But as soon as you do – I think most of us are actually nice and friendly under the hard shell 🙂

  8. Hi! I also wanted to share my integration course experience. I also FREAKED OUT when they told me I had to do the integration course. I was like, no, no, no! But it all turned out well in the end. I started by going to a school approved by the city where I live to teach the integration course. If you ask the Auslanderamt they can give you a list of recommended schools. Then I went there and took a pre-test. Since I already am fluent in German (as I am guessing are you) I passed with flying colors and the school automatically waived my need to take the integration course. Then all I had to do was take the citizenship test and the B1 German level test (it’s called something like Deutsch für Zuwanderer Prüfung). Both of the tests were absolutely free and I took them through the school (I just joined in at the end testing portion with a group who did take the whole very long integration course) I passed, it took awhile to get my certificates in the mail (I had to make a few phone calls in order to get them quicker) and then it was all good to go 🙂 I think the rules on this differs from area to area. I live in Rheinland-Pfalz and luckily they were pretty nice about it. I saw in an earlier comment you wrote that you already have passed a B1 level test – if that is the case I see no need why you would need to take the course, you only need to gather the proper documentation. I also now have a document that says I completed the course although I wasn’t required to. Technically, I did complete a course – but only the part that was relevant to me. If the Auslanderamt is not being helpful go through the schools, once they see you are B1 qualified there is nothing they could teach you in an integration course. As far as the government goes they are required to tell you that you must take an integration course. “Everyone has to!” 😉 But it is up to you and the schools on how you get that done. All the government cares about is the paperwork!

    Hope this is helpful!

  9. Wow.. this hit me so hard because I am in a very similar situation. I am also biracial and have moved to Hamburg Germany recently from California— not married, but moved for the love haha! Although I have noticed the excessive amount of staring the Germans seem to enjoy to pass the time, I don’t feel that it’s all necessarily directed to my “color” ( I am probably the palest mixed person ever lol). I dont look black, nor white, nor German… But I will say that all upheaval going on in the States right now makes me feel very uncomfortable telling people I am American.. and I am having trouble now obtaining a work visa. Stressful times, for sure. I’m not even sure getting married here will solve the problem of trying to make a living…

  10. Wow.. this hit me so hard because I am in a very similar situation. I am also biracial and have moved to Hamburg Germany recently from California— not married, but moved for the love haha! Although I have noticed the excessive amount of staring the Germans seem to enjoy to pass the time, I don’t feel that it’s all necessarily directed to my “color” ( I am probably the palest mixed person ever lol). I dont look black, nor white, nor German… But I will say that all upheaval going on in the States right now makes me feel very uncomfortable telling people I am American.. and I am having trouble now obtaining a work visa. Stressful times, for sure. I’m not even sure getting married here will solve the problem of trying to make a living…

  11. Hi Allie, I´m sorry to read what you´re going through. I think people underestimate what it´s like being a foreigner in another country and everyone experiences disappointments or rejection in different ways at many points no matter how long you´ve lived there etc. As a teen about 10 years ago I lived in the US for six years as my father was an expat (engineer) at a German company on the east coast. When traveling to Germany in the summer we would many times be called into a separate room at the immigration/airport when we came back to the US, they questioned us, long waiting times of uncertainty. I think I don´t have to explain how “friendly” the US authorities can be, eventhough we had all correct papers and all… Other times people would act like they didn´t understand my mom´s English since she had a strong German accent… even with simple things like ordering ice cream. Of course my mom cried on a few occassions, she has a degree in economics, didn´t work in the US, but would be treated like she was some idiot! It can be tough! Some kids at school called me and my brother “Nazi” as they thought it was funny!?! Obivisously these things didn´t always makes us feel welcome and that we belong. At the same time the majority of the people were good to us or were patient with my mom when she didn´t understand a joke in a round of ten people talking at once.

    The race issue is probably hard to judge from the outside not walking in your shoes. Although I do feel since Germany has so many immigrants (turkish, eastern European…) in all types of jobs that this is hopefully making us all more tolerant. I also experience the DHL guys sometimes being very unfriendly, stressed, not even saying “hello” or not really even looking at me, “throwing” me my package… But who cares what the DHL guy thinks? He´s probably also an immigrant himself. I hope I´m not simplyfying this too much, you have your right to be angry, if you have the impression that this is something deeper.

    With the refugees we generally can´t paint them all with the same brush… There was a refugee “Traglufthalle” here around Munich with 5 different nations, 300 men. Of course this constellation would lead to fights if even if only Germans had lived there. But a main issue was also racism within these groups – they are fleeing from war and intolerance and starting it here?!? It´s a complicated issue…

    Your description of the German course is unfortunately one of the very bad examples of how the “Amt” sometimes works… Nobody understands!!! Also when they deport families and people that are doing everything right and have the best chances here…I would also try again speaking with them – maybe the guy there had a bad day and wanted to inforce the maximum that´s definitely not necessary in your case?

    I hope you can focus on the positive, find those people that help and motivate you and that things get better. Don´t let people tear you down! You sound like a person with so much potential and strength!

    Best regards from Munich.

    Christina.

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