Tag Archives: emigration

Discrimination, my love


We’re in the process of moving to the Bavarian capital, and the rent is crushingly high, so I started to look for a second job.

I was pretty happy when I actually got a few replies, but then it all ended the way it often does: the person on the other end looks at my name on the CV, clears her throat and asks the one question that equals total demolition, “ahm, and… what’s your nationality?” That just makes my day every time. Not to mention people reaching protectively for their pockets when I give the answer. Because there is no way around that answer, no matter how nicely I attempt to package it.

What can I say? Sure, I have German citizenship, but they can hear my accent. And my name has too many vowels, apparently. It’s so lovely to be rejected for a job for which you were overqualified to begin with, simply because you were born in a country that everybody wants to avoid like the plague.

It caresses my soul to be told they’ve already found someone and then to find the ad still in the window two weeks later… I applied for an evening job as an English tutor, and the lady on the phone told me “one can hear you’re not German”.

Well, wtf? You don’t need me to teach German, do you?! You need me to teach English – and English has been my job for the past 7 years. I started learning English in elementary school, later on studied with American visiting lecturers, then lived in the US myself for a while. But do you think that makes any difference? Not a word in English was exchanged between us. She decided I wasn’t native enough. Heck, even my son’s kindergarten would only employ purebred Americans or Britons ’cause nobody else can teach “this is a frog / this is a pen” to 5-year-olds.

I don’t mind being rejected after a thorough interview, if I am not up to the task. But at least give me a chance to introduce myself and show what I am capable of. Why should my Romanian origins immediately wipe 30 points off my IQ??? See, this is the reason I became self-employed. It irks me so bad that people (in my case, Germans), even those in multicultural settings, will judge a person strictly on the basis of nationalistic stereotypes. This day in age. People with university degrees, mind you.

(For some freaking reason, engineers are exempt from this “humane” treatment even if they don’t speak a word of German, which only irks me more.)

Honest Romanians abroad fight every day to keep their dignity. It’s an uphill battle. It’s essential for us to have a better image. So, how do we go about achieving that? Most of us are perfectly docile, law-abiding citizens in our countries of adoption. And yet, it seems we cannot please people. We cannot completely dispel their prejudice.

We totally depend on the Romanians at home for that. And as any good PR specialist will tell you, advertising without content no longer works. We have to generate credibility, we have to put our house in order for real, and the image will follow. The system has to be fixed from within and then it has to remain stable, clean, and consistent long enough to generate trust. Only when we’ve accomplished that will a better image emerge. On its own.

Hopefully, during my lifetime. I would hate to see my kids go through the same thing.

Small town blues


I used to be a big city girl, dynamic and fulfilled. But then I emigrated and became a shadow.

First, I couldn’t speak a word of German. Yes, to the extent that I would bring home a jar of red cabbage thinking it was red beet. By the time I was einigermaßen able to communicate, I realized I had learned the wrong language. They don’t speak German at all around these parts – that is, when they do speak at all. They rarely open their mouths to strangers, and then only to purse their lips and bring forth some utter Bavarian mumbo-jumbo. No, actually it’s oberpfälzisch. Try pronouncing that sober.

Second, unless you are an automotive engineer or a financial controller, the wonderful world of gratifying youthful careers like salesperson, caregiver for the elderly, or cleaning lady beckons. Or you can let the luminous beacon of motherhood guide you. Because everyone seems to expect full, 24/7 devotion at the shrine of motherhood. For ever. Oh, and by the way, if you do that, by the time your kids start school your brain will have completely dissolved and turned to goo, you won’t remember how to spell your own name correctly, your progeny will treat you as the in-house servant always on duty, and your husband will actually believe he is smarter than you. (People don’t appreciate, people take for granted. The key to true appreciation is scarcity.) In fact, I have come to feel like a walking uterus with hands. Day-care is harder to come by than Chinese rare earths, and twice as expensive.  The skies are almost always gray and oppressive like the inside of a coffin, and a sense of stale futility permeates everything. 

All my attempts, efforts, and endeavors are stultified and made sterile by this all-encompassing small town sense of conformity, convention and futility. With their fleet of perfectly polished cars, their cute little gardens, their spoiled little brats with their unapologetic sense of entitlement (as if they had been born into the local aristocracy), and the snooping neighbors who complain about every sound, there comes a perverse sense of safety and prosperity which deceives people into doing precious nothing with their lives… Old country for old people. With their dangerous veil of  “stability” and picayune interests, which can make the lucky few truly happy, but which most of the time  really only means stagnation, small German towns are the stalwart defenders of all things old. The front line of resistance against all things new. Well, except new cars, of course.

The idea that your entire intellectual universe has to stop dead in its tracks the moment that first child comes tumbling out of your body…  As if there is only one definition of love that is small-town endorsed and small-town valid. And life is all about routine, acceptable patterns and saving face.  Everything clean and perfect, no visible suffering – you know, just the occasional postpartum wreck chopping up her baby and laying him to rest in the freezer, just the occasional homicidal father, strangling his wife and all of their five children before setting the apartment ablaze, just the old people in wheelchairs in homes on the outskirts of town, in their Alzheimer’s daze, everything green and peaceful and quiet…

Prozedur über alles


Would it be possible to write a piece about the periodic absurdity of German life? The eye-popping, mind-boggling, neuron-grilling absurdity of the bureaucratic mindset? I don’t think so. See, I can’t even come up with the right adjectives…

Remember those Tom-and-Jerry cartoons where a desperate Tom pulls his own tongue, hits himself over the head and has wheezing vapors coming out of his ears? That’s how I feel most of the time. Trying to get a German service provider to understand what service is (or rather, should be) is akin to Tom waking up the big beasty dog. You’d just rather hit your own head against the wall real hard a few times. Because the customer is by no means king, no. It’s all about procedures here. Procedures are the whole goddamn royal family in this place.

I employed a cleaning person for a couple of hours the other day.  Or so I thought. My bad. After 9 years in this country I was still naive enough to believe they were in my service, not vice-versa.

So the guy comes, with his SUITCASE, looking all nice and preppy, very businesslike, and manages to actually crack a smile when I answer the door. I welcome him and hand him the keys to the place, but then – surprise – THIS BEING OUR FIRST ENCOUNTER, HE HAS JUST COME TO HAVE A LOOK AT IT, TO EVALUATE. For the actual cleaning he will come some other time.

My mouth feels dry as I clear my throat. You mean I have waited a whole week and exchanged four e-mails with this guy so that he can have a look at the place??? It’s only an apartment, for crying out loud. A small apartment in the basement that is sort of an appendix to the one we inhabit upstairs, and where (downstairs) my parents live when they come to visit. Don’t all human apartments look roughly the same? Four walls, floor, ceiling, a few pieces of furniture, carpets, a bathroom?…  I had explained as much in my e-mail. He notices my perplexity and makes what in his eyes must appear to be a huge concession in the realm of customer relations:  “OK, I will try to clean now. You are lucky I have time.”  

How about that? I, the customer paying him for this, AM LUCKY THAT HE IS GIVING ME THE TIME OF DAY.

Then he has a look at the place, goes back out to his car, comes back in and presents me with a sheet of paper that is supposed to be the actual order document. Dutifully, I pencil in my name, address and what I want done. It’s not much: wipe the floor, vacuum, clean the small bathroom and the two small windows. By now I am totally kowtowing to this guy. I hear myself asking if he can manage all of that in two hours (even though I know for a fact that a Romanian peasant with her naturally large dose of common-sense would do it in half the time and for half the money, but this guy is legit, he issues invoices)…

So I go back to my kids and he starts working downstairs. I am feeling pretty smug, my place will soon be spotless. I am somewhat bothered by the fact that I still don’t know what it’s going to cost, despite having (sheepishly) asked twice. But apparently, German service is so valuable, it gets sold without even looking at the price tag. It will certainly be very objectively priced, “don’t worry, you can afford to pay” (in his own words) – I promise to let you know when I get the frigging invoice.

Two hours elapse and I am getting impatient. No sounds have been coming from the basement in a rather long time but I never dare distrust the guy, and with two young children prancing around and e-mails piling up, my hands and feet are tied. I cannot go down and check right now. But I mean, what can go wrong, he was recommended by a German friend (a mother of two), right?

Well, to make a long story short, he brings me back the key and I smile and ask: “Finished?” while he actually tries to crack a joke about how FAST  he is…  Then, still without naming his price, he departs. I pack both kids into the car to meet my husband downtown after a long and exhausting day (as fate would have it, in a cafe that completely lacks anything even remotely similar to customer service – surprise, surprise!…).

Imagine my surprise when, upon returning home, I finally go to check our supposedly sparkling basement and find the carpets all piled up in the stairway, and inside chairs still on tables, the objects in the bathroom all moved around and the vacuum cleaner on the bed!

Obviously, I cannot articulate one single word. I am both baffled and incredulous. I rub my eyes and my chest just heaves with the bubbling anger of disbelief.  I let my husband pick up the phone and… what do you know! The guy is covered! He  has done everything right, he has just followed CLEANING PROCEDURES. Did I actually want my carpets back on the floor? Well, I had FAILED TO MENTION THAT IN MY ORDER.  Arrrrrrghhhhh!!!!!!

Can it be, can it really be that any sane human being expects to find the cleaned apartment in an even more disorderly state than it was before the cleaning???? Was I really, honestly expected to expect that he would drag all my carpets out into the stairwell until the wiped floor gets dry and leave them there?! That he goes away claiming to have everything ready and not even TELL ME about this?! Is this guy for real???? I am going to have to pay big bucks to carry my own 15-kilo rugs and carpets back in? To rearrange the bathroom?…

You tell me. Because by now all my reasoning powers are humming tunes in a happier place, a place where other happy people walk the long white corridors in white robes with hands tied behind their backs, and where nurses inject Xanax.

Some day, I tell myself, some day, this will actually seem funny.