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Just how far will you go?

The last time I moved lock stock and barrel to a new country was nearly 10 years ago. I was more immature and certainly more impressionable. I imbibed the new culture with gusto, and before I knew it, I had to take out my passport to prove my nationality. I had blended so well into Singaporean culture that people often had a hard time believing I was not born and brought up there.

And I have moved again, this time to Deutschland. A lot of things are different this time. For one, I am not a pauper student or a confused teenager or a “wide eyed young li’l thing”. I don’t speak the local language and so its not as easy as speaking a new strain of English ( popularly known as Singlish in Singapore). And foreigners are not all that common here – you are certainly more likely to meet a non-Singaporean in Singapore’s streets than encounter a non-German in the German streets. Well, that has two effects : one is, despite my Asian looks, people don’t expect me to be a foreigner. And then, when they hear my broken-German, they are very surprised.

As I try to fit in, a few questions haunt me? How far can I go? How far do I want to go? And how far will I go? – On the path to becoming a “German”. Well, I don’t mean in the sense of getting a German residence or passport (they are matters on which I will decide purely based on my head, and not my heart and hence are irrelevant here). Perhaps, these questions haunt me because Germany is a country with a very strong identity of its own. It is less homogenised with the “universe” than several other countries I have visited. “Well, Germany is different” is the favourite refrain of one of my colleagues and as much as I find that constant reminder annoying, I have to admit he is not too far off from the truth.

I like bratwursts (sausages) and potatoes. I like the carnivals and the christmasmarkets and the intracity beer rivalries. And I like jogging by the Rhine. I can now successfully make the German guttural pronunciations. I can now stare at people in trams without flinching when they stare back. And I can be methodical and anal when it comes to details. As I stumble down the path to becoming integrated to this temporarily-adopted society, I wonder where all this will end.

I am no novice at immigration. And I know its possible for a new kid on the block to belong. It is just how much one wants it. And what happens after you belong? When you move again, do you take a part of that with you? And when you acquire a new identity or a sense of belonging to a new place, do you have to give up a part of your old self to make place for the new?

I don’t know how it will be to trace back my steps. If I go back to India now, will I be as much “Indian” as I was 10 years ago? As much as I want the answer to be yes, truth is that I don’t know. Will I have to “Indianise” the parts of me that was Arabianised (I also lived a part of my life in Saudi Arabia) or Singaporeanised or Germanised.

Is there really such a thing as a global citizen? Can you ever feel comfortable in several countries? Now, that I think is possible. The more relevant question is, as human beings, do we need to know that we belong to one country? Or can we be happily promiscuous about our nationalistic identities?

Posted in Favourites, Musings, Travel on February 15, 2005

9 Responses

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  1. Arjun says

    Your questions remind me of Khalil Gibran’s thoughts. Even though it speaks of Syria and America, the thoughts espoused reflect respect from where he came from and admiration for where he wants to get to.

    I quote:

    And what is it to be a good citizen?

    It is to acknowledge the other person’s rights before asserting your own, but always to be conscious of your own.

    It is to be free in thought and deed, but it is to know that your freedom is subject to the other person’s freedom.

    It is to create the useful and the beautiful with your own hands, and to admire what others have created in love and with faith.

    It is to produce wealth by labor and only by labor, and to spend less than you have produced that your children may not be dependent on the state for support when you are no more.

    It is to stand before the towers of New York, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco saying in your heart, “I am the descendant of a people that built Damascus, and Biblus, and Tyre and Sidon, and Antioch, and now I am here to

    build with you, and with a will.

    It is to be proud of being an American, but it is also to be proud that your fathers and mothers came from a land upon which God hid his gracious hand and raised His messengers. Young Americans of Syrian origin, I believe in you.

  2. Pleomorphous says

    Do you want to be comfortable in different places? Do you want to blend into your surroundings, or do you want to stand out?

    There will be moments in your life when you strongly desire an identity that marks you in a crowd. And if you, like me, have lived in different places, you will acquire something everytime you move to a new place. Erasing a part of what you acquired earlier.

    I cannot merge with the Calcutta crowd. The Hyderabad crowd will see me differently. I don’t think I can merge with the Delhi crowd. And despite living here for over a decade, there are times when I do not identify with the Madras crowd.

    Now I identify myself with the country. There is nothing else I can do.

  3. surreal reality says

    This post has been removed by the author.

  4. Lucid Dreamer says

    “The moving finger writes.. and having writ.. moves on.. “

    -Omar Khayyam

    Such, my friend, is the callousness of fate…. There are some, much like myself, who do not want to stand out of a crowd. They want to be the crowd.

  5. Surya says

    >> Arjun> I am very flattered with ur reference to the great Gibran..but the vision that he sets out, ‘It is to be proud of being an American, but it is also to be proud that your fathers and mothers came from a land upon which God hid his gracious hand and raised His messengers. Young Americans of Syrian origin, I believe in you.’ I think is very hard to achieve in practice. Its not easy to be proud of two or more different nationalities. Its like trying to be in two boats at the same time. As long as the currents are mild, it is ok, but when the river gets rocky, the going gets tough. Personally, I claim to be of Indian origin when people praise India, Singaporean when they say Singapore is ooh – so clean and so on and on. But when it comes to serious debates where I have to do the defense, I often scramble. Definitely not something to be proud of, but something that happens. And I have seen this with others too who are in similar situations, so I am sure I am not the lone evil one.

    >>Polymorpheus > ‘There is nothing else I can do’
    Do u like it this way ? or would you have preferred to have one single identity? And if you could have gone back in time, would you (and could you) have fervently held to one chosen identity and refused to adapt..?

    >>Lucid Dreamer >’They want to be the crowd.’
    When the crowd around you keeps changing , sometimes it gets too tiring just trying not to stand out from the crowd..never had that feeling before?

  6. Pleomorphous says

    The grass is always greener on the other side. Today I prefer a single identity. Tomorrow I ,might just take pride form the fact that being in different cultures helped me adapt quickly to different worlds.

  7. Pang says

    It’s ironic that just yesterday I was looking up on countries to move to after getting out of college. I have a couple of questions for you if you don’t mind answering. If you can email me back, that would be much appreciated! My question to you is: Why do you move to those countries and how old were you when moving to those countries? Was the transition hard? What’s your inspirations in all of this? As far as your question is concern, I think that we should sit back and be content with all that we have experienced during those different times in those different countries. Not many is blessed with what we’re blessed with. In short, yes, we should be happy with our nationalistic identities!

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Silent Eloquence » What it means to be an Indian? linked to this post on July 28, 2005

    […] The second one is on the flip side of this coin. Even as we struggle to be included as Indians, we have to fit in into the environs that we live in. Here is one of my old posts on how far I will go in adjusting to a new place. […]

  2. Remembering a journey | Silent Eloquence linked to this post on August 26, 2009

    […] I moved and adapted to Germany, I wrote: I like bratwursts (sausages) and potatoes. I like the carnivals and the Christmas markets and the […]

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