(Episode 2, part 1)
After Harlekin Beate’s article on “International Relations” was published she asked those other Harlekins who are married to “foreigners” to write on their personal international relations. But then, I thought, I’ve never been married to someone from my original home, so how can I compare? I’ve spent much more of my life outside my “home” than in it, living in 4 countries other than Britain, so much that I wonder how British I really am now. The “home” I left is not the same now nearly 50 years later.
International relations are complex: with a partner from a different country and living in a different country confronts you with CULTURE. I cannot make generalisations about a Brit married to a German or about a Brit living in Germany: my wife comes from Kiel and grew up in Rhineland-Palatinate, her mother from Schleswig-Holstein and father from what is now Poland. I’m sure that makes her different from a Swabian or a Saxon, and we haven’t even talked about her genes and upbringing. And then there’s me. As the son of a German mother in post-war England I had my brushes with cultural clashes early on.
My mother insisted on getting me leather trousers, which were very practical but not quite the height of fashion in Essex and marked me out as different. I did not know how to react when boys chanted, arm in arm with little regard for historical accuracy, “We won the war, in 1944”, because after all my Dad was on the winning side…
I saw my German relatives rarely and found them different, and so kept my distance. I couldn’t speak the language anyway, so my mother had to interpret. They were loud and emotional, no-holds-barred people from the Ruhr. My mother knew little restraint when unhappy with the quality of the food she had bought – much to my father’s embarrassment. I can still see him slinking back in the butcher’s as if they were not together. Her actions were not very British.
I studied languages at university because I was good at them and loved travel. My year abroad to France and Germany opened up new worlds and behaviours. The French did not queue in front of the university canteen, they stormed it with scant regard for life or limb. Zebra crossings were lethal traps for pedestrians. When ill it was quite normal to stick things up your backside to reduce the fever! In Göttingen I shared a large flat and still was on formal “Sie” terms with half of them at the end of the semester. Most of the students went home on the weekends. That was our party time back in the UK. We went to Uni to GET AWAY from our parents!
(Part 2 of this article will be published next Friday, 20 November.)