There are people like my boyfriend who have the most awesome dreams, such as, becoming a space alien and flying through different time zones. And then there’s people like me who dream about cleaning the kitchen. That’s why I mostly don’t feel too inspired to share my dreams. However, last night’s dream did leave me with a political message.
As with most dreams, this one started for no reason at all at the bus station in my old home town in Germany where I used to catch the bus every morning to go to school. Even though my dream included a weird cruise ship type bus for Greek-Germans and a Syrian refugee kid that spoke Brazilian Portuguese – that’s NOT what really stuck with me. It was a much more subtle message.
Bus driver needed. Accent is not a problem.
For some reason, at random points in my dream, I kept seeing job ads.
Bus driver needed. Accent is not a problem.
Looking for promoters. Speaking German with an accent is not an obstacle.
While I am pretty sure that this had something to do with me reading about the Lëtzebuergesch language (the official language of Luxemburg, that even though it’s closer to Standard German than for example Schwizerdütsch, is considered a separate language, and not a dialect), this very subliminal message in my dream shows two things:
- People that speak German with an accent are often considered ignorant and met with (many times open) hostility.
- I spend too much time on Wikipedia.
Let’s focus – for now – on the fact that people that do not speak perfect German are discriminated against.
For instance, my parents. They left their home country Romania when they were both over 30 years old. While my mom did grow up speaking German, my dad only started learning the language once they arrived in Germany. They both took language classes, made sure they surrounded themselves with native speakers, started watching German TV, reading German newspapers, even going to German plays – because they really and truly wanted to become part of the society.
So you think you’re a language genius?
Now, from many expats that I have seen living abroad, this is MUCH more than any of them EVER do – especially if they are native English speakers (why struggle to learn Dutch, if every person in the Netherlands speaks perfect English anyway). This is not a criticism (okay, it kinda is), but pretty much EVERYBODY who has ever been in a place where they did not speak the language, knows that it is a struggle – especially when you’re past age 7.
While in most places, people get very excited when you try to speak their language, in Germany this rarely happens. To the contrary. Many Germans are upset with foreigners that have trouble with the German grammar or pronunciation, or they point-blank make fun of them. THAT’S the part that I don’t get. First off, who are you to judge anybody’s ability to pick up a new language? Second, how many foreign languages do you speak like a native speaker? Third, how is somebody that is trying to become part of your society by learning your language a person you get to make fun of or discriminate against? And fourth, have you ever friggin’ tried to explain German grammar or pronunciation to anyone and realized how HARD and IRRATIONAL the German language can be? So it really pisses me off when people believe they belong to some sort of social elite, simply for not having an accent in their native language – big f*cking deal!
“Where are you from?” means: “Get out of my country!”
And there’s more. I mentioned my parents. They have been struggling with the German language for about 30 years now (there is just no logic behind calling it a masculine apple and a feminine sock!), but they’re fluent German speakers. However, they still get asked: “Where are you from?” – because they both have an accent, and sometimes mess up the grammar.
While this seems VERY similar to the questions I get when traveling, it is not. When people ask me where I am from, it’s usually a friendly curiosity, but when my parents get asked that in Germany it’s racist. Germans do not get excited when they hear an accent. They get suspicious. Their question “where are you from?” really means: “What third world country did you come from, and why do you think you have the right to take advantage of my wealthy country? Never mind that the people who ask questions like these are usually NOT the ones contributing a whole lot to the German social system.
The true dimension of racism however really becomes clear when you realize who gets asked the “where are you from” question. It is not a person with a British or American accent, it is not a person with a French accent. It’s a person with a Middle Eastern or a Southern European or a Turkish or an Eastern European accent, and especially a person with an African accent. Because obviously every Italian is affiliated with the Mafia, and obviously every Eastern European is either part of a human trafficking or robbing ring, and obviously everybody who has a slightly darker skin color must either be a criminal or a terrorist, or at the very least dirty and uneducated.
If I had a dream …
That’s why, if I could dream like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I’d have the dream that one day all these accent hunters would be expelled from Germany and left all by themselves in rural China, Mexico or Ghana – where nobody would understand them.
In the MLK version of the dream, they realize that they have been wrong and prejudiced all along, and change. But in the Marinela version of the dream, no matter how hard they try, they can never pick up the local language, they never learn how to communicate with the people in the country, and die a lonely and very very quiet death.