Not to get lost in translation ... (English)

 

 

 

Veronika Bernard

Not to get lost in translation ...

What texts of German literature written by authors of Turkish origin may teach us about migration and integration.

 

Aegean University Cultural Studies Symposium, Izmir, 4th-6th May 2005

 

 

Introduction

 

It seems to be commonplace that discussing aspects of migration bears the danger of judging on others on the basis of one‘s own cultural background. Yet, exactly this point will be at the heart of the matter if you focus on cultural consequences of migration. The key term is intercultural communication. Intercultural communication involves people from one culture in a process of evaluating, and re-evaluating, of judging, and re-judging on a culture different from their own, and by this reaching a better way of understanding. Intercultural studies are meant to bridge gaps between cultures by negotiating their differences and their similarities.

Some scholars, however, state that you cannot do true intercultural studies if you belong to one culture only. Carmine Chiellino e. g. criticizes German universities in one of his essays on intercultural German literature1 for having native German professors of German literature work and lecture on what is called „Migrantenliteratur“ (the term coming close to „ethnic literature“ in English). He argues that you need scholars who are rooted in both of the cultures which they meet in their literary studies to do both efficient and true intercultural studies.

There will be a point in that if you deny the mere issue of intercultural communication as defined above and define the two-culture-person as an intercultural authority beyond discussion. Yet, what intercultural communication is all about is learning – not just about – but from the other’s cultures and respecting the other’s cultures. Intercultural studies are considered an exchange between the view on a culture from the outside and the view on a culture from the inside. So there really is a good point in having native Germans work on ethnic literature written in their mothertongue. They provide the view from the outside. The text provides the view from the inside – and vice versa if the scholar’s culture is concerned in the text.

Regarding this context as being relevant my paper will show what literary texts written in German by authors of Turkish origin will be able to tell us about different aspects of migration and integration if you analyze them with respect to the following issues:

-         patterns of how a dominant culture is seen from the outside (i.e. by migrants)

-         how migrants see their own cultures and how they want you to see them

-         how migrants experience their first contacts with a new foreign language

-         how migrants experience their first attempts to learn this language

-         how they experience their ghetto-situation resulting from cultural isolation, language problems and strange surroundings

-         how they experience their first steps in exploring their new surroundings

-         patterns of „not discussing“ what is experienced as aspects of cultural difference

-         patterns of intercultural communication gaps resulting from this.

Of course, not all texts analysed present all the issues mentioned. This is due to the fact that there are differences in focus between texts written about 1st generation migrants, and 2nd and 3rd generation migrants, who, in fact, are not migrants any longer but natives although they are not recognized natives by the dominant population. Precisely those differences in focus, however, may lead us to a better understanding of how migration and integration work and how they affect the people concerned by shaping their identities.

All the texts, however, have at least three aspects in common which you should be aware of when analysing them with respect to the aspects mentioned above. First, they have in common that whatever they say is based on reflection on the issue of migration. So whatever they confront the audience with, it’s rather the effect than the experience which has caused the effect. Secondly, you have to take into account that this sort of reflection is provided by people having an intellectual mind. They are writers. Consequently, what you learn from their texts is not meant to be taken literally, and it is not meant for generalization either but rather to make you aware of the individual quality of migration and integration. There are certain underlying patterns, but apart from these patterns there is a huge extent of individuality concerning the issue you may not have expected before you started reading. And thirdly, there is the factor of direct and indirect selection by public attention. Deniz Göktürk points out which the possible consequences of funding cultural activities are with regard to film productions by German-Turkish directors in Germany.2 Funding film productions has a selective effect concerning topics and tendency of thinking presented in films. Yet, what is true of funding the film business is also true of the literary business to a quite large extent although in most cases you do not have funding there but instead customer expectations which ought to be met. Resulting from this not all texts have the same chances to get published, and after being published to be bought, read and being published in a second or even third edition or as a paperback version. At present there are mainly three German publishing houses which publish German literature written by authors of Turkish origin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch in Cologne, Aufbau Verlag in Berlin, Brandes und Apsel in Frankfurt/ Main. And with those publishing companies so-called progressive texts in general have a better chance of being published than entertaining texts because the publishers aim at intellectual and critically thinking target groups. Their customers do not expect and do not buy entertaining texts but critical ones. And, being critical in relation to literary texts predominantly means being critical of the author‘s culture of origin and being non-mainstream in terms of narration – and this, of course, does not only refer to texts by German authors but also to texts by non-German authors. Here, of course, most certainly the view on a culture from the outside becomes relevant: „Critical“ in relation to texts by authors of Turkish origin means what the German publisher considers critical – and that’s being sceptical about the social position of Muslim women, portraying Islam as a  religion conflicting with what is said to be Western values, being sceptical and pessimistic about the state of a multicultural society in Europe, being doubtful about the human rights situation in Turkey. So what you will get if you read those texts available on the German market written in German by writers of Turkish origin is just a glimpse at the range of literary production which has been filtered according to the factors mentioned: reflection by the author’s intellectual mind, and selection by a public’s cultural view from the outside. And last but not least, there still is the person who takes an effort in analysing the texts, and who is part of the view from the outside as well. Yet, allowing for all these possible factors of influence those texts are really interesting sources of intercultural learning on the cultural issues of migration and integration mentioned above.

 

 

Patterns of how a dominant culture is seen from the outside

 

„Aber selbst im Land der Ungläubigen kann ja nicht alles schlecht sein. Sie haben ein hervorragendes Gesundheitssystem, und ich werde Ihnen bis an mein Lebensende dankbar dafür sein.“ (But even in the land of the unbelieving not everything is bad. They have got an excellent medical care system, and I’ll be grateful for this until my death.)3

 

The relevant patterns concerning this issue are creating myths back home which turn into stereotypes, sticking to those stereotypes after having migrated, being re-assured about the negative stereotypes as a consequence of negative experience, being disillusioned about the positive ones because of negative experience, and creating additional stereotypes by generalization of negative experience after having stayed in Germany for some time.

Reading the texts you learn that it is not relevant how much you know about the dominant culture in the place you are migrating to but what you know and who has provided the information. There are lots of stories in the texts showing how myths about Germany and its population have come into being. They all root in rumours about a better, nevertheless, somehow strange, far-away place where poor people have gone to and have returned with their pockets full of money. And even if you have not met one of these people, you will know at least someone, who has heard the same from someone whose cousin has been there ... Rumours of that sort create a myth of an imperfect paradise. Some of those stories may look quite funny, but indeed they are not. They are not as soon as you think about their effect on people who are not really satisfied with their present lives and would like to change them to the better. The myths being created by rumours are the sources of cultural and national stereotypes. And although there are both negative and positive stereotypes, the positive ones are much stronger in attracting people to the idea of migrating than the negative ones are in making people stay away from this idea.

The list of negative stereotypes being present in the texts, be it directly or indirectly, all centre upon religious and moral aspects of Christian life, the most common ones forming around drinking alcohol, and women said to behave at a comparatively low moral level - the latter field of stereotypes being particularly interesting as Christianity is rather close to the ideas of Islam as soon as it comes down to female sexuality and sexuality in general. To cut a long story short: There is nothing like sexual liberty provided for women within Christian belief. So whatever has formed the stereotypes concerning Christian/ European/ German women has its roots not in Christianity but in a secular way of life in which religion has become a relative value. And even more interesting, the aspect of a stereotyped Christian sexual liberty is to be found on the list of positive stereotypes, too. So what you learn from the texts is that obviously there is a difference in who you ask, namely, in what his concept of a life looks like. This also becomes clear in analysing the three other fields of positive strereotyping: jobs, income, housing, and politics. Although those stereotypes are sort of commonly shared knowledge there is a certain tendency which stereotypes you find linked to which characters in the texts, or to put it differently, what is considered positive by whom. There seem to be female and male stereotypes. Whereas the situation at the work place, the level of income, adequate housing, and the nature of German women are at the centre of positive stereotyping rather with male characters, female characters form their positive stereotypes around female emancipation, in particular, women’s sexual, material and political emancipation. Just to discuss what you find in the texts in more concrete terms: Men expect to find well paid jobs in Germany, live in a better place than back home, and sleep with some German women as they are said to be easy to get. Women are looking for a life away from traditional family ties, which in detail means having lovers whenever they prefer to, earning their own money, being politically active. Being politically active also is a factor with male characters, still, with them it is an aspect of public life rather than of their individual position within this public life. All in all, women and men are looking forward to living just as they expect German women and men to live according to their stereotyped image.

As soon as the stereotypes are confronted with the surface of German reality of life, and in particular, with the reality of a migrant’s everyday life in Germany, you find what could be called a negative mode of selection. On the one hand, negative stereotypes are never found irrelevant but confirmed by single experience. This is mainly due to the fact that social contacts to Germans do not really get beyond the surface of everyday conversation. Positive stereotypes, on the other hand, break into pieces by negative experience: you get rather badly paid jobs compared to the Germans, you are put into migrant hostels where you have to share rooms with a group of people you have never met before, you have to cope with certain restrictions as you are no German citizen, and you are sexually frustrated because finding a partner has proved more difficult than expected. Reality simply does not meet expectations. The characters learn that even in the new place they cannot live according to their concepts of life. The characters are disillusioned, and as a consequence, feel they are not welcome.

This situation is fit to create some more negative stereotypes on the dominant population in the new place: a lack of hospitality and warmth of heart is at their centre. The 1st generation migrant characters start comparing what they experience to be German customs to the customs back home. And in this competition Germany loses. The migrants feel to be guests in Germany. Indeed, they have been asked to come here to work. However, they do not feel to be treated like guests compared to their culture. They simply do not feel that their hosts want them to feel comfortable and at home. They do not feel the liberty they have been looking forward to. Just to the contrary, they feel discriminated. They feel discriminated because they do not feel welcome. That’s enough for another stereotype concerning Germans to be born. There needn‘t be active discrimination. The presence of this new stereotype shows indirectly in the way some characters act. Instead of leaving the country where they feel discriminated people stay there, and they have chosen to stay because they feel that the general conditions of living are still better than in their native country. Characters are trapped in some sort of inferiority complex concerning their native culture and their native country, and they do not really like to feel this way. What’s going on here comes close to that strange habit of looking west for what is considered progress: Asia looks towards Europe; Europe has looked to the so-called New World for centuries. Interestingly enough, at least some characters solve this problem by neglecting the rules of public life. They simply ignore restrictions because they obviously consider the restrictions immoral. They feel it is justified to act against them. They project their, indeed unjustified, feeling of cultural inferiority into an aggressive attitude towards the dominant culture which gives them this feeling. 2nd generation migrants even create some sort of private sub-culture in which fellow migrants take part no matter which country they come from. The quality of this sub-culture is to make use of the liberties available and to be everything the stereotype Germans are not. In doing so the 3rd generation in addition turns aggressively against their parents and grandparents. Apart from this 2nd generation migrant characters choose a still different way of projecting their feelings of not-being-home in that place their parents have taken them and which they haven’t left up to now: stereotypes of cultural incompatibility of a German partner’s mentality. No matter if male or female, although you find more male Turkish characters having German partners or lovers than female ones, you will find that all of those relationships become either endangered or they break because German partners, in particular the female ones, are considered complicated and charging compared to Turkish ones. Germans simply use their heads too much. The German culture is complicated, and the characters long for the simplicity of their parents’ culture, which is the simplicity of what they think to be used to.

So what the texts do is not simply state stereotypes concerning the dominant culture but turn underlying patterns of those stereotypes and the ways they come into being into literary action. This is the way how stereotypes of Germany are indirectly brought forward by the characters in the texts. Consequently, the reader does not only learn which stereotypes there are but he also learns about the mechanics of stereotyping as an important factor in integration.

 

 

How do migrants see their own cultures and how do they want you to see them

 

„Warum schlafe ich hier mit keinem Mann? Habe ich Schuld? Bin ich zu konservativ?“ (Why don’t I sleep with a man here? Is it my fault? Am I conservative?)4

 

This issue is the most challenging one in analysing the texts. If you took the characters in those texts literally you might get the impression whoever wrote those texts prefers people to see the members of his/ her own culture as either dumb, religious fanatics or as criminal drug addicts and sex maniacs who prefer what the English language calls dirty love and who use strong language, in particular vulgar and obscene expressions. „Fucking“ seems to be an everyday word in conversation concerning sex, „cock“ and „prick“ seem to be the common expressions for „penis“, „ass“ seems to be normal for „buttocks“. There are just very few exceptions from this register.

And, although there most certainly are people of Turkish origin as of any other nationality or culture in real life who exactly act and talk like this, things might have to be seen still in a more differentiated way than this surface impression might suggest. First of all you ought to make clear what „own culture“, actually, means to the characters. In fact, all characters have got two own cultures: Their cultures of origin, and their cultures of identity. And the character‘s relation to both cultures is conflicting in all cases. There is no character who is at peace with both his/ her culture of origin and with his/ her culture of identity. All of them live an inner cultural conflict in which they shift from one side to the other, and most of them finally show a tendency towards their cultural roots. The dreadful thing about this is that this tendency does not root in a positive impetus by the culture of origin but in deep frustration about living within the dominant German culture.

Reflected against this underlying pattern the traits mentioned above deserve a different attitude of evaluation. They have to be re-evaluated. Let’s start with the character’s way of presenting their cultures of origin. Above all they present it sceptically. However, it still is, as mentioned above, their (cultural) home. It is what they feel to be used to and what they have been brought up to. This is not to be mistaken for simple sentimentality. And it is not to be taken for simple nationalism either because one of the most important things you learn from the texts is that this culture turns out to be not one homogenous culture but a cluster of cultures existing in one geographical area. These cultures are different in terms of social background, political conviction, ethnic heritage, religious affiliation, language, or rather, dialect, and even regional belonging. All those factors together make the person. In the first place the character‘s cultural individuality is a product of his/ her very special upbringing in terms of those factors and not of mere nationality, just as Konrad Köstlin defines culture in his essay „Kulturen im Prozeß der Migration und Kulturen der Migrationen“.5 The texts take an effort in presenting Turkey as a cultural melting pot, in which, however, all those individual cultures are not melted but staying as they are just next to each other with all the possible conflicts arising from this situation. The generation gap is shown as a cultural conflict in which children try to find their own ways alongside the culture they have been brought up to. Conflicts of personal identity are fought as cultural conflicts since there is a strong awareness, you might even say responsibility, people feel about their individual cultural roots. The texts show this by having the characters act out their inner discussions and conflicts concerning their social, political and religious belonging as well as the cultural consequences of climbing up and down the social ladder by both reflecting on their families and turning away or turning towards their families. What you do not find, nevertheless, are characters who completely cut their family ties in this process of cultural emancipation. So again, as with the stereotypes concerning Germany, the texts choose an indirect way of articulating. Whatever positive, negative or even neutral statements the characters make and whatever they do in relation to their families is an indirect cultural evaluation on how traditional or progressive, backward or modern, naive or enlightened they consider their cultural background to be. The family conflicts the texts have their characters be trapped in are the conflicts of requiring their own ways and still being loved by their families. And as the family stands for cultural background and cultural diversity this on a general level means no less than requiring respect for their individual cultures, and if not respect, then at least acceptance of the way they have chosen to be. Characters require those rights for themselves which are granted to all the cultures around them.

Yet, this conflict shows differently with female and male characters. Female characters tend to show their culture of origin as a naive and simple culture of taboos, passivity, and running wild at the same time, yet, as being strong as far as women are concerned. Women and men are equally passive. Still, there is a difference between men and women: Men whenever they are not engaged in ruling over their families, and having sex feel a lot of pity for themselves and do not care about anything apart from them. Women on the other hand bear all the burden of every day life and care for others. All in all, men are shown to be weak, although they see themselves as strong, and women are shown to be the really strong ones although they appear to be weak at the same time because they are shaped and dominated by their cultural upbringing. Things simply happen to them: Men happen to them, sex happens to them, even political party membership happens to them. Male sexuality, nakedness of both sexes within the family and in the public bath, children of both sexes touching the other‘s genitals and seeing adult‘s genitals, masturbation, and vulgar language equally used by women and men are considered natural. Yet, the use of vulgar terms is not a sign of despise but of low social standing. People simply do not know better. And interestingly enough, within this social context prostitutes are seen as something like holy women by married women because they relieve them from a part of their sexual duties as wives. With male characters on the other hand you have two different patterns of showing their cultures of origin in the texts. 2nd generation characters see males living their cultures of origin in every day life as robust patriarchs without justification. This is particular true of the character’s fathers who equally rule over their sons and daughters. In the male context the use of vulgar language is restricted to men, and it is not a sign of low social standing but of exercising traditionally earned power over family members and of exercising power over others by insulting them. Verbal insult is a means of power. At the same time the character’s cultures of origin stand for directness and simplicity of emotion, for social ties which give backing, for unchangeable rules and values you can rely on (both for the positive and for the negative). It is a culture of acting on instinct, and by this providing safety, especially as far as relationships with women are concerned. Male 1st generation characters simply see their cultures of origin as the morally superior and outstanding cultures compared to others.6

With the character’s cultures of identity things become even more diverse. Again you find differences between men and women concerning what is said in the texts. Yet, as you again  have to differentiate between the surface of description, and what might be read as a subtext you find that on a subtext level male and female characters are quite close to each other in terms of their cultures of identity. On the surface 1st generation female migrant characters live a life in at least spatial independence from their families. They travel, have jobs, are politically and intellectually active, have sex in open, sometimes even short-term relationships, they drink alcohol, sometimes they take drugs. 2nd generation female characters are strongly linked to and affected by the patterns of their parents‘ cultures of origin because they first of all live with families clinging to their cultures of origin in the new place. With male characters the 2nd and 3rd generation characters are the most interesting ones. Those characters are presented as the sex maniacs mentioned in the introduction who love to consume too much alcohol and drugs. They are focussing upon their personal shapes most of the time which means focussing upon their sexual frustration or satisfaction. One recurring theme in this context is military duty to be served and being seen as a period of sexual emergency. Still, there are two types within the male 2nd and 3rd generation community. The first type is shown as rather female in explicit comparison to his father. He is an intellectual, uses an elevated register of language in talking about sex and women, helps in the household and with cooking, and reflects a lot about his emotional, physical and intellectual state. The second type is the „true“ man in terms of his  fathers‘ traditional values and upbringing. He uses vulgar language in talking about his own sexuality and in talking badly about women he has a relationship with but is not married to and about having sex with them, and he uses this vocabulary to show he is a „true“ male concentrating on the „real“ things in life: i. e. not spending energy on thinking but on having sex as often as possible. His main topics of conversation consequently are his sexual satisfaction and his sexual state of emergency while serving his military duty. For him men belonging to the first type are no „true“ men but what he prefers to call wimps. For most 1st generation male migrants their cultures of identity are identical their cultures of origin.

As soon as you reach for the subtext beyond this surface you reach an interesting result. Obviously, everything told in the texts is about breaking taboos of the culture of origin. And concerning this issue there is absolutely no difference between men and women. The ways may be different but the results are the same. Breaking taboos by doing what is not welcome in the context of their cultures of origin or even talking about taboos of their cultures of origin in public is considered a sign of thinking and acting progressively. Breaking taboos is an indicator of emancipatory ambitions as may be learned from feminist literature as well. An identity of breaking away from cultural traditions stands for cultural progressivity and emancipation. Characters obviously try to tell people of the dominant culture we are modern people, we are like you because we behave like you do. In fact, however, they behave according to the stereotypes concerning the dominant culture they have taken over. They live stereotypes. And even in doing so they are still dominated by the patterns of their cultures of origin. They still are shaped by naivety and passivity in their acting. They drift from love affair to love affair, from relationship to relationship, from flat to flat, from place of residence to place of residence, from book to book they write, from the country of origin to a foreign place, from the foreign place to the country of origin, and still never feel at home. Things still happen to them just as they have happened to the people who have stayed. And still, with all this there remains the wish to be loved by a single person, by the family, by society. Feeling at home means to feel this love as it stands for the respect of their cultural individuality they are longing for.

Summing up this is what those texts may tell readers about the way migrants see their own cultures and how they want others to see them. They want to be seen as individuals and they want to be respected as individuals, and in particular, as open-minded, progressive individuals. This is what they regard at the heart of integration. Yet, what stays in the minds of average German readers is the surface of the texts, and this gives them just the opposite impression. In their minds the image of people remains whose mentality violates their values of good taste, of law and order, and of respect concerning others, in particular women. They do not meet open minded people longing for emancipation in those texts but people who are not willing to adapt to the local customs and values, and who are not willing to integrate. So whatever the way the character’s cultures of origin and identity are presented may be able to teach readers about integration it may have the opposite effect depending on who reads the texts.

 

 

How do migrants experience their first contacts with a new foreign language, and how do they experience their first attempts to learn this language

 

Concerning the experience of a first contact with the German language you only find a few hints in the texts dealing with 1st generation migrants. Those passages describe what can be called an unregulated foreign language acquisition. Emine Sevgi Özdamar in one of her texts gives a quite interesting description of this first experience. The female protagonist says learning her first German words has been like singing „I can’t get no satisfaction“ without having an idea of what the single words mean.7 She simply studies words and headlines from newspapers and advertisements by heart and tries to pronounce them without knowing their meanings. In general it is typical of this situation that migrants do not learn standard German in this process but rather the language of the streets and the so-called „Gastarbeiterdeutsch“ which German native speakers create by omitting endings of conjugation and declination when talking to foreigners. The character’s first step in this process is to use gestures and signs to show what they mean when doing their shopping, a next one to recognize similarities in sound between German words and words of their mothertongue, still another one remembering some words they need regularly or which people use regularly at the work place. Attempts of teaching German to migrants keep at a basic level in those texts.

As far as the consequences of learning a language this way are concerned, it becomes obvious that migrants experience this situation as an act of isolation and alienation from social life around them. This strongly shows in those passages which describe how learning German is seen as a suitable way to start a relationship with a female or a male native speaker, and how much phrases and idioms of a language tell you about the native speakers‘ mentality and their way of thinking and dealing with problems.

 

 

How do they experience their first steps in exploring their new surroundings

 

As with language acquisition this experience only concerns 1st generation migrants. Whereas the inability of speaking the foreign language is seen as a factor of isolation, isolation is almost no issue with exploring surroundings at the new place. The circumstances of taking hold of the new place are rather seen both as a disturbing loss of privacy and as a temporary state of insecurity.

The first stage in this process is the journey itself from Turkey to Germany. Characters experience this journey by train as a first loss of privacy. They have to stay for two days and more in one compartment together with five people who have all taken their habits with them, and they feel to be under constant supervision by their fellow migrants. Unexpectedly, the arrival in Germany does not have the quality of a warm welcome but rather that of stranding at a cold railway station and of a bus taking them to their migrant hostels. So arriving does not mean arriving but instead staying in a state in-between. The second loss of privacy is provided by the migrant hostels with their multi-person sleeping rooms. Again you have to share a comparatively small room with strangers. In the texts there are homosexuals among those strangers who have sex during the night, people who leave their things everywhere, and people who maybe sleep with their clothes on and with their toothbrushes in hand all night to be prepared for the morning. Yet, there is no chance to escape from this lack of privacy as pay is low and rents for flats are high.

No matter whether characters like it or not, the migrant hostel is their only territory which at first is only left for the way to work. Around this territory the characters draw a sort of invisible circle which is quite narrow first but becomes more extended in time. Inside the circle there is safe territory. Leaving the circle and by this extending it is strongly linked to activities, primarily shopping, but at a later instance also going to meet fellow migrants who stay at other hostels, meeting students of the same nationality, going to the cinema. All those moves out of the safe territory are undertaken together with people of the same nationality. All in all, territory is literally taken and secured step by step, bus-ride by bus-ride, and walk by walk. The ultimate move out of the circle which afterwards includes the whole city and all of Germany mostly is taken by beginning a relationship or a friendship with a member of the dominant population.

 

 

How do migrants experience their ghetto-situation resulting from cultural isolation, language problems and strange surroundings

 

„Du bist Kurdin, du bist so schön wie unsere kurdischen Frauen.“ (You most certainly are of Kurdish origin, you are as beautiful as our Kurdish women are)8

 

On this issue sociological research has been done. Konrad Köstlin, for instance, gives a detailed and pointed analysis of how a lack of cultural respect and a lasting state of involuntary cultural isolation affects individuals, and groups of people. They turn to the inside of their groups, tightening ties there and tending to overestimate the value of their cultures of origin in order not to feel inferior and lost.9 Reading the texts you meet exactly those mechanisms detected by sociological research.

Still, there are even some more patterns of behaviour to be found in the texts which are not mentioned in Köstlin’s essay. First, you have both solidarity within the group and towards the outside world and social profiling by displacing among the group members. In Özdamar’s description of the situation at the hostel you see exactly this: the women are divided into moral categories according to their behaviour and sent to different rooms by the administrative head of the hostel after quarrels and fighting between the women have gone on for some time.10 Secondly, as mentioned above, migrant characters build some sort of a personal territory. Within this territory they move, and form social ties not only with members of their cultural background but also with fellow migrants of different cultural backgrounds. You find multicultural structures within the migrant group, but you lack them within the rest of society. Thirdly, you may also find the opposite pattern of migrants who have been in Germany for some time looking down on newcomers by talking about them as „Ausländer“ (foreigners). And fourthly, still another pattern aims at stereotyping not only the dominant population but fellow migrants too. Fellow migrants are forced into stereotypes according to their nationality and their ethnic belonging.

In general the migrant characters experience their situation in Germany as a state of permanent social insecurity. There is no lasting perspective concerning income, housing, work permit, and permit of residence. They just live in the present, and in the past. The past means their cultures of origin including their religion. The present means turning back to their past for some, for others it means turning to alcohol, drugs, music, and women. Both types of characters look down on the dominant population’s life style. Those characters who have turned towards their past do this on a moral basis, the others rather on discriminatory grounds. Both turn against migrant members who stay in contact with members of the dominant population. For them they have lost their honour. Members of the first group allege that those people have morally deteriorated, have betrayed their cultural heritage, i. e. their families, and prefer to live sinful lives. Migrant women, no matter of which generation, who live an emancipated life are commonly accused to be prostitutes by male fellow migrants. Members of the second group accuse migrants contacting Germans of having conformed to the dominant population, and of betraying their personal and cultural identities by taking discrimination and not fighting against it. Identity is defined by delimitating from the dominant population.

The most common way of breaking the barrier, however, is starting and having a relationship with a female or male member of the dominant population. In some of these relationships the aspect of exotism is involved in the texts. Yet, just like the migrant’s life in Germany those relationships tend to be shown as being of double standard. You find the vulgar language mentioned above, e. g. being used by a Kurdish character said to be active for Amnesty International, and being a German politician’s lover in stating to be glad that so many German men are homosexuals so migrants have a better choice of German women being ready to get „bonked“.11 You meet characters having two or more relationships at the same time, and you come across characters who are looking for a relationship as a chance of having their permit of residence prolonged. All in all relationships with members of the dominant population are frequently seen as an opportunity to climb up the social ladder, whereas splitting up may lead you down the social ladder again.

 

 

Patterns of „not discussing“ what is experienced as aspects of cultural difference

 

All which has been said so far shows that obviously stating cultural differences instead of discussing what is experienced as cultural differences is at the heart of all the problems, disappointment, frustration, and misunderstandings involved in migration and integration. Intercultural strategies are neglected. Either both sides stay where they are, or they both withdraw to their own territories. The wish for safety is predominant. Getting involved in an intercultural discussion on cultural differences is apparently seen as giving up part of your safety. Intercultural communication is based on giving and taking, on giving up positions and accepting positions. And this means risking a state of insecurity. So it may look safer not to discuss what you think to be cultural difference.

Although this phenomenon turns up with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation characters, it is rather restricted to communication between migrants and members of the dominant population, and to communication between migrants and those who have stayed in their native country. It does not appear in communication among migrants no matter which generation they belong to. Preferred situations the texts use to turn this phenomenon into fiction are relationships between men and women, states of conflict between parents who do not have migrated and their migrant children, and sharing flats with members of the dominant population instead of staying at one of the migrant hostels. With Selim Özdogan you even find stories which turn this very special communication gap itself into literary action showing how the two characters involved mis-interpret the situation. Because of lacking verbal communication they misunderstand the other’s actions.12 However, „not discussing“ is not „not discussing“. As far as the texts analysed are concerned there may be found four different patterns of „not discussing“ which are described in the following, and illustrated by at least one example taken from one of the texts.

Pattern No. 1: A single, individual behaviour is recognized as being different by the migrant character. It is not discussed with anybody but defined a cultural difference and integrated into the character’s store of experience as a common feature of the dominant culture. As the character is eager to be progressive and willing to integrate, he accepts the feature without discussion.

In Özdamar’s book „Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde“ this pattern shows in how the protagonist analyses her life at the flat she shares with both men and women and what she has seen at a lake in East Berlin. One of the women’s lovers repeatedly walks naked in the flat, and at the lake there are quite a lot of naked men to be seen in public. The protagonist wonders about this, however, she does not talk about it to her flat-mates or her colleagues.13 Instead she reflects on being used to the sight of naked women because she has visited public baths back in Turkey. But naked men in front of female strangers puzzle her. Nevertheless she is sure to get used to this as she considers it just normal German behaviour, and she really wants to be a modern, socialist woman. And indeed, she does. What she does not reflect on (because obviously she does not know) is that the situation she has experienced is just common with young people of the contra-traditional, revolutionary generation of post-1968 but not with the more traditional generations of the German population.

Pattern No.2: This pattern starts by experiencing a single, individual behaviour, too, which is not discussed either but defined as a cultural difference instead, and integrated into the migrant’s store of experience because the migrant wants to be seen as a progressive and modern person. Yet, in contrast to pattern No.1 the migrant feels inferior because he lacks this feature and starts questioning his/ her identity.

Again there is a good example to be found in Özdamar’s book14 when the protagonist feels lonely and is looking for a partner. Unfortunately at her workplace, the Volksbühne in East Berlin, there are just married men. Nevertheless, she wonders why she hasn’t got an affair with one of them as some are quite attractive and seem to be interested. Obviously she considers having an affair with a married man to be common among German women because she starts wondering whether she might be conservative as a consequence.

Pattern No.3: In this case migrant characters come across a common behaviour which is seen as being different by the character. It is not discussed but again defined as a cultural difference, and as being normal among the dominant population at the same time. However, the difference is recognized as a non-compatible feature in terms of the migrant’s culture of origin. It is used as a stereotype in justifying explicitly and openly the decision to withdraw to the own cultural sphere.

This pattern may be found in a passage of Saliha Scheinhardt’s latest novel „Lebensstürme“15 when she relates the circumstances of  the female protagonist‘s mother’s visit at her daughter‘s home in Germany. One night visitors come. The protagonist’s mother retires to her room but unexpectedly sneaks to the living room and sees her daughter and her visitors standing around a bowl filled with liquid. When she asks what they are drinking one of the visitors says „Kompott, Gnädige Frau“ (Boiled fruit with juice, Madam). The mother leaves without a word, and the protagonist is sure her mother is suspicious about it but still thinks that she has not realized that the drink was alcohol. But she is wrong. Some days later her mother tells her she excatly knew what she had been drinking, and that she was definitely convinced that her daughter has just moved to Germany to be among people of her kind, meaning drinking alcohol and living in sin. A second example can be found in Selim Özdogan’s story „Opferfest“.16 The protagonist wants to celebrate the Festival of Sacrifice just like back home in Turkey. He wants to kill a sheep in the appropriate way. Yet, this is not allowed in Germany at that time. So he defines the German laws as being discriminating because they keep a true Muslim from celebrating his religious feasts, and starts looking for a sheep. During a Sunday picnic he meets a shepherd and although not speaking a word of German he convinces the shepherd to sell him one of his sheep. Then he talks his friend into letting him use his bathroom to kill the sheep. He is successful in talking him into this but the bathtub is too small for the procedure, and so he is not able to kill the animal with the first cut through its throat. His family does not dare to interfere but tell him he will go to hell for this. Finally he simply chops the sheep into pieces but still is convinced it’s all the German’s fault.

Pattern No.4: With this pattern once more a single, individual behaviour is recognized as being different; yet, it is not discussed but defined as a cultural difference, which is common with the dominant population, but incompatible with the own culture of identity. However, with this pattern, the characters do not withdraw openly but just inside. They do not justify or explain their actions explicitly and publicly within the appropriate context. They withdraw without telling others why. Instead they may give different reasons as an excuse, and so it may take the others some time to realize the inner withdrawal which has become a public one. It needs a spacial distance for those characters to reflect openly on their real reasons, and from the distance, and not before their withdrawal has been completed they may tell others about their motives, still, this is not done directly but via some medium, e.g. a letter.

An excellent example of this pattern is Feridun Zaimoglu’s book „Liebesmale. Scharlachrot“.17 The intellectual protagonist has been living with a German woman for some years, but has had a long-term affair with another woman in another city at the same time. Both women are typically German for him although they are presented as two different types of German women. To his mind they have in common that they use their heads too much in their relationships for his liking, they are both academics, and they like to have sex with him. Apart from this they are quite different. The woman he lives with seems to organize her life according to some invisible schedule which she also tries to impose on him, she lacks spontaneity and flexibility. Sunday mornings she wants to have sex with her partner, she wants him to whisper dirty words into her ear in order to get aroused, and she expects him to take contraceptive measures. When he forgets to one time she gets hysterical, throws him out of their bed, and runs for the doctor to get an abortion pill. He feels trapped and imprisoned in this relationship, he lacks the erotic kick to stay interested in his partner. His lover on the other hand is spontaneous and erotic, yet, she transforms everything they are, do, and say onto a metaphorical level. For her their love is of a universal quality. Two cultures, two cultural histories are mingling and fusing when they are making love to each other, and she enjoys this symbolic experience. For some time the protagonist has them both as he does not want to make up his mind which one to keep. After some time, however, he loses interest in both, and instead of discussing with them what he considers to be cultural incompatibilities within their relationships he looks for an excuse to go to Turkey for some time alone. He does not want to tell them that he feels discontented with their relationships because he considers their lifestyle too complicated for him. Instead he tells both women he wants to do some writing. Whereas his partner gets furious about this, and throws him out of their flat, and out of their relationship, his lover accepts without discussion that he needs to have some time to be creative. So he leaves for Turkey to stay with his parents at their summer house at the Aegean coast. Only one of his Turkish friends knows where he is. He also knows that the protagonist wants to split up with both of his German women, and he supports him with this by telling him he should not be and not talk that intellectual and fine, and simply look for a girl to sleep with. When the protagonist unexpectedly receives letters from both of his German women he starts to correspond with them, however, still without telling them he is not interested in them anymore. Instead he writes letters to both of them full of reminiscences of deeply erotic situations. In those letters to his ex-partner he talks about his frustration with their relationship for the first time. Nevertheless, he still does not talk about the cultural aspect of his frustration. He keeps this aspect covered towards both of his women. Just the reader gets to know as soon as the protagonist meets a young Turkish woman he does not consider attractive at first sight but then falls in love with after she has flirted openly with him, kissed him in public, and put her hand into his trousers and firmly grabbed his buttocks. She is as simple, direct and spontaneous as he prefers women to be. And as if to confirm this: She uses “Nivea Crème”, and none of the elaborate products women use for their body care nowadays. In fact  he falls for her when he realizes this scent on her while hunting scorpions together with her and her brother: „Ich hätte gern den Scheißstecken weggeschmissen und ihren Wickelrock gelöst, doch das kam hier gar nicht in Frage, ihr irrer Bruder hätte mich bestimmt den lebenden Skorpionen zum Fraß vorgeworfen. Ich kam nicht umhin, in der Luft zu schnuppern, und da roch ich den alt vertrauten Duft, der mich bei Frauen um den Verstand bringt, Nivea-Handcreme und sonst nichts, die Creme der ersten Stunde, die Creme unserer Mütter und Schwestern, bevor sie auf das teure Zeug umstiegen. Ich war plötzlich beflügelt, ich stieß mich vom Boden ab ...“.18 Both of his German women, however, have to do without this knowledge. At the end of the book they still do not know he has got bored with them for the reason of cultural stereotyping.

 

 

Patterns of intercultural communication gaps resulting from this

 

This paper has started by showing what German literary texts written by authors of Turkish origin may teach readers on how migrants see the German culture, and it has, in doing so, pointed out that stereotyping is strongly involved in all this. Indeed, creating and re-assuring stereotypes are the most important consequences of those intercultural communication gaps resulting from „not discussing“ what is experienced as culturally different behaviour. The migrant characters prove the stereotypes they have defined concerning the dominant population as being common by their actions and behaviour. At one extreme they turn into the more genuine Germans, at a second extreme they flee to a sub-culture existing parallel to what is said to be common German culture, and break commu

nicative ties. And just as you can follow four different patterns of „not discussing“ in the texts analysed you also find four different patterns of possible consequences which will be described, and illustrated by at least one example in the following in the same order as they are linked to the  patterns presented in the previous point of discussion.

Pattern No.1: In this case the migrant character takes over the behaviour he has defined to be typical but which in fact is not un-reflectedly. In doing so the migrant again lives according to a minority pattern because the dominant population is as in-homogenous in their behaviour as migrants are. Nevertheless the roots of cultural origin are still present and are not seen as cultural deficiency.

Good examples taken from the texts are passages showing migrants of Turkish origin taking over habits like cleaning their cars on weekends, and others watching them and agreeing that obviously the Turkish people have turned into Germans as they have taken over their habits. Another again is Özdamar’s female protagonist in „Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde“, who has a number of changing, short-term relationships and love affairs which start quite abruptly and lead to sexual intercourse on the very first night.

Pattern No.2: With this pattern the migrant character acts as with No.1, yet, with the important difference that he breaks with all ties to his/ her culture of origin. Apart from this he/ she deliberately and aggressively turns against fellow migrants of the same nationality by calling them names. The dominant expression for this is „Kanake“, which originally has been used by rightwing people to insult and provoke migrants of Turkish origin. At the same time he/ she also turns against members of the dominant population who act according to a multicultural conviction because he feels insulted by their understanding tone. This tone makes him/ her feel different from them, and he does not want to be treated as being different but he wants to be respected as being normal in his individuality.

Although there are some good examples in the texts there is still a more striking example of this pattern in the film „Gegen die Wand“.19 The protagonist has tried to erase his cultural roots so hard in trying to assimilate that he even is not able to speak Turkish fluently anymore. He says of himself that he has thrown his Turkish away. When he talks about Turkish migrants and about Turkish customs, he frequently refers to them as „Kanakenscheiße“.

Pattern No.3: The migrant character turns against the dominant population and their home country on moral grounds in this pattern. Yet, he/ she stays because living conditions, e.g. medical care and old age pension, are more favourable than in the native country. Staying is justified by disagreeing with the common lifestyle which again is justified by the own moral superiority.

An enlightening example of this pattern is the female protagonist’s mother in Saliha Scheinhardt’s „Lebensstürme“, who completely withdraws to religion during her stay in Germany. She locks herself in her room, reads the Koran, does not take part in any family activities, and goes to the local protestant church to do her prayers. But she stays as long as possible to cure her illness. Another example of that sort is that character in Selim Özdogan‘s story who unsuccessfully tries to kill the sheep. He shouts at and complains about the unbelieving, and discriminating Germans as often as possible, and takes an effort in pointing out that he only stays because they have such excellent doctors who have already saved his life once.

Pattern No.4: Those characters try to integrate by starting a relationship with a member of the dominant population. At the same time they do not believe that there is any chance of leading a multicultural life in Europe. They understand personal relationships as cultural relationships. The relationship stands for a multicultural existence in Germany and Europe. That’s why under the surface they may not be satisfied with their relationships, do not talk about this, and do neither keep their relationships really up nor really break them as there is nothing better around. Instead they have more than one relationship. As soon as they find a partner belonging to their cultures of origin they fall for him/ her and now break the multicultural relationship. The new relationship stands for cultural homecoming. However, the multicultural relationship may have also been happy but breaks because the German partner dies or gets a divorce. In any case, the multicultural relationships are desperately disillusioned comments on the chance of multicultural life in Europe.

Examples to be mentioned are the protagonist in Feridun Zaimoglu’s „Liebesmale. Scharlachrot“, who has already been introduced, and again the male protagonist in „Gegen die Wand“ who had been married happily to a German woman and has been widowed in the meantime before he runs into the female protagonist of the film. Although she is of Turkish origin she does not really stand for cultural homecoming as she is desperately trying to break away from her culture of origin in order to live a cliché of European liberties full of one night stands with men she meets in bars and discotheques and whom she does not really know. To earn this liberty she has talked the male protagonist into marrying her. Consequently their relationship ends in frustration for the male protagonist at the end of the film, too. After having fallen in love with her, he goes to prison because of her life style. She moves to Istanbul, there deteriorating to a drug addict, being raped, and after being almost killed by men on the street at night living with a Turkish man and having a child with him. After being released from prison the male protagonist goes to Istanbul to search for her who has fallen in love with him in the meantime, too. They spend some days in a hotel room, and he plans their escape from the city. However, she does not appear at the bus station, and he leaves alone on the coach to Mersin. So both end up in places and situations they never wanted to live in: She lives a conventional wife’s life having a child. He goes to live in the city of his birth at the South-eastern coast of Turkey. Both characters have involuntarily returned to their cultural roots in the end, however, not on a metaphorical, symbolic level but physically.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Summing up the texts analysed may teach us the following on migration and integration:

First of all the only generalization allowed is that there is no generalization concerning migrants, migration and integration.

Secondly, liberty is essential for migrants. For them liberty on the one hand means being allowed to break the social, moral, religious and political taboos of their cultures of origin – or even to talk openly i. e. in public about them without restriction, and on the other hand, being allowed to live according to their original cultural and religious customs without restriction.

Thirdly, they see exactly this sort of liberty at the heart of the respect they expect to get as individuals from the members of the dominant culture.

Fourthly, they regard everything as discriminating which restricts the liberties mentioned above. And they soon have to learn that even in the guest country liberty is relative, it’s only there as long as you keep to the rules of the dominant population. As soon as migrants feel discriminated they may start overestimating the position of their culture of origin in order to reinforce their self-esteem. That is the point where the idea of values being incompatible with each other starts. It serves as a potential source of conflict as the migrant’s stereotyped image of the guest country is to be a place of total, almost anarchic, freedom and liberty. What you have got here is a conflict of expectations – in general as far as the rules are concerned and in particular as far as the cultural values are concerned – which may serve as a troublemaker as most of the taboos of the migrant’s culture of origin may not be taboos in the dominant culture but still values of some sort, e. g. social, moral, and religious values. Even if native people may not look too closely at how well their countrymen stick to those values they will most certainly have a very close look at how well the guests – and migrants are considered guests by the dominant population even when they are 2nd and 3rd generation migrants – respect those values. On the other hand this does not mean that they feel obliged to respect the migrant’s values. And as there is a lot of stereotyping involved on both sides they both think their values are miles and miles apart. Neither the migrants nor the members of the dominant population are aware of how close most of their values are.  

Fifthly, as soon as they feel discriminated migrants also may start to disregard the laws of the country they or their parents and grandparents have migrated to. And this, most certainly, has a negative effect on the dominant population’s stereotypes concerning migrants. As a consequence both sides show a lack of respect because they feel a lack of respect.

Finally, the texts may teach us that you have to earn respect by showing respect. You cannot force people to respect things.

So all in all, provided respecting cultures and mentalities comes first, integration will come as its consequence.

 

 


Notes

 

1See Carmine Chiellino: Interkulturalität und Literaturwissenschaft, in: Chiellino, Carmine (Hg.): Interkulturelle Literatur in Deutschland, Stuttgart 2000, 387-398, here: 387-390.

2See Deniz Göktürk: Migration und Kino – Subnationale Mitleidskultur oder transnationale Rollenspiele, in: Chiellino, Carmine (Hg.): Interkulturelle Literatur in Deutschland, Stuttgart 2000, 329-348, here: 332-337.

3Selim Özdogan: „Opferfest“, in: Selim Özdogan: Trinkgeld vom Schicksal, Berlin 2003, 203-213, here: 205.

4Emine Sevgi Özdamar: Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde, Köln 2003, 146.

5See Konrad Köstlin: Kulturen im Prozeß der Migration und die Kultur der Migrationen, in: Chiellino, Carmine (Hg.): Interkulturelle Literatur in Deutschland, Stuttgart 2000, 365-387, here: 365-371.

6This aspect has been discussed in detail in: Sargut Sölcün: Literatur der türkischen Minderheit, in: Chiellino, Carmine (Hg.): Interkulturelle Literatur in Deutschland, Stuttgart 2000, 135-153.

7See Emine Sevgi Özdamar: Die Brücke vom Goldenen Horn, Köln 2002, 11.

8See Emine Sevgi Özdamar: Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde, Köln 2003, 41.

9See Köstlin: 367-368, 372-375.

10Özdamar: Brücke vom Goldenen Horn, 40-41.

11Emine Sevgi Özdamar: Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde, Köln 2003, 41.

12E. g. see Selim Özdogan: „Lange her“, in: Selim Özdogan: Trinkgeld vom Schicksal, Berlin 2003, 69-71.

13See Özdamar: Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde, Köln 2003, 76, 136.

14See Özdamar: Seltsame Sterne starren zur Erde, 90-146.

15See  Saliha Scheinhardt: Lebensstürme, Frankfurt am Main 2000, 54.

16See Selim Özdogan: „Opferfest“, in: Selim Özdogan: Trinkgeld vom Schicksal, Berlin 2003, 203-213.

17See Feridun Zaimoglu: Liebesmale, scharlachrot, Köln 2002. 

18Zaimoglu: Liebesmale, scharlachrot, 159.

19„Gegen die Wand“, directed by Fatih Akin, released 2004.

 

 

 

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