Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What do they mean by “integration”?

In a recent debate I had about what we might call the difference between acceptable and unacceptable immigration, I was told that all immigrants to Germany must adopt German culture and values, which is difficult for me because my wife is downstairs watching German comedy. That’s partly why I’m not downstairs with her.

And for my second paragraph, I shall try (no doubt unsuccessfully) to head off the usual howls of protest I get from Germans whenever I discuss the German sense of humour. For the record, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with German comedy, and I know for a fact that Germans have a sense of humour. Please, if you’re German, don’t write and tell me off for saying Germans don’t have a sense of humour. (You will, of course, because no matter how many times I explicitly say you do have a sense of humour, you always tell me I said you didn’t.)

I can’t, however, bring myself to enjoy German humour; certainly not the kind you see on TV. That doesn’t mean German humour is objectively bad, just that subjectively it doesn’t make me laugh. (Right now, two men dressed up as an amateur dramatics idea of a retired couple are throwing sausages into an audience of Germans splitting their sides with hysterical laughter.) So... does this mean I am not integrated? Am I failing to share German culture and values?

I’m quite worried about this, actually. I’ve never liked beer, which puts me at a distinct disadvantage in ways you can’t possibly imagine. On the other hand, I do enjoy the occasional shot of that kind of digestif which smells like cough medicine, which my (German) wife can’t stand, so in that respect I’m more integrated than she is. I suppose that sort of balances out, then.

Another value I can’t bring myself to fully embrace is bus stop etiquette. In Britain, where I grew up, even a single person at a bus stop will, in the immortal words of the great George Mikes, “form an orderly queue of one”. Here, it’s battle-elbows at the ready, and no quarter is given. It takes about twice as long to board a German bus with all that pushing and shoving, yet straight-faced Germans have explained to me, with relentless Teutonic logic, that it’s actually quicker if everyone tries to be first at the same time.

While I am not known for sartorial elegance (just ask my wife and watch her roll her eyes), there are some things I simply will not stoop to. Combining khaki shorts with white socks and brown sandals, for example.

When I’m invited to a birthday party, I find it hard to inflict on the birthday boy/girl an epic yet humorous poem written entirely in iambic tetrameter, and an uncompomising AABB rhyming scheme my wife calls Reim dich oder ich hau dich — rhyme, or I’ll hit you. The strain of making every second line a punchline and the embarrassment of having to briefly pause in order to accentuate said punchline are too much for me to bear.

There’s actually quite a long list of things I am failing to adopt as my own. But I have been making some progress, so I am hoping that if certain parties get voted in they’ll grant me a stay of execution. Since I come from Somerset, liking Apfelwein was quite an easy thing. Slightly more challenging was Sauerkraut, but I think I’ve got the hang of that now. And I am proud to announce that I have mastered the art of looking at my watch and tutting with impatience if a train is more than thirty-five seconds late.

So, it’s hard. I may never attain the Borg-like level of assimilation some might be looking for; I just hope that my efforts so far will be recognised. Please don’t send me back: they have the English Defence League over there.


  1. Not standing in orderly lines (queue), was a big surprise to me when I lived in Germany. With a society obsessed with order it was a complete surprise. I can remember the post office and grocery stores especially.

  2. Well, I'm German and I don't like beer or the kind of humor you describe. The only non news shows I watch on TV are extra3 an Neues aus der Anstalt, which are satire and quite good.