When I first moved to the UK I was apprehensive, because of my country’s history, how would people see me?
On Armistice Day I met a veteran, he asked why I didn’t wear a poppy and I explained that it felt fake because I’m German. He said, the mistakes of your grandparents are not your fault or something to that effect and I was so relieved and I thought this is a country I can belong to and be happy.
I tried to blend in, I even avoided socialising with fellow Germans. I worked so hard to rid myself of my accent, ‘helped’ by being mocked for every consonant I over-pronounced and every V and W I mixed up and later being praised for how astonishing my English was, almost perfect.
I was so desperate to be accepted, kept working hard. But once I told them where I was from suddenly they knew they heard the accent and took it as an invitation to recount whatever gruesome wartime story Uncle so and so had experienced at the hand of my country.
On the 24th June 2016 I was crying, trying to work out where it had all gone wrong, I felt so rejected. It has taken me a while but I now know what I should have known then: every time I was ‘found out to be a German’, as if I was some spy, that my accent wasn’t perfect or too perfect… that’s when I should have known that I would never be accepted.
“At least you can leave and go home.”
Since the 24th June 2016 I have heard that more times than I want to recount. When I go ‘home’ my friends and family quiz me about UK politics as if I am on Newsnight; expected to explain the actions of a country that will always see me as an outsider. The reception at ‘home’ clearly shows me that I no longer belong there either.
I have now lived in the UK longer than I have in Germany, the UK is my home, I am married. Moving and relocating is incredibly difficult and stressful and would mean that my partner is subjected to the treatment I now receive here. What hurts most is that statement “At least you can leave” coming from friends. It is meant to show their own helplessness but to me it shows that they too see me as an alien, an independent appendage that can be severed and carry on living happily ever after, without a home or ties.
Tina, 39, German, in the UK since 1999
First published August 2020
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