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Category: Culture Clashes

Schrödinger’s Immigrant

The human mind functions in mysterious ways. It believes what you want it to believe. Once it’s made up, it will scrape for ideas to support that belief, and it will dismiss every piece of information that contradicts it. It will blindly swallow whatever resonates with it and promptly reject everything that doesn’t.

As I mentioned earlier this week 1, I can understand that not everyone can be into languages and traveling. Maybe you had a bad experience in French class back in school, maybe you live in a fascinating country and never felt the need to go abroad. And that’s alright.

I can even understand that some people might be afraid of foreigners, diversity, and basically everything that involves a degree of strangeness. We gravitate towards what’s similar. The cultural bubble in which we grew up becomes the standard for “normality”. The mind feels at ease around what’s familiar and certain, and it startles at what’s different and uncanny.

However, being reluctant towards what’s unfamiliar is one thing. Another completely different issue is displaying irrational, latent animosity towards it. Where is this hatred coming from? Did that French class go really wrong? Were these people wronged by foreigners? Do they just have very small penises? So many questions.

I need answers. I ask and listen to their arguments. Their minds are made up, and will cling on to that belief no matter how poorly founded. The mind will recite he same ol’ broken record: “Immigrants destroy our economy. They steal our jobs, increasing the unemployment rate among locals; they are lazy shits who sit around all day leeching off of state benefits”.

Well, hold on a second. Are immigrants ambitious overachievers who take all our jobs, or are they too lazy to work? It took me a long time to unveil the logic behind this argument. Hours of complex thinking and scientific analysis. But don’t worry, I figured it out:

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Schrödinger's Immigrant, racist arguments, economy

 

Now, let’s get serious for a moment. Let’s assume that you did in fact have a horrendous experience with foreigners and your aversion is somehow justified. Let’s focus on the one thing that makes the world go round: money. I’m not an expert in economy (I’m not even good at Math) but I do have a basic understanding of it: those who work pay taxes, and that tax money is used – among other things – to support those who don’t work (retired citizens, children, etc).

The legal working age in my country (and I’m willing to bet it’s the same throughout Europe) is 16. Within the first 16 years, the state spends around 150.000 € per person in education and health coverage. Once you reach the legal working age, you can become a cog in the system and contribute to the gold pot with your taxes – although let’s be honest, in reality people start working much later.

When foreigners move to your country, they find jobs, and they start paying taxes from day one. Yes, their taxes aren’t as high as the average local, basically because foreigners are usually paid less – especially at the beginning 2. Yes, sometimes their salary is so low that they need additional support, such as reduced housing prices or food aid. Nonetheless, the amount of money that the state spends in these cases is laughably ridiculous compared to that initial capital invested in every national. No country takes in foreigners out of altruism. It’s sad, but it’s true.

So, you can keep hating immigrants as much as you want. You can keep reciting the same ol’ broken record and blaming them for the ailing economy.

But the fact is, your aging country desperately needs them.

The Octopus Cashier

Just as Romania has vampires and Ireland has leprechauns, Germany also has a species of its own: the octopus cashier. These powerful creatures dwell in grocery stores nationwide under a humanoid disguise, but their true colors surface whenever a customer approaches the check-out. This cephalo-mammalian hybrid is highly trained to scan a bazillion items per minute by unfolding its multiple extremities and hurling produce in the air at ultrasonic speed.

The customers, subjected to their slow-paced human condition, have no other choice than to randomly shove the groceries into their bags. Woe betide thee if your money is not at the ready when the octopus cashier scans the last item. This last item indicates the finish line, and if you are still packing, you will be scorned by the other humans in the check-out line 3. They will start rolling their eyes impatiently while muttering “Das geht doch gar nicht!”. Avoid this situation at all costs by trying out these tips:

#1 – Team work: Drag your partner to the store. Four arms still won’t equate to the manpower of the octopus cashier, but if you train your team-packing skills, one of you will be ready to whip out the money while the other finishes stacking whatever is left.

#2 – Go green: Buy tons of fruits and vegetables. They will slow down the octopus cashier considerably, since produce needs to be weighed and have its code entered in order to be priced. Also, fruits and vegetables are good for you and stuff.

#3 – Screw it. Get a cart and shove absolutely every item into it as the octopus cashier tosses them past the scanner. Pay, leave the store, and peacefully stack your supplies into bags. Warning: do at your own risk. This option usually involves a couple of broken eggs and burst yogurts.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, German Cashiers, high-speed, express register

Good luck with your future endeavors in your next encounter with the octopus cashier. You know what? I’m in the mood for calamari now. Maybe I should pay our molluscan friends a visit.

Christmas Decorations

Growing up in Southern Spain, every year we would wrap our Christmas decorations around the largest plant in the house and the palm trees outside. This is why the widespread practice of using disposable pines is gruesome to me.

Why would you axe-murder a perfectly happy tree, when you can build your own with random junk in your desk, then keep it in a shoe box for the next year?

Expat Gone Foreign, Christmas tree, get creative, save a tree

For this one I used three nails, five meters of green ribbon, red and green cardboard for the ornaments, a regular string of lights and random toys. Ta-dah!

Are you putting up a Christmas tree this year? Get creative, save a tree! 🌳

German Time Measurements

As if the German language weren’t twisted enough with its random gendered articles and convoluted syntax, even simple time structures can mess up your whole schedule. Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, German time, die Uhrzeit auf Deutsch, Deutsche Sprache schwere SpracheIn the spoken language, 3:00, 3:05, 3:10 and so on are easy: drei Uhr (three hour), fünf nach drei (five after three), zehn nach drei (ten after three). But when the minute hand reaches “half past”, Germans take the next full hour as a reference. In German – unlike most languages – “halb drei” wouldn’t be “half past three” but “half past two”, in the sense of “we are half way to three”.

This incident made me realize two things. First, the reason why Germans think of foreigners as “tardy people whose idea of being on time is showing up an hour late”. If you don’t know how time works and get all your appointments at “half”, you are bound to perpetuate the stereotype of the lazy, unpunctual foreigner.

The other thing I realized is that Germans live in the future. Instead of taking the current hour as a reference, they jump on to the next, as if they were anxious to get past the present. For 3:25 they’ll say “fünf vor halb vier”, literally “five before half way to four”. With such a rush to beat time, no one can really enjoy the present. No wonder everyone is so stressed out.

Expat Gone Foreign, linguist, travel and language comics, life abroad

The Language Ninja

You are abroad, little foreigner. Far away from your country, your native language, and your folks. Whether you are living abroad or traveling with friends, foreigners often stick together and use their common language to communicate, and most of the time they assume that there’s no one around who can decipher their messages. Well… watch out, for the language ninja might be right behind you!

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, embarrassing situations abroad, faux pas, native recklessness

Here are some case studies featuring The Language Ninja in action:

Case study #1 (image above)

I’m on the subway in Berlin on my way to meet a friend. The two Spanish women next to me are exchanging workplace gossip, including some disgusting pranks and sketchy office practices that could get more than one person fired. My friend calls me up, I start talking to her in Spanish while I can see the two women going vampiric pale and sweating more than sinners in a church.

Case study #2

I’m getting groceries in a supermarket in Savonlinna (Finland) and two dark-haired guys stare at me as I walk past them. Spaniard A says to Spaniard B: “Look at that curvy goddess”. I turn around and reply: “¿Gracias?”. Hysteric giggles follow. We end up in a karaoke bar singing hits of the 80s.

Case study #3

I’m in a hostel in Stockholm and introduce myself – in English – to a bunch of friendly Austrian guys. I unpack and do my thing while they resume a heated conversation about their sex lives, their numerous partners and their kinkiest bedroom stories. After half an hour one of the Austrians asks me about the location of the showers and I respond in flawless German. The Austrians burst into hysteric laughter, which takes almost ten minutes to dissipate, and spend the next hour apologizing. Later that day I meet their girlfriends, who insist on me tagging along to the bars that night (#solotravel). The Austrian guys spend the night subtly paying for all my drinks in exchange for my silence on their sex stories.

What about you? Have you ever been busted by a language ninja? : )

Latin Lessons & the Roman Empire

Did I ever tell you that Latin is one of my top 5 favorite languages? That’s right. I took Latin back in high-school. We studied the language, learnt about their culture and read Caesar’s Gallic Wars. Sometimes my mind would wander off to things that may or may not have happened during the Roman Empire…

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Latin lessons & the Roman Empire, Before Christ

Exotic Kackendorf Food & Other Culinary Violations

Summer is here! Sun is up, birds chirping, people chilling outside, and a particular grocery store wants to jump on the bandwagon by replenishing its shelves with its so called “Iberic Week”. How nice of them. Mehr Freude für alle 2 . Except for Spaniards. Boy, are we pissed.

Click on the image to listen to some lovely but not really Spanish music watch their spot.

So this adorable couple can enjoy the ultimate Iberic feast on their Berlin terrace just by going to the Lidl next door, for Sol&Mar provides exquisite original Spanish and Portuguese products. Except they are not. They are more like overpriced, Iberic-mimicking and rather unappealing-looking food items that have little to do with our gastronomy.

“What?! They are not Spanish?” – No. Sol&Mar is actually a Lidl brand 2 . Its goal is to skyrocket the company’s sales by selling so called Iberic articles in Germany as well as other European countries (you can read all about it here if you speak Spanish 3 ).

Here’s a screenshot of their commercial spot, depicting two happy Spaniards who go insane over tapas. <irony> Because everyone knows that we walk around in bullfighter clothes and flamenco dresses around the clock. If we aren’t making fiestas or siestas, that is. </irony]>

Look, I get it. Mediterranean cuisine is amazing, no argument here; and when it comes to food, Mediterranean has SALES written all over it. But you can’t just throw a saddle on a cat and call it a horse. Although if you did, it would look like this: 4Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, misleading names, marketing, cat with saddle

Anyhow, the regular John Doe – or Max Mustermann in this case – goes to Lidl to get his groceries. Whereas someone who hasn’t experienced Mediterranean gastronomy might be attracted to the selection and prone to trying something that looks somewhat exotic, we Spaniards feel cheated upon and fairly irritated by these so called Iberic products. It starts with the labeling and naming of the items: spelling and semantic mistakes galore that already tell at first glance that something is off, not to mention the culinary violations acted upon said items.

Never in Spain have I found blueberry, pineapple and peach cream cheese throughout the many years I lived there. Spanish tortilla doesn’t have bacon or sausage bits, and neither do salads. We don’t smoke our ham but salt cure it, and by the way, there’s a difference between jamón serrano and jamón ibérico. At least get the names straight. Moving on, churros don’t belong in the freezer, in fact, the sole idea of prepacked or canned food is vile to us. You want a taste of Iberia? Get some fresh ingredients and cook the damn meal yourself. Food is not meant to be heated up and devoured, but savored and relished. Enjoying a meal starts at the grocery store. That’s the Iberic mindset, right there.

So… if this is just a German brand with clumsy Spanish labels on their products, why do they present them as original Iberic food along with their slogan “A taste of Iberia”? – Well, Sol&Mar does import some produce from Spanish producers, such as cold cuts from Embutidos Monells or canned fish 5 from Conservas Selectas De Galicia, none of which are recognizable companies in Spain (they are however known in Germany for posing health risks). These are transported to Germany, where, along with the peach cheese cream and the red-looking fluid they call gazpacho, they are processed to appeal to a German palate and shipped to the many Lidl stores nationwide.

Again, I get it. People are set in their ways, one can’t be too radical with culinary imports. Every company studies its market and offers articles that will appeal to their customers. Nevertheless (and here’s where we circle back to the original post title), you can’t produce food in Kackendorf 6 and label it as foreign to increase the sales pitch.

“Dude, aren’t you overreacting a bit?” – Maybe. I have to admit that after yesterday’s encounter with the “Iberic week” I was furious. Then, when the anger subsided, I asked myself if this wasn’t just me being petty. Which is why in the past 24 hours I’ve been in full-blown research mode in this world wide web of ours, opening discussion threads and posing various culinary questions. It turns out that it wasn’t just me. They really struck a nerve in Southern Europeans. Here are some comments that I collected on the particular brand at hand, Sol&Mar 7.

“Brits think that if it has chorizo in it, it’s automatically Spanish. Likewise, if it is Spanish, it needs to have chorizo. Whenever I try to explain that paella doesn’t have it, they look at me in astonishment and say that that can’t be right -_-. I can’t even”. (Miguel, Spaniard in the UK who surrendered to the Empire)

“Don’t buy their churros. No matter how you cook them, the result is an appalling thick gum-like paste”. (María, Spaniard in Germany who now questions her cooking skills)

“I’m furious as well. Their products are clearly from Germans for Germans. It’s a Lidl brand and only German staff are involved in designing the references. Main thing is paying little money for food, doesn’t matter how shitty. Germans would rather spend money on technology than decent quality food.” (Paco, Spaniard in Germany who went on full rant mode)

“The more pressing question here is: when are they going to stop defining Spain with the bull and the flamenco dancer? Spain is much more than that crap”. (Isabel, Spaniard in Germany and iconoclast revolutionary) 8

“Cheese with olives and jalapeños sold as typical Spanish. What the heck is happening?!” (Víctor, Spaniard in Germany and potential heart attack victim) 9

“Sheer marketing strategy, shame!” (Laura, Spaniard in Germany who doesn’t beat around the bush)

“Same thing with Mexican products, paprika powder mixed with remolade sauce is sold as chipotle. And don’t get me started on the ingredients they use for burritos, fajitas, tacos and so on”. (Guadalupe, Mexican in Germany who can’t catch a culinary break)

“Beware of their canned anchovies and calamari, explosive diarrhea granted! I found out the hard way.” (Felipe, Spaniard in Germany and temporary worshiper of the porcelain throne)

“Sol&Mar doesn’t exist in Spain because it wouldn’t sell for shit. Mediocre quality that people consume here but we wouldn’t even dare to give to our dogs back home”. (Antonio, Spaniard in Germany and alleged pet owner)

“Same thing with so called Italian products and the horrific modifications they impose on them. I love Germany, but they suck at food. It’s like they can’t tell the difference between good and bad. Do they even have taste buds?” (Sara, Italian in Germany and certified palate expert)

“Who cares? You have a lot of time on your hands, don’t you?” (Luisa, Spaniard in Germany who might be on to something)

Now, let’s not put all the blame on the Germans. With the increasing eagerness to embrace foreignness, every country attempts to provide exotic products, which sometimes results in culinary atrocities that native stomachs find hard to digest.

What the hell kind of a clusterfuck is this?!

For instance, I had always mistakenly had this westernized concept of Chinese cuisine, until I lived with a Chinese person and my taste buds were blown away. Or take the Greek: ouzo is a beverage meant to be consumed along with the meal, like wine. Drinking it in shots, as it is customary in Germany and Northern European countries, is mildly offensive to any Greek person. Also, what is it about the obsession with sauces, creams and dressings? Dishes like Gigantes and Fasolakia are meant to be relished without extraneous additives. And there’s also my ultimate favorite faux pas: the tzatziki ice cream.

But when it comes to enduring culinary violations, the Italians are second to none. From using pesto alla genovese on meats to adding cooking cream to carbonara, they have more than one reason to be pissed at absolutely everyone.

Italian revenge upon Spaniards for our multiple carbonara violations.

And while we are at it, there’s also the absurd haze between the Mexican and Spanish divide. Many a time have I seen Mexican items with decorative flamenco dancers as well as Spanish food with Catrina skulls stickers. Tortillas are the most widespread mistake. The flatbread used for the tasty fajitas and quesadillas is freaking Mexican and not Spanish. Here’s a visual aid to dissipate the confusion:

In conclusion: getting to know other cultures and their cuisine is pretty amazing, but you should watch out for businesses that have no qualms about selling products under a misleading label. There are specialized stores in every major city where you can find the real deal. Even some local stores import foreign brands from time to time. Edeka, for instance, offers the Spanish high-quality brands Ybarra, La Española and El Pozo. On the other hand, Rewe tries to pass off ham as jamón ibérico – with mariachi figurines on the packaging 10.

“Well, if I’m not versed in the culinary tradition that I’d like to delve into, how do I know what’s real and what’s fake?” – Good thing you asked. Do some research and ask native stomachs about the whereabouts of imported products and brands. They always know. In fact, one of the first things most expats do when relocating abroad is to find stores and communities that make them feel more at home.

Likewise, if you live abroad, use every chance to show off the culinary wonders of your country. Invite your indigenous friends over to share your favorite home meals, cook your mom’s recipes with them, bring homemade desserts to work, and so on. You get the idea.

As for the despicable companies that seek profit in selling fake foreignness, here’s my message for you: if pineapple cream cheese appeals to a German clientele, bring it on! Just call it pineapple cream cheese instead of selling it as “crema de queso de piña” with a Spanish flag printed on it accompanied by your “A taste of Iberia” slogan.

Last but not least, you may mix white rice with chorizo all you want, but for fuck’s sake, don’t call it paella.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, exotic food, gastronomy, cultural appropiation