According to popular belief, I had always believed that if you grew up in different cultural circles and could easily feel at home in many places, but didn’t really belong, then you were a kind of mongrel. I said as much the other day to a friend and was rather surprised when she replied: “Ah! but no, that is considered cross-cultural. Something entirely different!” That brought an article to my mind titled something like “It is cool to be mixed“, referring to people such as Tiger Woods (I’d much rather talk about Yul Brynner, ouh là!) who are of mixed racial descent, in fact, a combination of so many races as to make such people stand out from the crowd.
But no, my blood lineage is pretty straightforward Western European. I just happen to have been born and raised in another country. Being forcefully repatriated during junior high, told to learn my second late-beginning mother tongue in lightning rapidity in order to be able to keep up with the stiff standards of a Bavarian Gymnasium (junior and senior high school with a sort of college degree after 13th grade), I pluckily did my best.
As a result, my German is nearly as good as my English and vice versa and my family – an added boon for finding a good job – is 99% bilingual (allowing for 1% of hilarious internal Denglish that only we can understand). Naturally, we fit in everywhere, yet never really belong. That aspect never bothers us much, it is usually the others that point it out. Reactions vary from “How interesting!” to “You’re putting on a show” to being downright hostile “I’ versteh’ di ned (viz. I can’t understand your pronunciation) – “Warum red’st du ned Deutsch med dei’m Bub’n?” (Why don’t you speak German with your boy), certain natives who are wary of anybody who speaks Hochdeutsch, standard German, and more so of users of foreign languages.
Perhaps that is why I tend to seek out interesting people who have a similar background and lifestyle. Perhaps that is my reason for sympathizing with anyone who has experienced racially influenced diffidence or cold-heartedness, be that person from Taiwan or Bosnia or Belgium or Colombia or France or Togo. One thing I am sure of is the fact that I feel most at home with creative people, like musicians, dancers, art-lovers, culturally educated men and women, because in our cultural heritage we can find a common language that speaks from the heart, not from some chauvinistic notion of “my nation first”.
Pineapple cakes – a gift from Taiwan – are not just a delicious snack, I was told that one entire pineapple goes into two miniature cakes, so they have a heart of gold. Just like my friends.