Everyday Racism

We’re currently experiencing a rise in nationalist tendencies – I don’t know if it’s a worldwide phenomenon, but it surely applies to most, if not all, so-called western countries. One of the possible roots of this is the influx of refugees from countries most of us have only ever seen in the news. Depending on which news outlets serve as your major source of information, you’ll either perceive them as people in desperate need of our help, maybe even future pillars of our society, not to mention our pension scheme, or as a threat that will overwhelm your culture, stealing your jobs while simultaneously living on your benefits and raping your women.

Both perspectives offer their individual amount of resentment. As apalling as it is to confront people with instant hatred and suspicion, meeting them with the slightly condescending air of someone out to satisfy their charitable streak holds its own ugliness. Both means looking down on another human being.

Especially in countries like Germany, which took in very high numbers of asylum seekers over the past years, the situation is… interesting? People are unhappy. With more than a million applications to work their way through, the authorities were quickly out of their depth. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, so of course they did nothing for a long time but idle around in refugee camps, living off donations and tax payer money and slowly going crazy. They didn’t get the psychotherapeutical help they would have needed, which led to knife attacks and other incidents ranking as terrorism. They couldn’t sign up for language courses because they lacked the necessary papers. And once they got those documents, they quickly found that even if they have an education, it probably won’t do them much good, because employers won’t recognize their degrees, so even those who should do qualified jobs are forced into shitty ones, willing to work for a pittance just to have any job at all. And now it’s their fault if our wages don’t rise. And that’s just on top of an overall fear of the strange.

I know I’m simplifying things. I desperately want them to be simple. Because they should be. Only they’re not. Looking down on someone doesn’t make matters better though, quite the opposite. We’re – and I hope it is unconsciously – grinding down people who just want to go on with their lives.

During the past months, kicked off by a row over football (that’s socker, Americans) player Mesut Özil, the hashtag #metwo took off on Twitter. People all over Germany shared their experiences with what was referred to as Alltagsrassismus, which translates to everyday racism, or worse, trivial racism, meaning those snippets of ignorance, condescension or downright hatred that will get thrown at you if you’re obviously from somewhere else, because either your accent or your skin color will proclaim you as not a native.

I spent hours trawling those tweets. One thing that initially struck me as odd was how many people complained about the simple question “Where are you from?” I get the same question. To me, it always means the other person is taking an interest. I love asking the question myself, and then go on to find out more about whichever country is the answer, the respective culture, language, music, whatever. That’s how I grew up, as a kid which participated in international Scout camps. The theme song of one of those even included the lyrics “Hey there, where’s your tent/say, where are you from/come and tell about your world/I’ll be happy to listen.” It actually hurt me to have that simple question marked as a racist comment.

Then I started thinking.

I’m an expat. I left my home country for love. I am a EU citizen with all the rights and liberties that entails. I have no intention of swapping my citizenship, and I know I can go home anytime I choose. My home country is not at war, it has a stable economy, people don’t starve there on a regular basis, there’s even a chance for a state-funded pension. The native language is the same as in my country of residence, even if my accent or choice of words gives me away occasionally, much as I try to express myself in Hochdeutsch (German equivalent of Queen’s English). I’m also very white. In other words: I’m one privileged bitch. I might roll my eyes if someone calls me a Schluchtenscheißer (person who takes a crap in a ravine, very subtle allusion to the fact that there are high mountains in Austria), but that’s just lame jokes with no real menace behind them. I’m not a victim of racism.

If someone asks me where I’m from, they perceive me as a person of equal status, as white and educated and European as themselves. They don’t look down on me. They don’t pity me. They listen to my answer. They don’t tell me how I’m not welcome here. They don’t tell me to go back home. That’s a big difference.

If you hear cheap racist or plain ignorant shots all the time, it grinds you down, until even the most simple question will sound like an accusation.

Ever since trawling through those tweets, I’ve tried to examine and, where necessary, correct my behavior. I’ve found what I guess is referred to as reverse racism in my actions, or, to quote from one black woman: “I wish white people would stop smiling at me for no reason.” I’m definitely guilty of that, and I’m sorry. I’ll try my best and continue to listen, and find less stupid ways of showing support.

Look here for a bit of related reading.

 

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Women are more left than men. A possible explanation why.

Research and analysis have shown that women born after 1955 tend to vote more left than their male counterparts, with the gap between those voting groups widening in a sort of inverse relationship to their age – meaning the younger the voting groups, the bigger the gap, which tells us that the female tendency to vote left is increasing. The reasons for that are many, of course. Researchers state aspects like the decline of religiosity, or women showing a stronger preference for redistribution, social justice, stuff like that. While all this – including the rather conservative image of a woman’s role in society that right-wing parties tend to propagate – surely is valid, I figure that there’s one more thing playing into the whole mixture.

In May 2018, a 14-year-old girl named Susanna was raped and murdered by a young Iraqui refugee and asylum seeker in Wiesbaden, Germany. (According to the news, he confessed to the murder, not the rape. Just adding this for the sake of giving the complete picture.) The perpetrator’s brother belonged to Susanna’s circle of friends, which made her something of a regular guest in the asylum seekers’ hostel where his family lived.

The tragedy of a teenage girl being raped and killed by someone she knew and probably trusted to a point instantly drowned amidst a chorus of racist bleating originating from the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, meaning Alternative for Germany), a textbook example right-wing party. And all the subsequent self-righteous tweets and videos and questions along the lines of “When will we stop importing murderers and rapists?” churned up a nasty little thought in my brain…

You fuckheads don’t say a word when the perpetrator is a German. A woman’s right to live, to not be raped, to go wherever she pleases, whenever she pleases, and be safe, only matters to you if the rapist and/or murderer is not ‘one of us’. If you can use the case for your fucked up political agenda.

One in three women in Europe experiences sexual violence in her life. Violence. Not a pat on the ass or a sleazy comment. Actual violence. In Germany, those figures are below European average. ‘Only’ one in twenty women gets raped in her life. ‘Only’ one in ten experiences other forms of sexual violence. Those figures are from a 2004 study. Way before the current influx of refugees the right-wing douchebags try to blame now. Of 20 cases of rape reported to the police every single day (!), 94% of the victims are women. Oh, and that’s not even all, because on average, only 15% of cases even get reported. And here’s the worst of it: 77% of sexual offenses against women are comitted by either their partner, or a friend, or a relative, or someone else they, like Susanna, know and probably trust to a point.

Right-wing parties, as mentioned before, usually propagate a rather conservative image of what a woman’s role should be. Wife. Mother. Supportive of her man, quiet in public. If she gets raped, it’s probably her own silly fault for going out at night, for dressing the wrong way, for not staying at home. Very funny, that, if home is where the danger is.

Long story short: No, knowing the guy who forces himself on you is pure-bred white doesn’t make the experience more enjoyable. Small wonder if women tend to not vote for parties who only care for their rights and safety if it fits with their despicable goals.

Fun fact: Parts of the Austrian government recently confirmed this little theory of mine. A directive sent from the Ministry of the Interior to the police forces included a juicy bit of instructions regarding their communication with the media: They should put more emphasis on communicating those cases of sexual violence where the woman did not know her assailant, and always state the perpetrator’s nationality. Now guess what kind of party Herbert Kickl, Interior Minister, belongs to.

Look here for a bit of related reading.

 

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The real danger in co-sleeping

We’ve always been a co-sleeping family. The pros and cons you’ll find in myriads of lists all over the internet never made too much of an impression on us. No, you won’t roll onto your baby. That just doesn’t happen. (I’m still laughing about the nurse in hospital, that moment when she realized that I had my little girl with me in bed and not in the cot beside me. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll roll onto her?” Lady, I just had a C-section. I’m happy if it takes me less than ten minutes to simply get up. Spontaneously rolling about is completely out of the question.)

As a newborn, our son would sleep in our bed, later in his cot next to my side. It made breastfeeding a lot easier and we all got a load of extra cuddles. His baby sister arrived just as he had got used to sleeping in his own room, so back he came, because if she’s allowed, it’s only fair if he’s allowed too. That was the moment we bought a bigger bed… Finally moving them out didn’t prove too much of a problem, maybe because we moved them into a shared room at first, so they wouldn’t feel too alone. They’d sometimes sneak back in with us during the night, something which gradually happened less and less and by now barely happens at all.

We’re still a co-sleeping family on weekends or during the school holidays though. With the kids being ten and eight now, and of sizes appropriate for their age, stuffing all four of us (plus the rather large dog, plus two cats) into one bed isn’t feasible anymore. Luckily, there’s a big sofa bed in the living room, so those nights not followed by a school day always start with the question who will sleep where, and if we can’t agree, we’ll pull the mattress off the sofa bed and onto the floor, drag the guest mattress down from the attic, and play campsite in the living room.

Now you’re probably wondering what I’m aiming at, since the title of this post mentioned danger, and I’ve only been talking sunshine and butterflies… well… those pros-and-cons lists about co-sleeping… they totally fail to mention one thing.

Talking in your sleep.

I do tend to have rather vivid dreams. I always know they’re dreams, which is a huge advantage, because I can totally lean into them and let them flow, let my imagination take me to the moon and back, while simultaneously knowing that I can always pull out. As you can probably imagine, that makes me a pretty active participant in my own dreams, or, in other words, I do a good bit of the talking. Sometimes I do that out loud. Most of the time what makes it past my lips is only unintelligible mumbling, no matter how clear it sounds to me (yes, I do wake myself up that way). Recently, though…

I had this dream, I don’t recall the fine details, but at some point I was sitting and reading a newspaper. To be precise: an article about people who accidentally (lottery win, inheritance, whatever) got rich somewhere between their forties and their fifties. The question raised by that article was, what did they do with those vast sums of money they never expected to have? Live their dreams, do some good? Some of them, maybe, I didn’t get that far, because the first guy I read about said he’d immediately gone and invested the money in no-fail stocks. What’s no-fail anymore these days? Well, arms factories, of course. War machineries. There was only one possible reaction to that revelation. I dropped the newspaper onto the table and a single word escaped me, crossed the boundaries of sleep and burst into the waking world…

“Asshole.”

The next thing I heard was my little girl’s incredulous voice. “Mom? What did you just say?”

I was as instantly wide awake as a bucket of ice wouldn’t have managed to make me. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. “Um… just talking in my sleep?”

“Oooookay…”

That, my friends, is the real danger in co-sleeping, that no one ever talks about. She’ll never let me hear the end of it.

 

 

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Amsterdam and Back

I might as well have titled this posting ‘Lessons learned’ or something like that, because, as big cities (or indeed any strange place) are wont to, Amsterdam has a lot to teach.

For instance, if you try to walk from the bus station to the city center and someone tells you that “it’s quite simple, really, you just need to follow that canal,” stop for a second and remember that there’s slightly more than one of those canals. In other words, what would have been “literally a one-hour walk, are you sure you don’t want to take the tram?” quickly (or rather, lengthy) turned into a four-hour walk. Which we didn’t even notice, because it was pretty and sunny and we were enjoying ourselves and didn’t have much in terms of luggage. Might have been even longer if I hadn’t accidentally spied a clock somewhere and realized we must have taken the occasional wrong turn, at which point we fell victim to a random act of kindness by a nice lady we asked for directions, “oh, you’ve come to the right person, I work as a tourist guide, here, I have two tickets for the tram which I don’t need anymore today, they are still valid until 2pm tomorrow, the tram you want is over there, enjoy your stay,” which gave me goosebumps all over and left me with the almost uncontrollable urge to hug a stranger. I managed to restrain myself, though, if barely.

The next day brought us Jan, the hop-on-hop-off bus driver, who told us interesting things like that life is like a penis, sometimes hard, and always too short, and who went (or rather, drove) out of his way to show us a few extra sights that weren’t part of the regular route. We also owe him juicy bits of knowledge, “see those brightly colored doors on all those houses that all look the same? They painted them that way so the drunken sailors wouldn’t end up with the wrong wife after months away from home,” or, “this part of the city used to be just a small strip of land where they’d hang pirates and other criminals, to deter any ships coming by, and in winter, when the surrounding waters were frozen, people would come skating over to do a bit of corpse sight-seeing.” He also enlightened us to the fact that the term Yankee might or might not have derived from the Dutch names Jan and Kees.

What else did we see, hear, learn? Well, cheese, I guess. Lots of that, with my favorite being the honey-thyme variation. Also, it takes 10 liters of milk to make 1 kilo cheese if you have a Holstein cow, but only 7.5 with a Jersey cow. As regards cows, I suppose we learned more than we ever thought possible…

Did I find the inspiration I was seeking? Oh, yes. Somewhere between the broom-closet-like onboard facilities of an overnight bus, a guy playing Volare on a saxophone at the feet of Madama Tussauds and another playing Stand By Me on a contrabass in Rembrandt Square, a hailstorm in a bus stop hut, and bare feet in the sand outside a little fishing village, random story strands starting flickering around in my brain. I might get them straightened into something worth reading. Wish me luck.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… there’s no need to actually enter any of the famous coffeeshops. Passing one by and taking a deep breath will do the trick just nicely.

 

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How to deal with writer’s block (if you’re privileged enough)

By the way, this doesn’t solely refer to writer’s block. That’s just how I, as a writer, call this general state of meh-don’t-wanna-just-wanna-sleep-leave-me-alone-everybody which every single person experiences on occasion. You don’t want to get up (who came up with the idea of half past seven in the morning anyway), you don’t want to cook (because you’re too tired to be creative about it, so it’s always the same and you don’t even want to eat anymore), you don’t want to settle yet another quarrel between your kids or kick them into finally doing their homework… you get the picture. In my case, this means I can’t write, because it’s not worth it, the story’s no good, why even bother putting it in words.

Now how to get out of a state like that? Sure, you can try to be all positive about everything, kick yourself into a healthy exercise routine, read inspiring quotes and cook books and be grateful for all the things you have… let’s be honest, that only gets you so far.

There’s another way. An easier way. Only… yeah, here’s where the ‘if you’re privileged enough’ clause comes in.

Just. Get. The Fuck. Away.

Run. Escape.

A few days will do.

And no, I don’t mean a family vacation. You need to get away from it all. No responsibilities, no worries, no burdens. Clean slate.

The problem with this is, it only works if you have someone who’s willing to, for just those few days, cover for you. Willing to get up, make breakfast for the kids, sort their quarrels, kick them into doing their homework… I’m lucky enough to have such a person. I’m even luckier to have married him.

Over the past years, on two occasions, I seized (or maybe abused) my husband’s generosity, snatched my best friend, and ran off, to London one time, to Spain the other. And each time I came back with new stories, new books to write, and sufficient energy to last me another year or two. A good part of this is also owed to that best friend of mine – she’s like a soulmate to me, our thoughts run along pretty much the same lines and we don’t even have to agree on any course of action on our trips, we just let things flow. She’s also the most amazing sounding board. She doesn’t read English, so has never read my books, but on each of our trips she insisted I tell her the stories, and in doing so, in bouncing the old stories off her, she helped me create new ones – not by suggesting ideas, but simply by forcing me to sort the jumble of my thoughts enough to get things straight inside my head.

We’re off to Amsterdam next. I’m already looking forward to the stories that will bring.

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This guy named Niels Saunders

Two things lured me into reading the complete works  – that’s three books so far – of Mr. Niels Saunders: One, a friend gushing over them (and she’s usually not one to gush), two, a brief, curious look at his Goodreads profile, which showed the picture of a punky, rather British looking guy with a pineapple in his arms. Yeah, right. Why would someone carry a pineapple in his arms? I had to find out. Now I know, and somehow wish I didn’t, because, frankly speaking, it’s one of those once-seen-never-unseen thingies of life. Whatever, if you want to find out, you need to read…

Mervyn vs. Dennis

…which is a pretty brilliant book. Guy needs job, guy gets job offer by weird, racist twat, guy doesn’t know what to do, but for various reasons ends up accepting the job. Mervyn’s crazy, actually abusive relationship with his new boss Dennis somehow revolves around the question how Hitler’s Germany came into being – in his own turnabout way, the author actually answers that question in the end – and develops among different angles, some comical, some sinister, some simply shocking, until disgust turns into pity and you’re left questioning just about everything. And once you’re finished with that, you can move on to…

Grand Theft Octo

…which somehow manages to be an even better book than Mervyn vs. Dennis (which is why you should read them in that order). Guy gets kicked out of his job for stealing too much office equipment and decides to become, more or less, the world’s most successful conman. Only he tries it along rather unusual avenues. Like taxidermy, for instance. In the end, he settles on octopus teasing. Thing is, nothing I could say could possibly do this book justice. I went into it expecting some wild, funny, incredible tale. I got that, but the story quickly evolved into something way more complex, and ultimately darker than dark. It’s hilarious, heart-breaking, intellectual, devastating, scary, all in one. Read it, and keep the details in mind, because you’ll stumble across some of them in…

The Papyrus Empire

…which is the first in a series, I’ve been told, so there’s more yet to come. The basic idea of this book is as brilliant as it is simple – guy gets some money from a cash machine, only the money he gets isn’t the currency he’s used to, but some notes that look like monopoly money. Just for fun he tries to pay with it at some point, with the most amazing results, and step by step, he gets drawn into the sinister world of some sort of secret brotherhood, a world running parallel to our own, full of wonders and dangers, the world of Sigmund Papyrus, the greatest man who never lived. It’s as exceptionally well written as the other two books, and Mr. Saunders employs an uncanny knack of giving you all the cruelty and bloodshed without dwelling too much on the gory details. Every death has a meaning or purpose, there’s no wanton, liberal madness like in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Eventually there came a point though, where I couldn’t quite understand the MC’s motivation anymore, which took a bit of the overall sense of meaningfulness away, nevertheless, the book is a wild ride and highly recommended.

There, you should have enough to read now for at least a few days. I’ll be back then with something more easily digestible.

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Mrs Maginnes is Dead

That’s not the beginning of an obituary, that’s a book title. It’s one of the books I read over summer – well, actually, I already read it somewhere around May or June, but you know how it is once it gets hot and the brain collapses and you simply don’t get around to reviewing stuff. I feel mighty guilty about that, what with it being an intelligent and absolute fun read. Here’s hoping that blogging about it will make up for such shameless neglect.

A tiny warning first: If your mood tends towards a serious, life-altering read full of grandiose deep thoughts, leave Mrs. Maginnes for another day. Okay, given that there’s a goat on the cover you might have already guessed that. I may be wrong – I’m as prone to that as anyone else – but I suppose Maeve Sleibhin wrote this story with precisely one aim in mind: to make you laugh. Which doesn’t mean that this book is just a cheap and easy breeze-through. Quite the opposite.

Nonsense isn’t as easy to write as it looks, and there are authors out there who try too hard to be funny, and desperately cling to any joke until all you can do is roll your eyes and hope they’ll get on with it. Maeve Sleibhin is not one of them. Her nonsense actually does incorporate quite a few of those serious, deep thoughts I mentioned earlier, complete with a hefty dose of Shakespeare, complex human relationships, and superstitions. The plot – crime, mystery, treasure hunt and all – is borne on the fragile and powerful shoulders of characters ranging from down-to-earth to flamboyant, who show a remarkable set of motivations, dreams and desires, along with a great sense of dry humor.

There’s also the goat, who may or may not have something to do with the unfortunate Mrs. Maginnes’ recent demise, but either way definitely is a character of its own.

Here’s an Amazon link: Mrs Maginnes is Dead

And the blurb:

Arriving at her rented accommodation in Edinburgh, music student Socorro de las Torres finds herself sucked into the exhilarating, madcap world of her new neighbours: the five Aspenall sisters. From them she learns that her landlady, Mrs Maginnes, is dead—pushed off a cliff—and that the sisters are the prime suspects. Of more concern, however, are the contents of the old lady’s will: one million pounds-worth of Byzantine gold coins left to whoever finds them first. The search is hampered not only by the whole town searching for the gold as well, but also by Mrs Maginnes’s other bequest: a troublesome, Welsh goat with a penchant for escape and Marks and Spencer’s sandwiches.

Have fun reading it!

 

 

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