Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Interculturalism, Israel and I

This is a personal record of Interculturalism going badly wrong, where misunderstandings, cultural (in-)difference and prejudice finally made interaction impossible. In other words a very sad story:

I still remember the day when I said to my husband: "I had some great news today: My Israeli friend is coming to Munich!" I started planning immediately - what did I want to show her (or them, she might be bringing a friend). The market, the English Garden, a famous church (no, of course not, I chided myself, they are Jewish!), an outing to the lakes? They love hiking...Depends how much time they had, I mused. I knew my friend was coming  to attemd a conference. I had to find out! We exchanged emails, where I answered many questions, sent links, hotels near the conference centre, hotels further afield, metro plans, train times...as you would, when friends visit for the first time. But all I ever got back was "Thanks. I'll be in touch."

Hmm, I thought baffled. They probably do things differently in Israel. What do I know about it? They probably simply find all this politeness stuff  "So looking forward to seeing you! Where shall we meet, can't wait  etc etc," tedious in the extreme. After all, my knowledge of polite exchanges is severely limited to Western European/North American exchanges. Also, in a country where you're constantly in danger of being attacked, who cares about social niceties?? I looked at videos of determined looking Israeli politicians in short-sleeved shirts talking about necessary strategies in a brusque but impressive manner.

Two days before the arrival date, another "Thanks I'll be in touch" email arrived. I still didn't know how much time we would be spending together, if any. This was getting bad, I also had a week to plan, set time aside (or not). Should I ask, I thought. It would look pushy I decided. Maybe she HAD to be so cryptic for security reasons...I decided not to make any kind of fuss and throw any toys out of the pram, A guest is a guest,after all.

Then, one day before my friend's arrival, disaster struck. Totally out of the blue, on behalf of nothing, her husband posted on twitter: "If you use [Nazi expression], it means you're a German!" *)

The intercultural car crash had happened. He (they?) obviously held  very stong and prejudicial beliefs. And  didn't even think that it might be better to keep such insulting, totally false prejudices to themselves rather than bandy them around on the web shortly before meeting up with a friend in the country in question. (I challenged him, obviously, but he just called me naive for not "knowing" this "fact". But I live here, I thought...

I'm afraid that was it, as far as that visit was concerned.

I think of her, though. Is she walking around here, filled with ire, thinking "All Nazis"? I look around me, in this friendly and serene town, so open and tolerant, so welcoming to visitors and tourists, with its eagerness to please, its intensely blue sky and absurd romantic beauty. Will it change her mind? This town in the Federal Republic of Germany, a European and open country that cares about its citizens, cares about its standing in the world, works so hard towards progress, reconciliation, understanding, and peace - and I think  - no we don't deserve that.

Always happy to hear your comments on twitter - @Margit11

*) An equivalent would be to say "If you use the N-word, it means you're an American".

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