We are experiencing intercultural difficulties.
I have told my colleague that I am about to become a German citizen. She asks me what about the other British people I know here.
“Nobody’s bricking it just yet”, I reply. She looks at me blankly.
“You know, shitting bricks. Shitting ourselves. Worried, afraid.”
It can be hard work talking to Americans.
It’s a fair question to ask all the same. I have gone for the no-risk option, but what about the rest of us? Has anybody else gone down the same road?
I will answer that question but — if you’re reading this Theresa — it comes with one essential caveat. Most British people in this part of Germany are working, speak fluent German and are well-disposed towards the locals. Everybody I know here would qualify for citizenship — in other countries this may well not be the case. My solution is by no means universal.
In Herne at least I am nothing special. Another of my colleagues lives here and is now German — having started off in Kilmarnock he regards Herne as very much a step up in the world.
He got his photo in the paper but I doubt very much that anyone will care about me. The article mentioned that four out of the 74 British citizens living here were in the process of applying and I was the fifth.
Out of the five British native speakers that we have at the university, three will be German nationals once I pick my certificate up. Our American colleagues are slightly envious — in order for them to gain German citizenship they must relinquish their American nationality at considerable expense.
As for our Highland regiment, our Tartan Army of Scottish Borussia Dortmund supporters, things are starting to move but at a slower pace. Military pensions appear to be something of a grey area when it comes to adopting a new nationality and a great many British citizens in Dortmund are former servicemen. That is not to say that nothing has happened.
The Sarge and The Gaffer have explored the issue. The Sarge even went to the initial consultation and was rather confused to find that the official was expecting a 31-year-old single rather than a happily married former soldier in his mid fifties. It seems that not every immigration office is as efficient as in Herne. As a rule of thumb, the bigger the city you live in, the higher the chance of a mess-up.
The Gaffer is thinking about it, egged on mainly by his German girlfriend. One curiousity I’ve noticed is that, whatever the nationality of the applicants (it is not only British people who are applying after all), women are much keener to do this than men are.
Griggs was granted permanent residency a long time ago, Ardbegman is status unknown tending towards. Islandman says yes to Scottish independence and no to a German passport. No offence he says, but he’s Scottish and never wants to be anything else. My namesake from Glasgow took the precaution of becoming an Irishman before the Brexit referendum took place.
I suspect that Irish citizenship is an option open to a great many Scots. It is not open to Ulster Harry. Another former British soldier born and bred in Belfast, he qualifies for Irish nationality because he was born on the island of Ireland. He’s as likely to become an Irishman as I am a Brexiteer.
That doesn’t stop the jokes and the teasing of course. We were ribbing him mightily before the last game but as ever he had the last laugh.
“I don’t need an Irish passport”, he says with a wry smile “or a German one. I’ve got a French one.”
Slowly the penny drops among the rest of us. He’s mentioned this before, if only we’d cared to listen: French citizenship is one of the perks of a five-year stint in the Foreign Legion.
Elsewhere, people are tending towards or have already done it. Many did it years ago. The Wild Man, the last Brexiteer in Dortmund, holds — and has only ever held — a German passport. He was born here while his father was in the army.
One thing is clear is that attitudes to citizenship differ enormously between individuals. For me this was the right thing to do. I have an attachment to Germany that I am quite happy to make official. I’m glad I did it and probably needed a kick up the arse to get on with it. I guess I owe Nigel Farage one: Next time I see him I’ll buy him a beer. And spit in it.
Others may not feel the same, although I think that all British over here want to spit in Nigel Farage’s beer. Many still have an attachment to Britain and would consider assuming German nationality as compromising their identity. For those with strong emotional bonds to the UK, living abroad inevitably stretches the connection. I can completely understand that many see this as cutting the cord.
It’s probably worth examining I have actually done by applying. I have been very precise about it and paradoxically this has led to any number of misunderstandings. What I have not done is apply for dual nationality.
The German government can no more grant me dual nationality than it can allow me to commit bigamy. Bigamy is illegal while holding two passports is not but the principle is the same: To commit bigamy I must marry one partner and then — presumably without my partner’s knowledge — marry another one. In order to have dual nationality I must first be British and then I must become German. “Applying for dual nationality” is a euphemism and I think many people sense this.
I am happy become German, for me this was something which was long overdue. Many others may quite understandably not feel the same way — with no disrespect to Germany or its people intended. It would be a shame if they felt forced to.
Elsewhere, what do people think? Well most of my German friends thought I did this years ago. My parents were among the main people nagging me to do this, although in contradiction of the boy/girl rule previously mentioned, my Dad was the nagger-in-chief.
Nearly everybody has asked me if I will still be British. In trying to be clear I’ve obviously inadvertently created confusion, perhaps because my lack of enthusiasm when delivering this information has thrown them off the scent. Yes I will. Maybe one day I will even be proud to be British again. We’re a long way from that at the moment but nothing would give me greater pleasure.
I suppose at some stage I will run into British people who are mightily offended by what I have done. I do hope so. The next time some tippling jingoist tells me that if it wasn’t for Britain’s role in the Second World War I’d be German right now I shall laugh in his face.
Nothing would give me more joy than to see some flabby-jowelled redneck going purple and choking on his pint upon hearing that I have betrayed his country and insulted our queen by becoming a vile Hun. I can see him now, gasping for air yet steadfastly refusing the Heimlich manoeuvre because the technique is German.
It’s an interesting thought but it’s not one I want to dwell on. All’s well that ends well for me — let’s hope it’s the same for others. Forgive and forget. To this, all griefs are reconciled.
I really must go out for a beer with Nigel Farage some time. I have news for him.