Fun Stuff > Places
The more we travel, the more we mix with different cultures and gain understanding for different views, traditions and emotions. The other day, a newspaper supplement on the "Integration" topic asked the rhetorical question: "How are your neighbours called? Maybe Nikolic, possibly Ozturk or Kowalski? Nearly one fifth of the Austrian population has a migration background, is immigrated personally or child of immigrants... Through migration and globalization, the society increasingly differentiates itself linguistically, ethnically and culturally. To productively deal with this diversity is a key challenge, we face in the 21st century!"
"Was many years ago that I left home and came this way,
I was a young man, full of hopes and dreams."
(Stranger in a Strange Land, Iron Maiden, 1986)
Stranger in a Strange Land
Vacation Abroad. Have you been visiting other countries a lot? Have you set your foot at foreign soil? Were you warmly welcomed as a paying tourist or have you also experienced some critical examination, a suspicious gaze as if saying: "What do they want here?" Especially, if you look slightly different at first glance... Remember, you may also have a longer nose, lighter or darker skin or hair colour to others. Take your lesson and by no means do look down at foreigners, people visiting from another country, with differences in culture and language, coming here with the intention to stay for a while or even for good.
Co-Existence and mixing Cultures
Diversity is Good. Migration is a very emotional discussion topic, with a broad range of opinions reaching from the "all-is-well" multi-culti approach to the dramatized nationalistic fear of foreigners, who are just people like you and me at the end of the day. Obviously, there is a natural reservation against the unknown, a self-protection mechanism against possible threat. Or would you hand your keys to every passer-by on the street without knowing his or her intentions? It is natural to be careful before knowing people in times of serial burglary and kidnapping, "Don't talk to strangers, 'cause they're only there to do you harm," as Ronnie-James Dio used to sing, cannot be taken as a general advice. What many people tend to forget though is that they are foreigners themselves, as soon as they step outside the borders of their home country.
Strangers Somewhere. Aren't we all strangers in a strange land? How many of us were born in different cities and moved on afterwards? Will we all go back home, "huijiale - go home" as the Chinese say? Or will we make ourselves a new home far away from where we grew up?
Comfy at Home. When I was a kid, I never wanted to travel, not even the hour from my hometown to the big city, which offered so much better possibilities for shopping, receiving better education and finding decent work. Although in exchange for better opportunities and internationalism, you may have to give up the peace and life quality of a smaller community on the countryside. And over the years you start feeling alienated with what you used to call home.
Migration Background. More and more people have a migration background and their families are given less time to settle down and make a new place their own, before moving on. Keywords are integration and assimilation, both preconditions for a peaceful long term co-existence without nationality conflicts. Or is our own community drifting towards that huge melting pot with all its friction leading to increases in conflict.
Past Aggression. Just think of past attacks at asylum seeker homes in an atmosphere of unemployment and incomprehension in Eastern Germany, uncontrollable riots in France among second generation immigrants lacking equal chances, drug abuse and crime rates in American metropolitan areas, home to a heterogeneous society with an enormous gap between rich and poor.
Wide land - open skies: On a curvy road in Pennsylvania in the middle of nowhere...
Freedom to Travel. Open borders and ease of travel do their own to move crowds, which are especially attracted by countries perceived as rich and with a good social security system. While those countries on the other hand also have to share their wealth, provide support to other countries to improve infrastructure, education and economical development. In the end you don't have to be a proponent of "multi-culti"-dreams to admit that slowly but surely cultures are mixing, habits change and some traditions fade while others are imported as part of global exchange.
Side-by-Side. Even though prejudices are pushed back by increasing internationalism, unfortunately a certain degree of reservation may prevail among people that look different. When I first heard the song "Ebony and Ivory" as a teenager, I thought it was a love song. I mostly remembered it for playing in the background during an argument with one singing it along to hide the own tension. It was only much later that a South African colleague would point out to me that it makes one think of black and white living in harmony one day. Just as those piano keys of black ebony wood are right next to white keys of elephant ivory. That is probably why Paul McCartney sung it in duet with Stevie Wonder: "Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony. Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don't we?"
Among xenophobic Humanitarians
Multi-National Empire. Given its history in the Habsburg Empire, over centuries Austria has been linked to the countries in the east of Europe, which then were unnaturally separated by the Iron Curtain after World War II. We hope that as part of cultural heritage from those early days, there is a general tendency to openness and respect towards neighbours from other countries, apart from all difference in attitude and still existent linguistic limitations in cross-border communication. However, response to the long awaited changes on the European map in 1989 also included fear of too many foreigners coming in at once. As the crime rate increased, for communal elections in 1991 the right-wing Freedom Party promoted the slogan "Vienna must not become Chicago," which it would top in 2005 with the billboard "Vienna must not become Istanbul." At the same time there was extraordinary response to "Neighbour in Need"-fund-raising campaigns for disturbingly near turmoil and war in former Yugoslavia. The "Lichtermeer - Sea of Lights" followed shortly, a rally for peace and integration with thousands of candles and lots of wax to clean up after on Vienna's Heroes' Square. Although the situation felt a little alienated again in a wider literal sense, when during the "Euro 2008" at the home game in the Vienna Stadium "Austria versus Croatia" more Croatian supporters showed up than Austrian soccer fans. Likewise loud honking car convoys decorated with Turkish flags caught attraction, all vehicles with Viennese license plates. And so the small Austria still establishes itself as country of immigration, as for the lack of children it would simply die out without the blessing of foreigners moving in. A side affect of the well-situated society - the more you have got, the less you want to do without.
Biblical Search for Shelter. Many people entered the country as political and economical refugees, working hard to establish a new livelihood away from home. The public debate about open versus closed borders is also reflected in Austrian pop music. What comes to mind is this remarkable line, a direct bible reference, in a STS song about helping immigrants rather than telling them: "Look at yourself, a pregnant woman and a carpenter out-of-work!"
Immigrant Youth Gangs. Directly outspoken as always is Ambros'e title track for a 1992 episode "Kinderspiel - Childish Game" of the German-Austrian-Swiss co-produced endless TV series "Tatort - Crime Scene." Provokingly called "Kanackenzerhacken - Dago Chopping", his song addressed conflicts among teenagers with different migration background in times of crime tourism and arson attacks against innocent residents of German asylum homes. Around that time we read in the paper of the passing of a film director, who had taken us along to the recording of another "Tatort"-title track, Patricia Simpson's "Lonesome Road", for the episode "Alleingang - Going Alone". This is what strangers do, they walk this road alone.
Home Sleep Home. But there are also the song lyrics from Danzers' "A Choked Scream," which clarify for once and all: "No man leaves his home without reason, no man likes to be a foreigner." What disappointment or hope can be found behind such far reaching decisions? The flexible conclusion follows: "Where our children sleep, there is my home…", as mentioned in the title song of the most personal Danzer album "Breaths." A statement as a form of self-protection in mobile times.
A strange rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park, California: Skull Rock.
I BIN AUS OESTERREICH / I AM FROM AUSTRIA
(STS, 1995, translation)
Lately it comes back in fashion again, slowly but surely, I can't stand the same.
Over and over the same old cheese, blood and soil, people and race.
Being purebred is worthy of course, perhaps we are dogs or am I a horse?
But before I tell the whole story anew, allow me to introduce myself to you...
My great-grandfather was a mountain-boy, you see, a Lederhosen Yodeler, German as can be.
His wife was a nanny from a small town between Budapest and Lake Balaton.
The other was a drifter, as they said, a handsome one, great-grandma didn't hesitate.
In front of the mirror I look at myself a bit: With all respect, there's something to it!
I wear a head scarf, a kippa, a Styrian hat, I love the sound of wild water on the mountains thereat.
I'm fond of mutton roast and Emperor's delight, and without tamburitza music I feel lost, quite.
I'm from India, I'm from Palestine, from the Alps, even from Africa and China.
From here and there, from there and here I come, in my blood, with respect, there's quite something going on.
I am the fine mixture, special blend, people like me, you cannot invent.
I am the wild sort, which brown shirts fear... I am from Austria!
What I feel, when I hear a Carinthian song, the Slovene inside of me quickly sings along.
And as the whole world makes me cry a lot, I need to hear a tuba on the spot.
I am a Bohemian Jew, a gypsy from Vienna, am a milkmaid, janitor, muezzin, tenor,
I am a young Roman, an old Croat, if I didn't exist, what a pity was that.
One is called Drago, he is blond with deep blue eyes,
Another carrying the German name Gerhard, short Gert, may have dark hair and a beard.
Some are Aryan, others are crazy, yet others are both at the same time. One way or another, it all comes together... here in Austria.
Decline in Population or Foreign Domination?
New National Dish: Pizza and Kebab. In her Geography book, my daughter had to compare the life of the Yanomami tribe in the tropic rain forest with habits of people from Austria. One attribute stood out among the others: "Here many children eat pizza or kebab for lunch!" The reality reflected in the same school book is only a logical consequence of the replacement of more and more traditional hot dog stands by doner kebap places, following the popular motto "Doener macht schoener - Kebab bread gives you a lovely head." Anyway, we are what we eat, aren't we?
New Home and New Name. Immigration has been part of the American experience ever since "God's own country" was discovered by the Vikings, the Chinese, Christopher Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci, and so the US remain a top ranking immigration country. However, as people entered the country it used to happen quite frequently that foreign names were translated, misspelled and "Americanized." Here is an especially drastic example: A man walks through China Town in San Francisco and passes numerous signs and banners of Chinese restaurants and Asia shops. One sign hits his eye though: "Moishe Plotnik's Laundry." He walks in and sees a fairly standard looking Chinese laundry. Curious, he approaches the Chinese owner behind the counter: "How come you have a Polish name, you are Chinese, aren't you?" "You are right," replies the owner. "Many year ago I come to this country and stand in line at immigration. The man in front of me was a Jewish gentleman from Poland. Asked for his name, he said 'Moishe Plotnik.' Then they turned to me and asked my name. 'Sam Ting,' I said..." So much for the apparent misunderstanding of the phrase "Same Thing." As close as you could probably get with real Chinese names is "Shen Ting," a girl's name meaning "deep thinker, who is graceful."
Carefree versus Caring Future. The promise of a carefree future may have proven as a formula of success to win elections. And this might include playing down demographic problems in a welfare state with all its incentives for performance and non-performance. Rather than just telling people, what they want to hear, the controversial book "Germany abolishes itself" would point out areas for improvement in connection with immigration, assimilation and integration. The first step is usually to admit that there is a problem. Then one can solve it...
Foreigners, Believers and Uneducated have more Children. Individual considerations on short term life standard may result in long-term negative impact on the society. There is talk about the "rush hour" of life: School education, entry to work life, partner search, the first child - all to be achieved by young adults before completion of the age of 30, or 35 at the latest. Of which family planning is the easiest to be postponed. A focus at the own career causes the first child to come late, if at all. There is not too much time left to have further kids. As a result, the number of children is low with better educated population. People marry later, often separate or just remain unmarried. This lowers the birth rate, as according to statistics, long-term partnerships generate more children than short-dated relationships. At all times, the preservation and reproduction of life has been a religious principle. Religious bonds support group behaviour, encourage altruism and directs the general focus at values and goals, which transcend the own ego. Secularization of a society usually goes along with dropping birth rates. Foreigners, believers and the educationally deprived are more reproductive than others.
Keeping Up European Standards. As a matter of fact, the world population is growing on every continent except for Europe. Obviously, a social system that attempts to keep up a social balance among the wealthy and the poor and provide free access to health care and education is very attractive to a number of people from all over the globe. Even within the Eurozone, there are pronounced debates around financial difficulties following economic crises. The American ex-Fed Chairman, Alan Greenspan, would go as far as concluding that "southern culture lacks the sense of fiscal responsibility and discipline of the north." What also needs to be said is that existing European standards could not be funded with a decreasing number of working population in times of dropping birth-rates and an inverted age pyramid. Migration is good, suitable conditions have to allow for conflict-free integration!
Typical Austrian Blend. Talking about fear of foreigners one should not forget the own roots, which can be of quite mixed origin from several directions. Especially the multi-cultural heritage from the area of the old Austrian monarchy is not only a potential but a mandate to contribute to international understanding. Once more, a song addresses the struggle with personal background and genealogy versus "we are what we are"-mentality of a small group. Not quite as popular as Fendrich's hymn "I am from Austria," the song "I bin aus Oesterreich" by the Styrian trio "STS" translates into the same English titile. To emphasize the internationalism, the long drawn-out refrain is sung a bit like a call to prayer. The song lyrics speak of the "wild sort," a special blend of people and a reference to the "Mild Sort," an Austrian cigarette brand, which following an European directive had to be renamed into "My Sort." Anyway, let us discover now, which national influences can be found in one's genealogy and remember that it is better to be wild than too mild...
The next page is all about wishful thinking, such as living in perfect... Harmony!