I’ve been silent for yet another time however there’s quite a lot on my mind right now. As you might know I have just lately moved from Austria to Germany – only January yet it seems like forever in retrospect – but already am my common law partner and me working on getting the hell out of Europe. Europe is beautiful – and safe – don’t get me wrong on that one. It’s funny, by the by, how after my time in Israel a country being “safe” or not does matter for me whilst before that it might have never really crossed my mind. However for a mid-twenties couple, of whom both have lived abroad, in “unsafe” countries, it feels like Europe is just too safe.
I remember how, quite a while ago now, when I returned from Israel I was in shock. Reverse culture shock they’d call it. In reality it meant that for nearly half a year I was hardly able to talk about Israel at all. And, of course, it meant that readapting to Austria was really, really tough. Part of it might be due to me having always felt somehow caged in Austria – even worse in Germany, where I have lived before – in a xillion ways. Yet living in Israel showed me that another reality is possible and that, at least most of the time, it works. It works for me anyhow – I can pretty well imagine your random European neighbour next door going nuts within a week. It took me nearly one and a half year until finally I stopped living for “going back to Israel” (mostly because for a non-Jew like me it’s close to impossible to immigrate to Israel). Alright I have to confess I stopped living for “going back to Israel” because I started living for “going any place else”. *lol*
As I mentioned Europe is nice and safe. And by safe I don’t only refer to security. I don’t only refer to Europe being a place where there is little chance that someone blows up in your most favourite nightclub (however I know people that would object on that one). Europe is safe in the way of literally everything being regulated to the smallest detail. There is a law to everything – either a written-down governmental one or an unspoken law of society – which of course cages people but on the other hand means that they always know what is going to happen next. Your lack of freedom is your gain of safety. Of knowing-what-happens.
Readapting to European laws was hardest to me when it came to unwritten, social laws. The Israeli society is well-known for its khuzpah, its brassiness. It is common to ask even a distant friend for his or her weight, salary or bra size. Nobody seems to care to consider what he asks or says. If they meet somebody they might just declare “Hey, that T-Shirt looks disgusting on you!”. Europeans for the most part can’t stand that. They’d feel terribly offended for the rude remark. They want everything to be polite – and lied if necessary.
When I came to Israel I was lucky enough to have (Israeli) friends who would warn me by time of Israeli’s “rude” behaviour. “They don’t mean it bad!”, they told me, “they just can’t be bothered to care. They just don’t know it any other way.” And supplied with that knowledge I set out in a world where strangers would talk to me on the street and ask me where I bought a certain skirt or what language I was speaking when I was talking to someone in German – interrupting my phone call. I came to love knowing that my friends would tell me if I wore something absolutely ugly and of course even more how, just on the go, they’d remark how nice I looked today. I loved not having to worry about what people might think if I asked them something I was interested in.
After some months I think, I felt so at home with that kind of unregulated social behaviour that since then I have hardly ever felt really “at home” in European societies anymore. After I came back to Austria and got over the worst of the shock I found myself new societies to move in. I became part of some international cliques of people from India, the US, Spain, England, South Korea and a lot of other countries or people who, just like me, had spent time abroad and had never completely found back into Austrian society. In those international cliques people had just no other possibilities then to get rid of a lot of European social rules for many members just wouldn’t know them anyway. If somebody was uncertain of how somebody else wanted to be treated they’d just ask “Is that okay for you? Do you feel comfortable with that?” And people had no choice but not to feel offended all too easy. If they felt treated rude they’d consider that the other one might just not have known that something might be inappropriate to do or ask and tell him. In fact I can’t remember a single fight having started from a cultural misunderstanding.
This might sound very romantic – too romantic – to you. Of course it is not that Israel would be the perfect social biotope. Neither are those international communities. Yet for me they might be. Israel is the “perfect social biotope” if you can deal with a lot of directness, if you can deal with being told you are “ugly”, “fat”, “stupid” etc., with people pushing you out of the way, interrupting your phone calls for a random question. Not all people can.
International communities are fine if you are used to them. If you are used to seeing how somebody from another cultural background might be unfamiliar with things you consider the most natural in the world and if you are willing and able to step back from your point and reconsider it. There are a lot of people out there who are perfectly happy with the societies they were brought up in. Even if this society – like in Austria – includes public lamenting about exactly that society. Perhaps that’s the normal way: For people to feel most comfortable with the rules they were brought up obeying. With knowing what happens if something happens. With safety. If for one reason or another you aren’t comfortable with that all it causes you is to feel caged. Germany is worst in that regard. I have lived here twice. Once before I left for Israel and now for three months. Back then I left Germany disappointed by how I, as an Austrian, felt treated here. By how life was here. I came back for a lot of reasons. One maybe being getting rid of some old demons; giving Germany a second try. After three months I have to see it failed. The only thing left for me and that giant monster of rules and laws is divorce.