Milch und Honig

I learnt some German when I was at school in the U.K., but I don’t remember the word for honey. Since I skipped Latin, it was my first close encounter with cases—a bewildering proposition.

I had an exam to pass, and in one of the sections I was required to translate hin-und-her-schwanken. It involved a caravan, but in the mind of a fifteen-year old the notion of a wanking vehicle was too much to bear.

Many digital years later, I am happy to tell you (courtesy of Google Translate) that the caravan was actually swaying back and forth. On the other hand (excuse the pun), the evil act itself apparently translates into German as sich einen runterholen, which sounds positively disgusting—what a runt hole might have to do with masturbation fully escapes me.

If you look for that word, the Germans call it selbstbefriedigung, which in turn translates to self-gratification or self-satisfaction. Linguistic perils abound.

I still retain a modicum of German, perhaps because it’s a lot easier to memorize words when you’re fifteen, but it’s not the sort of language you can fall in love with—too regimented, a kind of military English.

But Germany attracts like no other European country, a magnet for the destitute. Southern Europe flocked to its borders in direct proportion to German-imposed austerity. Whenever I’m there, I see a striking resemblance to the United States. Cabbies, chambermaids—all the bottom half of the hourglass—are immigrants.

Migrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan, North Africa, Central Asia… I always ask three questions: where are you from, how long have you been here, how often to you go back. Without being too intrusive, that’s enough to understand which particular diaspora they are a part of, and whether for them this is home.

The folks who knock on Europe’s door have typically been economic migrants, and those who come from the poorest countries almost always come to work. There is a fierce debate around migration in the developed world, mostly pushed by self-satisfied politicians, which as we now know is German for wankers.

The average citizen falls into the honey trap of blaming immigrants for economic crisis, unemployment, collapse of social facilities, lowering of moral standards and religious traditions, possibly even for rain on Sundays.

Out of all these, the religious issue is the only matter of concern, not per se but because of home-grown terrorism.

World distribution of the most popular Syrian surname.

World distribution of the most popular Syrian surname.

One of the ways to look at diaspora more globally is by tracking family names. Presently the most common Syrian name (Haddad) has found its way in Europe to France, Germany, Sweden and the U.K. In America, the U.S. and (somewhat surprisingly) Brazil stand out.

If you search for Kurdi, the family name of the poor kids who died this week on the shores of Turkey, then Hungary and Germany are the European countries of choice. Nevertheless, while the name has a frequency of about one per thousand in Syria and Iraq (little Aylan was from Kobane), in Germany it is one per hundred thousand.

The distinction between the economic and war migrant is obvious. Economic migrants come alone, then they send for their families. This is the classic pattern with people who come to Portugal from Cape Verde and Guinea to work construction.

But when you run from war, everyone goes: it would be a craven act to flee a war zone and leave your family behind. So even if you oppose economic migration, how can you deny desperate families fleeing from guns and bombs a new life?

In the year when a teenage boy sat at his desk pondering the meaning of schwanken, Portugal took in ten percent of its population from Angola, Mozambique, and elsewhere.

Europe can learn a lot from the generosity of a poor nation.  Those people were running from war, and one million came. And after forty years, the sun still shines.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

Atmos Fear and The India Road. Quick links for smartphones and tablets.

 

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