I work in education. Currently I am coordinating a program that aims to qualify immigrants to become social workers in Germany.
In this function I attend a lot of conferences and network meetings with all kinds of people who deal with immigration and integration of immigrants. It is a fascinating field and currently a hot button topic in German politics.
See, unlike most countries in our neighbourhood Germany is still going pretty strong economically. We have jobs, we have capital, and we have a high standard of living. Unfortunately we are also lazy when it comes to making babies (The blame for this is often placed on me and my fellow academically educated women. I know. I should be ashamed of myself). Hence, we don’t have people to fill these jobs.
What to do? Import human capital. Okay okay, let me put it in a nicer way: Why don’t we get all those unemployed Spanish young people here and they can fill all those jobs? And just to be clear, I am not talking about strawberry picking here. We are especially desperate when it comes to highly skilled jobs.
The whole idea of opening up our borders (not just to EU-citizens) and inviting well educated foreigners into our beautiful and rich country has only one problem: The German mentality. Specifically, our history of being, let’s call it distrustful, of people who weren’t born here and have an accent, or, heaven forbid, don’t speak German at all. So a number of smart people have figured out that it will not be enough to throw money at the problem. In order to get these well educated people here and in order to actually make them stick around we can’t just offer them jobs. We need to change the way they are being received in Germany. That goes from the way they are being treated at city hall or when they want to register their child in kindergarden to whether they get invited to dinner by their new neighbours.
While the practice is still somewhat lacking, we have already coined a beautiful word that includes all of that: “Willkommeskultur” – a welcoming culture or atmosphere. “Wir brauchen eine Willkommenskultur” – we need a welcoming atmosphere – is currently being uttered by every politician into every micro- and dictaphone they can find. It is an election year, after all.
I really like this word. It is a beautiful promise. “Willkommen” is a friendly sentiment. It is a greeting and an invitation to enter your house, your life, even your heart. And this beautiful invitation is put together with “Kultur” – a German intranslatable if there ever was one (No, ‘culture’ is not exactly the same. I will elaborate another time.)
If only reality could be shaped and molded as easily as the German language. But alas, we are a long way from it.
After spending an entire day at an immigration conference and hearing the word over and over again, it has lost all meaning to me. But here is hoping. Who knows, maybe we can change. Maybe one day we can deliver on the promise that we are linguistically making right now. Maybe one day the case manager at the unemployment agency will not ask you routinely whether your parents were born in Germany. Maybe one day my Hungarian friend and me will have the same experience at city hall instead of her being asked to produce three different documents of identification and me being waved through with a friendly hello. An education manager can dream.