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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

German blogger series: expatriates in America and Germany (IV)

Posted by Thomas Nephew on September 26th, 2003

Peter Praschl, who authors most of the posts on “le sofa blogger,” is an Austrian living in Hamburg. No matter what he says, that qualifies him for “expat” status in my book, so I included him in the list of folks I e-mailed my questions about “expatriate” blogging.

Peter Praschl was the first blogger I profiled once upon a time in this occasional series on German bloggers. The story concerned Praschl’s electronic pillorying by a German columnist named Willemsen, regarding Praschl’s nonpacifist attitudes towards the Taliban et al, and also mentioned Praschl’s reaction to 9/11.*

I’ve linked to a number of items of Praschl’s since then, such as his reactions to a Jane Kramer piece about Germany, or a list of provocative (to me, too) questions about the looming war in Iraq, or interesting Internet finds like the New York City meta story site Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood.

I’ve decided (with Praschl’s permission**) to simply print Praschl’s e-mail, to acquaint non-German speakers better with him. His (misplaced) concerns about his English notwithstanding, the “voice” is quite the same as his German commentary, so I think it’s a good introduction to one of my daily reads.

Enough chitchat. Here’s the e-mail, with the occasional link to some supporting item from “le sofa blogger”:

Expat? Sounds way too glamorous for me. I moved from Vienna to Hamburg 16 years ago. Which of course is a move from Austria to Germany. But it was not a big step. Just happened to find a more interesting job in another city, and when you are a journalist in Vienna, the capital of a very small country, the more interesting jobs are in Munich or Hamburg, where all the media corporations are located. Think of moving from Los Angeles to New York and you get the picture. Yes, sometimes I do get homesick (the Viennese savoir vivre, the nightlife, the coolness, the art scene), yes, sometimes I do hate these bloody krauts and piefkes (their tightness, their depressions, their whining, you name it, every cliché is true…), but it is okay here. Got a girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend, two kids, a bunch of friends, some great hangouts, a gym and whatever one needs for feeling at home at a certain place. And I really do like being a foreigner: you always have the option to think “ah, that´s the way THEY are”, you have the privilege to decide whether you are just a curious voyeur or you already belong to them (which one does, after 15 years). And the country you come from is distant enough not to wreck your nerves.

One thing I have to confess: I enjoy driving the love of my life crazy with calling every stupid driver, Bavaria Munich striker, talkshow host, inpolite waiter (etc. etc.) a Nazi. And giving her long rants about all the Nazis surrounding my tortured existence. And expecting her to listen to me, nodding. Which she does not. Luckily…

When I moved to Germany in 1987 there were no weblogs. There was not even an internet. So starting a blog has nothing to do with being an expat. It just began for the same reasons most webloggers know: you want to give it a try, and then you are hooked. But I do read a lot of Austrian weblogs (and weblogs by Austrians living in Germany), and it often occurs to me that a lot of them are more interesting than German weblogs: more general interest, more subjectivity, more idiosyncracies, less geekdom, less newsfeeds. Austrian culture tends to be more hedonistic, more playful than German culture, and sometimes you will notice that.

“Can you point to political or other views that have been changed or deepened by being an expatriate?”

Tough question. I really do not know. I did not like German politics before I came here, and since I came my dislikes have only grown. So, let´s say, my understanding just deepened… Before moving to Germany I always suspected them to just wait for playing a big role again, now I KNOW. And the box I would say I belong in – hedonist leftists with highbrow cultural interests, mild bourgeois manners, liberal lifestyle attitudes and a sense of taking things not too serious – is smaller in protestant Germany than it was in Vienna. And I hate the Anti-american mainstream, the moral snobbery, the moral hypocrisies here. Every day, every time I turn on T.V. But, guess what, I found out that there´s a lot of Germans who think and feel the same.

Will I ever go back to Austria? I don´t think so, but you never know. I definitely would prefer to move to Paris or to Bangkok than to either stay here or go back to Vienna, and maybe one day I will be able to. Which, after all these years, would really make me an expat.

As always, pardon my terrible English.

All the best, Peter [links added]

The long-simmering Austro-German feud bubbles to the surface! One of Praschl’s pet peeves is about Germans listing Austrians like Mozart as German, and generally acting as if Austria is a mere extension of Germany. As Praschl says, he enjoys being a foreigner; being involuntarily defined as a countryman is understandably irritating.

Americans often don’t realize the strong national and regional differences within Germany, let alone German-speaking Europe — just as Europeans can be wrong to try to shoehorn Americans into a one-size-fits-all portrait of a country featuring New Orleans, West Virginia, New York City, the South, the North, Maine, Los Angeles, and on and on.

Given the shared language and overlapping culture, and the long time Praschl has spent in Germany, it’s not surprising that being an expatriate has less to do with Praschl’s blog than the others I’ve profiled. However, the “foreigner’s privilege” applies: Praschl tweaks German conventional wisdom and politics regularly. Whether because of, despite, or unrelated to that, his blog is one of the German language “A-list” blogs, i.e., it’s one of the most widely blogrolled German language blogs.

I thought I might be able to synthesize some non-trite Grand Unified Theory of Expatriate Blogging from my various e-mail correspondences, but I haven’t been up to that challenge. As I wrote earlier, I think the bloggers I’ve profiled combine the adventurousness needed to pull up stakes and move to a new country, often a certain detachment about any countries or their cultures, and a desire to write — just not necessarily about the ex-pat experience or cultural differences.

I suppose I respond to them because I’ve been — however briefly — an ex-pat myself, living in Germany for two years as a boy (Juelich) and two more at college age (Tuebingen). Though long ago, those times are still precious to me, and I can only wish I’d written more — indeed, that I’d written much of anything — while I was living them. So once again, this blog isn’t about you, dear reader, it’s about me. Me, me, me.

Anyhow, thanks for the e-mail, Peter. Take care!

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* All of which would be worth reading in the original — once they’re available again. Some kind of mixup with the old “digitalien.org” files has resulted in “403” errors when I try to view them. They’re not lost; the plan is to move them all to the new “arrog.antville” site. But there’s a second problem, a Blogger glitch that turned umlauts into “?”s, so that a great deal of repair work is needed.
** Throughout this expatriate series, I’ve given each person being profiled a chance to read and comment about the piece before I published it. The result has been a lot more pleasant for me than my usual practice of sweating bullets about whether I’ve misunderstood someone.

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