Internationales Bildungs- und Begegnungswerk in Dortmund

European column 11: Respect is given for performance and logic

European column 11: Respect is given for performance and logic

When Ahmad Abbas came into contact with Europe for the first time in 2015, he had to significantly revise his image of Europe. He says Greece was the first country to give a realistic impression of Europe to him.

Ahmad is 23 years old, studied law in Syria, and currently lives in Bochum where he works in the cultural sector. In Syria, Ahmad says, a kind of enmity against Europe was conveyed: „We were a French colony ourselves. Europe, for me that was always those occupying the world.“ But even though the history books told him differently, the more he saw of Europe in films and on television, the more Ahmad started dreaming of the European lifestyle. He says: „You think everything in Germany is easy and for free. Nobody has to be hungry, there is social security, Hartz-IV.“

The 23-year-old explains: „When you are poor here, you are considered above average in Syria. In Syria six or seven people poor people share a single room. Here it means not having the means to purchase access to culture and the arts.“ Ahmad says: „I have the feeling there is a lot more culture in Europe – at least here in this soap bubble in Bochum, where I live.“ But he also remembers negative situations. For example when he worked in a restaurant in the Stiepel borough of Bochum. „I thought working conditions here were good. But it was 14 hours working without a break. That was normal. The manager wasn‘t interested.“

People prefer going on vacation to helping

At this time Ahmad still had long hair in locks and thus wore a hair band in the kitchen. His colleagues then questioned him: „Hey dude, what‘s up? Are you gay now?“ Ahmad says: „I did not expect that in 2018 Germany. The topics were exclusively fucking and women. I learned so many swear words during that time. And all were white Germans.“ He also expected people in Europe to be less religious. „I was very surprised to see how religious they still are.“ Another topic is sexuality: „I thought everything will be tolerant and open. However, that is not necessarily the case.“

By now, the 23-year-old has seen a number of European countries, among others, Macedonia, Hungary, Serbia, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. He says: „I have no problem with Europe, but with the people. The state does a lot for people. What is sometimes missing in Europe is solidarity. Now and then I have the feeling everyone is only looking out for themselves and does not ask how others are. People prefer going on vacation to helping.“ Ahmad says he is no better himself: „Sometimes I think, what kind of meat have you bought there? I learned this all from committed individuals, for example, not using plastics anymore. But I am asking myself why we should be changing this on an individual level instead of on the societal level. The media also likes to report on small things like drinking straws instead of the big topics like lignite coal mining. Or the banning of diesel cars. Who is affected here? – The little people, those who can not afford a new car.“

Discussing instead of ranting

Ahmad says he was very surprised to see people in the Netherlands seemingly being more civilised than in Germany. The roads are better, everything is neater, while people in Germany pay more. „It is a miracle to me. The traffic situation in the Netherlands seems much better. In Germany, a certain aggressiveness comes with driving cars. On this topic there is zero tolerance. People are really single-minded. It is astonishing that public transport isn‘t free here, even though taxes on wages are so high. Plus 19 percent VAT. I wonder, if the money doesn‘t go into infrastructure, where does it go?“

At the end of our talk Ahmad adds this: „I got more respect here than at home. In Syria people are always questioning: Who are you to discuss politics? In Germany logic and performance always count. That is being respected here. And people don‘t just start ranting, but rather they begin a discussion.“

Chantal Stauder