The Harbinger Online

Dueling Citizenship

Drag Reduction Systems, 2.4 second pit-stops and scientifically-calculated fuel levels regularly greet me Sunday morning. Now, before you get excited, I am not driving in, working on or even attending this race. I’m at home, curled up on a red leather rocking chair, clad in PJs with a mug of fresh coffee. After making my prediction of the three drivers likely to win gold, silver and bronze on the podium I select my, slightly more coveted, Dream-Podium Trio; based off the drivers personality, worthiness and, of course, desirability. Surround-sound turned up and cell phone turned off, I’m ready to indulge in my Sunday ritual. Formula One: the most demanding, prestigious and highest-class international racing series in the world. And to think, some kids are at Sunday school.

Formula One is just one piece of the European culture that has crept its way into my life through my parents’ European backgrounds. I’ve spent many nights sitting with my father and brother watching marathons of “Top Gear,” Britain’s number one car show, and slightly less-anticipated nights spent struggling to follow my mother’s favorite artsy French films which, without subtitles, would be neither understood nor heard over my father’s snoring. Although my father was born and raised in Germany, our family moved from Europe to be closer to my mother’s parents. We moved to America before I was old enough to even bother being awake for my passport picture and having been born in Germany to a native father and American mother, I was rendered a dual citizen.

As far as German goes, I don’t speak the language at any level above pitiful and my knowledge of German history is as limited as that of any other EHAP graduate. But for some reason, I have always felt a stronger attachment to my German side. Maybe it’s because it made me different from everyone. Maybe what’s foreign and undiscovered is consistently more exciting than what is known.

In elementary school I felt different, and not just because I was the only one who had a dad rocking a pony tail (he has since had the intelligence to cut that off). I felt different because I was foreign. I had been out of the country before anyone else. Heck, I was from out of the country. I was proud of my dual citizenship and I let that be known, obnoxiously so.

While I grew up as an American child, it wasn’t hard to remember where I came from. German books lay sprinkled throughout the house, German food was keen to show up at the table every night and German was still spoken regularly in the house. You know how when you’re little, your parents will spell things out that they don’t want you to hear? Mine spoke German. Correction: speak German.

I grew up similar to any American child, but in the place of Disney Classics stood the British childrens’ shows “Postman Pat” and “Fireman Sam.” Family movie nights would feature a multitude of films from the French “Mon Oncle,” to John Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers” and “Monty Python.” The latter was only appreciated for its silly accents till my more recent years.

The only sport of any relevance within the Hoedel House was soccer. More specifically, Bundesliga, the German soccer league home to our team Bayern-Munich. To this day, I can’t tell you the first thing about American football. In kindergarten, I joined an all-boys soccer team before a girls’ recreational one was formed. Every practice my brother and I showed up decked out in Bayern-Munich gear that had been sent to us by our Oma (per my father’s request). He wasn’t the only parent dressing us up.

My mother loved to buy me traditional German Dirndls, the classic stereotypical German milk-maid attire complete with blouse, bodice, full skirt, apron and all. My brother’s framed sixth grade picture on top of our grand piano shows a blond-haired, blued-eyed little Max, rocking his Lederhosen. If anyone ever asked us about it, we would state the facts blankly in a hipster-esque tone paired closely with the equivalent of today’s “You’ve probably never heard of it.”
To be honest, I have never fully overcome this arrogance. I still feel myself, at times, acting cocky or superior when it comes to defending the sophistication of soccer over football or the difficulty of Formula One over NASCAR. This summer even, I was first oblivious then disinterested in the All-Star Game because all I cared about was the German national soccer team’s battle to win the UEFA Euro Cup.

Like I mentioned earlier, I can be a little cocky about my heritage. It’s hard, to not sound stuck-up when casually referencing European culture. I think it’s just in the nature of the word European, which just sounds pompous and proper and overly-sophisticated.

I have always been stuck questioning which place I fit into. Would I rather be American or European? Well let’s see. When I think of Europe I think of luxurious, artsy, classy people walking around the streets of London, Paris or Berlin. When I think of America, and I dig my hand into this nation’s groundbreaking Constitution, dedication to battling oppression worldwide and its ever-prominent pop culture but all I manage to pull out is fast-food, NASCAR and Ford F150s. Now, having lived in Johnson County for nearly 15 years, I should know better than such hillbilly generalizations, but these generalizations are part of what drives me towards calling myself a German. Which makes me a bit of a poser.

I get to walk around sipping my tea being all high-and-mighty of European descent and cast downward glances upon you deep-fried donut-eating Americans when I am more of an American than anything. I spent the majority of my life in America, enjoying all its liberties and getting the great education that America allows me to, but I’ll just cast off the entire nationality because being European sounds nicer.
When teachers in any history class I’ve ever taken refer to America as “we,” I have always detached myself by using terms like “you all,” “you guys,” or just “America.” I would pick and choose what I wanted from U.S. history and what I wanted to reject. Sure America, I’ll accept all the rights that you’ll give me, but when it comes to slavery or the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, I’ll pretend I’ve never heard of you. Sitting in class listening to brutality of the Civil War, I felt disconnected, I felt like it didn’t apply to me. I had no history here, no family that was ever involved. Why should this matter to me? I’d ask myself as I sat, in class, as a free citizen privileged with all the liberties that such “strangers” fought and died for.

It’s no question that my German roots will always be important to me. I won’t lie — even now, I still view myself as more of a German. I think I have always been resentful of the fact that I was moved from my home before I could get to know it. A part of me will always wish we had stayed. I think naturally we are always attracted to what’s foreign and undiscovered, which is what pulls me so strongly toward Germany.

My life today tends to pale in comparison to the promise of the life I never had. I truly believe that if the countries were reversed and had I been born here but moved there, I would long to go back to America. With its handsome cowboys riding up and down every street. Its glamorous movie and pop stars littered on every corner. Its abundance of liberties, including one permitting cars to be washed on Sundays — an act that is fined, by law, in Germany.

In the end it comes down to my legal status, on paper. I am a dual citizen. I am half-American and half-German. I can’t sway the balance whenever I feel so inclined. I can’t pick and choose aspects of each heritage to modge-podge together one picturesque background. I have to fully embrace both histories and both cultures — and be proud of both. Luckily enough, the great nation of America has supplied me with Cable, so as long as Speed still broadcasts every Formula One Grand Prix, GoalTV still airs “Hallo Bundesliga,” and BBC America keeps playing “Top Gear,” I’ll be all set to let my Germerican flag fly.

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