In today’s society, it is a common phenomenon that everybody’s immediate effort is to classify others into social groups. At the same time, it is a human need, to belong to any group. Nevertheless, they have always been those who do not want to belong anywhere because of their feelings of personal freedom. We – I mean our family – are not the case. We are trying to fit somewhere, to belong somewhere. This is especially important for us now that we live in Switzerland. We are trying hard to behave so that we can integrate into the local community so that nobody can look down their noses at us or point at us behind our backs.
So I felt slightly offended when during the recent integration course (German classes for moms and kids) was from the discussion clear, that our lecturer considered us immigrants.
It had somehow hurt my feelings and I had an urge to demur. Why? Although “Immigrant” and “Einwanderer”(an incomer) in German/English are (linguistically) synonymous and neutral words defining people who have come to a different country in order to live there permanently, for me, this word has slightly different meaning. As immigrants (probably because of the recent migration crisis), I see mainly those who have decided or were forced to leave their country because of the political situation or religious persecution. Or those who have come to seek a better life in a foreign country, yet they refuse to integrate, work, and only with outstretched hands await social benefits (see examples from Germany). So, for this reason, I felt a bit offended, because our situation doesn´t entirely meet the definition above.
My husband and I have come here to work. But we don´t consider ourselves as economic migrants either. We didn´t come here because he couldn´t find a job in the Czech Republic in his field. We didn´t even come here with the vision of making big money (yes, everyone knows you can earn a lot in Switzerland, but few realize that it is a country with pretty high costs of living). We moved here because we had an opportunity. It was an opportunity to take another step in our common life. To move further.
Thank God that every language is so rich that it has enough synonyms to ease these (inappropriate) invectives. That’s why I like the German word “Einwanderer” – incomer. We came to Switzerland because we wanted to know life in another country, another culture, and learn the language. That’s why we try to do our best to be accepted by the Swiss society.
This direct encounter with how someone can see us was my first one. Of course, I would sometimes wonder how others see us. Those with whom we have established contacts and (in our view, good) relationships. But I think that given the innate Swiss courtesy I won´t find it out 😉
Anyway, now I ask you, my dear readers: How would you define an immigrant today? Do you generally consider immigrants also people coming from western-European countries? Would you call a Brit or a Swede, who is the manager of an international company based in Switzerland, an immigrant? Or is it just a word for those who have migrated from eastern countries?
PS: My feelings in this particular situation clearly show how the media has in recent years been able to shift the meaning of the word migration. Of course, once the lecturer explained to me that for her the word “immigrant” does not have such a special “bad taste” as it has in our language, I was fine again 🙂
I’ve just read your post. I am Czech and have lived in Switzerland for 16 years. I have encountered stereotypes that Swiss people still use that are remnants of the cold war and linked to what they were taught to associate with the East (Ostblock). And mind you there were waves of true immigrants from Czechoslovakia to Switzerland that older Swiss generations still remember. I’d say that it’s mainly the language people use without any intention to offend you. It did bother me sometimes when I was new to Switzerland (and younger?), but it doesn’t anymore. Now I find it amusing how long such stereotypes survive in spoken language.
Thank you for your nice comment. Now I know that people here find the word “immigrant” neutral, but it doesn´t have to be that all see it this way.
I’d rather be considered an immigrant (a person who came to this country, for WHATEVER reasons) than an “Ausländer” which is mostly used to express discomfort, even the word itself only states that person comes from a different country.
Either way you’ll never completely fit in, for a million reasons. Just accept it and move on. You have nothing to hide, you do your thing, pay your taxes, recycle properly, you’re good!!!
Nobody really fully fits in. I’m born and raised in Switzerland. I work part time. I don’t fit in with the stay at home moms, and I am not a member of the full time working moms’ group. People see my car and think “what’s wrong with her, does she suffer a midlife crisis?” (Nope, just driving my long term dream car.) There’s always going to be something.
Thanks for your comment, Tamara. I´ve never considered “Ausläder” having worse connotations than “immigrant”, so I considered it to be a negative word (you know, we have the Ausländerausweis). These are the nuances of the language and living abroad – one has to learn so many things!
[…] and culture, and sometimes it is for the mind and the brain quite tiresome. Yes, we are lucky that we are not “immigrants” in that sense we often hear in the media in the last two years. I do not mean to be ungrateful or […]