Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The teacher

There are no official statistics on the number of German nationals living and working in Scotland, but the German consulate in Edinburgh estimates it at 40,000 people. One of them is Kerstin Pfeiffer, who is teaching German at Heriott-Watt University in Edinburgh. After living in Scotland for more than eight years, she has no desire to go back to Germany. “I am rooted so deeply into Scottish earth now, I am here to stay,” she explains. She studied English back in Germany, and did her PhD in medieval drama at the University of Stirling, while teaching German at the same time.

When she first came to Scotland, she planned to stay for a year. But when the year came to a close, she decided to linger here a little longer. She likes the openness and relaxed manner of the Scottish people. She likes how unbureaucratic Scottish life can be. She likes how informal and welcoming people communicate here. And then there are the highlands, just half an hour away, where everything is calm and quiet, where Kerstin Pfeiffer can relax and enjoy the beautiful Scottish countryside. Now, in her mid-thirties, she feels like there is nothing that could make her decide to move back to her home town in Rheinhessen, a rural wine-growing region in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

However, when asked about her feeling of national identity, she makes it clear that she is not just from Germany, but, more specifically, from Rheinhessen. “In our area, local patriotism and pride in our heritage is still very strong,” Kerstin Pfeiffer explains. She enjoys being able to speak her local dialect there without raised eyebrows and pitying glances. And really, if she has to identify herself as other than from Rheinhessen, she would say that she is European. “I only say 'I'm from Germany' when people abroad ask me about where I come from. It would be too much explaining otherwise.”

Kerstin Pfeiffer enjoys living in Scotland. But there is one thing she could do without. “Sometimes I feel afraid walking home on a Friday evening because there are so many extremely drunk people on the streets,” she tells me. Even though she comes from a region splattered with vineyards and wineries, the Scottish binge drinking culture is something she had not seen before.

In a recent YouGov survey commissioned for the annual Anglo-German Königswinter conference, 40 percent of Brits and almost as many Germans questioned thought that the attribute “drunk” applied to the British population. In stark contrast to that, only very few individuals thought that German people could be described in the same way. Germans who had visited Britain in the past were actually more likely to describe the British as “drunk” than those who had never been to the UK.

But other than the fear of drunken Scots, Kerstin Pfeiffer has so far had nothing but positive experiences in Scotland. Sometimes, when she tells other people that she's from Germany, they tell her about their favourite currywurst-stalls and long nights in a Bavarian Bierzelt (beer tent).

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