The German and the American

I spent the late afternoon and evening tonight hanging out with my colleague who is temporarily in the U.S. until August. He’s based in our Amsterdam office, but is relocating to the Cologne office due to an office restructuring. He’s actually originally from Germany, anyway, and lucky him, he got a Green Card through the Green Card lottery, which is why he’s in the States for a few months. He’s ethnically Armenian, but his family roots are in Turkey, but he was born and raised in Germany. I am ethnically Chinese and Vietnamese, born and raised in the U.S. He grew up thinking racism was the norm while in Germany, and I grew up in a bubble in San Francisco, never truly experiencing racism until I moved to the East Coast. When you give two people of different ethnicities and nationalities about five hours together, a lot ends up being discussed around culture and each culture’s idiocies.

“Why do people call Asians yellow?” he asked me. “I don’t get it. At the lightest they are whitish skinned, or they look like you… what are you, like tannish?”

“I have no idea what color I am,” I said. “You might as well call me beige.”

“In the American education system, do you guys get taught that Hitler was actually Austrian and not German?” he asked.

I told him that I remember learning he was Austrian, but it is likely it gets lost in the shuffle of how awful of a person Hitler was.

“I’ve been asked all kinds of questions that I think are dumb since I’ve come here… one person asked me what the capital of Germany was. Another asked me what the official language of the Netherlands is.”

And here’s the real thing that stung: “I realize that I’m really lucky to have a green card… and that so many people want it. But the major thing holding me back from wanting to live here is… I just don’t understand how any rich country like the U.S. doesn’t have universal health care. That should be illegal. What kind of developed country allows people to go bankrupt because they get cancer or some other life-threatening illness? Or why should my university education put me $200K in debt? That makes zero sense to me.”

It makes zero sense to me, too.


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