Being born in Slovakia and growing up/living in Prague, I’m a „half-breed.“ A Czechoslovakian, last of its kind. Or rather a „Slovak-Czech“. Slovakia born, Prague raised.
Being a foreigner in my hometown in the Slovak mountains
My older sister got as a gift, a book, from our relatives for her confirmation. I wanted to read it, but my mom (Slovak) forbade me to. She was afraid the Slovak spelling would get mixed up with the Czech in my head and as a result I would perform poorly with Czech grammar.
I now speak Slovak with an accent, which is rather embarrassing, considering it is technically my mother tongue. I got teased by my Slovak friends for it back then and it continues to this day. For the most part, I choose not to speak it when I visit the land of my origin. Although disrespectful, I cannot stand making people (and myself) listen to my butchering of this beautiful language. Hence, I became a foreigner in my homeland.
Brief moments of being a foreigner in my actual hometown
Every once in a while I experience a stroke of empathy and it has a similar reaction as a shot of morphine. That’s what happened to me then - PLACE: Prague; TIME: evening into the night. I was not an individual but a cell of a larger body - a bigger group composed of foreigners. For a brief moment I got sucked in by the consensus and was provided with an opportunity to see the observed through the majority‘s kaleidoscope. From the local’s perspective, I was one of the pack.
People of Prague are very lukewarm in public: in the streets, in public transportation. They don’t stare, they mind their own business. I was a part of an obnoxiously loud group of foreigners, and I was looked at (or rather not looked at) as a tourist. I knew how the locals felt about us - which was coincidentally how I would feel in their situation. („Uuuurg, tourists…“). Through my foreign friends I got a little taste of how it feels to be foreign, ironically, in my very own city.
Living on a border
It’s funny how a random sentence said so long ago by a random guy resonated in me throughout the years. I briefly knew a guy who was in his early 30s and who grew up having dreams of becoming a rock star. And when reality hit with all the bills, he was left with having to take a job at a bank. He wasn‘t ready to give up on his dream just yet, he still had a band and spent most of his nights at a rock bar. Sometimes he showed up in a suit (coming straight from work) and got teased by his fellow rockers. „A bank accountant amongst rockers, a rocker amongst bank accountants - sad fate of a person on the border or fringes of society.“ During my life, this applied to me in numerous situations. I was that Slovak in that Czech Republic; I was that Czech in Slovakia. I consider it an advantage. I like everything about me that sets me apart from the majority. It makes me feel unique. At the border is a place where I like living.
"…this is a song of hope.."
I have been fortunate enough to be given opportunities to live in and travel numerous places in both the Old and New World. Have I ever experienced feelings of frustration, despair and powerlessness from not being able to be expressing myself? Did I experience incomprehension? Homesickness? Completely and to my very core. But what is far more important, I have in every one of those countries - without exception - experienced local people being nice to me, making me feel comfortable and helping me overcome my struggles of being „an outcast“.
Either I live in some alternative universe full of sunshine, rainbows and unicorns or this world is actually filled with beautiful people who do the little acts of kindness.
Robert Plant, once introduced arguably history's biggest rock ballad with Stairway to heaven a sentence „I think this is a song of love. “ This article is a message of hope and love.
I witnessed people using their skin color or different nationality as an explanation for their unpleasant experience in various situations, even when this was not necessarily the case. Yes, it is soothing being able to play this card every time when faced with rejection. Those people being mean to me means they hate foreigners, it has nothing to do with me as a person. As tempting as using this defense mechanism is, I believe resisting this perspective is better in the long run.
Hey! Maybe Sven did not let you in Barghain, because he didn’t think you would fit in just like tens and hundreds of white Germans that night, but not because he's racist. Maybe the zumba instructor was not picking on you based on your nationality, but simply because he projected his anger on to you and you happened to win the lottery and randomly be the target of it. (Which sucks, but the vast majority of people experiences this sometimes, being at both the giving and receiving end of this phenomena.)
I believe sometimes people would do themselves a favor by allowing themselves to get rid of omniscient suspicion.
That being said, I absolutely do not downplay the struggle of people who, in fact, are being harassed or even discriminated against. I simply would like to state and bring to the reader’s attention the fact that while being a foreigner might evoke negative reactions in locals, it might also evoke in them acts that are testaments of love.
Yes, even if every single local would be nice and welcoming to a foreigner, one could unlikely avoid at least occasional symptoms of missing home. Would I ever safeguard myself from it by never leaving the borders of my country’s comfort zone and depriving myself from the opportunity to explore what this endlessly diverse world has to offer? Would I ever forgo the warmth of locals simply in order to avoid hate from other locals? Thank you, but no thank you.