American Views Abroad

Friday, May 22, 2009
How often does one open up the business pages of the IHT these days and come upon a heart-warming report along these lines: Let them eat brioche! Town saves bakery by Sarah Schweitzer. Not just any bakery, but a real French one and the town is a small rural one in New Hampshire that is being hit hard by lay-offs and businesses closing. Citizens of an American town rising up and fighting to keep something that at first seemed so alien, but in the end proved a smashing success and something they simply didn't want to live without, even in hard times. Alas, a story worth smiling about.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009
There was a full page of articles on why fewer foreigners in Germany are striving to obtain German citizenship in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. The primary reason given is that Germany demands its new citizens to renounce their first citizenship when becoming German. Worth noting is that any new citizen who is from one of the European Union countries does not have to comply with this rule and is allowed to keep both passports. According to all reports there has never been any problem with those who do indeed have double citizenship. So why the double standard? Of course the only example constantly mentioned in the media is the case of Turkish citizens who often don't want to give up their Turkish passport because they might have difficulty inheriting property later on. What is almost never mentioned are all those citizens from, say, English speaking countries who refuse to renounce one citizenship for another. It is a drastic step, forcing one to officially cut a tie to one's birth nation, and for non-political reasons. What does one get in return, except for the right to vote in local and national elections? If you are a permanent resident you have to pay taxes here, have health insurance, pay into the social security system and follow all the laws of the land, which we all do. In my case I exchange voting in US federal elections instead of in German national ones. I am forced to give up my rights to vote in local elections both in New York City and here. There is no good reason for me after over 30 years to have any voice in local NY affairs, though I follow what happens there closely. After all, it's my hometown. I do follow closely what happens here, but from a unique distance. I'm part of it, but then I'm not.

Ultimately it comes down to the rather emotional factor of when returning home do I want to line up in the foreigner's line and present a German passport which lists my birth city as New York or do I want to pass through my birth country as one of its own? What harm would it do Germany to have citizens like me who have feelings for both countries? It is interesting to note that never once has any German official ever approached me about obtaining citizenship. On the other hand, since 9/11 the rules have changed here. Should I decide to leave Germany for a period over three months without informing the authorities, I would lose all my rights to permanent residency and would have to start the process all over again. Never mind that I am married to a German citizen and my children were born here. Did I mention that these children have double citizenship from birth on? They were lucky enough to have a German father and an American mother. For those children now born in Germany with non-German parents who have lived here for a number of years, the laws are different. These children are allowed to have both citizenships until age 23 when Germany demands they decide which one to hold onto and which one to abandon. It is going to be interesting to see what happens when this generation comes of age. What are the Germans going to do with those who have served in the German military, perhaps even abroad in these days, and then decide not to hold onto their German passport? Will they really count them as foreigners suddenly? Tell them that though they were born here, attended school here and speak the language, they are no longer a citizen simply because they have decided for another passport? Of course, most of them most likely won't opt for the other passport. It just seems harsh and petty to force them to have to make a decision that is a private, emotional one.

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