Body language


Dear Vlad,
Thanks for your concerns and for being always there for me. Now after 10 years of relapse we can correspond again, as before, when we were Moscow students. In your last letter you write that your girlfriend feels so upset by illness of her dog that she stopped painting, and unfinished canvases clutter in the room.  I wish Dalmatian improve to bring Lena’s artistic inspiration back.
You ask how I feel myself in Vienna, and what made fully-fledged woman of 40 to immigrate to German speaking country eight years ago – without friends and relatives to give her support, with zero knowledge of German and zero finances, having no occupational prospects as media professional.

It was hard, of course. In a sense it was harder than anything else I knew before, though raised up in Soviet society, we witnessed unusual precedents  – from ration cards cereal to tanks in the streets, and got used to shocking novelties of post-perestroika environment. When one finds herself in epicenter of turmoil, or in sharp pain, one is incapable of methodic analyze. Only later I could see my own insufficiencies which resulted in hardships.
I desperately wanted to escape from Russia, and any developed country would serve purpose. In spite of our deeply engrained dissident awe of Western civilization, I knew little of specific Austrian traditions. Moreover, I felt secret contempt for Austrians with their superfluous courteousness and petit bourgeoisie provincialism; I felt aversion for their language, which sounded rude and imperative, offending my hearing. It took me years of permanent living in Austria to appreciate unique beauty and structural clarity of German and dignified national tolerance of people around.
The language problems particularly affected my life in Graz, where I spent first five years of my immigration. One can say Vienna is cozy, neat, pretentious, charming and void of real business atmosphere place, city of émigrés and cafés, where nobody would judge your poor pronunciation, except of mythical potential employers, – with so many women in headscarves in background. But provincial Graz is much more mono-national, and speaking German, if not openly required, than desired.
Speechless human beings are externalized, reduced in perception of others to visibilities of their appearance. Socrates told once to his pupil: “Speak that I may see you”. When you cannot express yourself, people are incapable to draw out contours of your identity, to define your appeal. You simply take identity ascribing to you.

People, if not disillusioned by communication, tend to see in others reflections of their own “self” or manifestation of their own problem zones. They operate with readymade samples starting new communication experience. For example, when casual looking African stranger addresses us in the street, our brain may quickly extract all negative information stored in our memory on theme “asylum, AIDS and crime”, and we instantly turn away from him. We see not concrete personality, but cumulative image of our own insecurities. The black guy has no opportunity to rehabilitate himself, if he does not talk.

When you are isolated and voiceless, feeling yourself lost, singular, separated from others, when you keep intolerable silence – you are automatically reduced by others to “he” or “she”. “He” is normally valued for bodily functionalities, for all that looks firm under dirty overalls, for capability to wash piles of dishes in dirty cellar, trim the lawn, build the brick wall and be happy with any reward offered.
“She” is valued for endurance and patience, for shapes and looks, for washing, cleaning, taking care of small shrieking bastards and soothing exasperating needs of long-married Austrian men – with naturally lubricated orifices and for low price.
Mute persons do low jobs and satisfy somebody’s lower needs, providing with their bodies raw material for pedestal of others. They may be reproached in parasitism, ignorance and lack of enthusiasm to learn German. When after certain time they really learn language and gain ability to protect their identity, they stop to serve others interests and instantly claim right to be served by others too.

Galina Toktalieva

Kyrgyzstan-born author residing in Graz, Austria

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1 Response

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