I got to enjoy a nice change of pace last weekend, leaving Paris for the first time to visit Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg is an awesome place. It’s quaint and relaxed—and apparently nobody worries about calorie counting. Everyone around you is eating gelato all the time. Wherever you find yourself in Freiburg you’re surrounded by picturesque green mountains that look like they came straight out of “The Sound of Music.” In my mind, this was the epitome of a cute German city.
What I hadn’t predicted before my visit was the number of Turkish doner kebab restaurants that I would see in Freiburg. For those of you who haven’t had the good fortune of eating a doner kebab sandwich, it’s basically a gyro. The sandwich is served with pita bread, lettuce, tomatoes and some heart attack-inducing mystery meat whose origins you’d probably rather not know.
Eating doner kebabs in Freiburg was not a completely new experience for me. You can find doner kebab shops all over France and especially in Paris. For me, doner kebab is just a delicious meal that I wish I could eat more often if it didn’t mean having to deal with my lame Whole Foods indoctrination. For others, namely the French and more broadly all Europeans, the advance of the doner kebab represents a more serious phenomenon.
Last summer I participated in the Duke in Paris program that involved living in a homestay. I lived with an older French couple, both of whom I found to be very French, very conservative and, quite frankly, very xenophobic. It’s obvious that not all French people are of the same mindset as my homestay family, but even so their opinions are somewhat representative of a fair amount of the French population. I came home one night with a bit of an upset stomach after having eaten too much steak tartare (raw beef) at a French restaurant. I told my host dad about it and he responded by giving me an in-depth lecture on the takeover of local French cafés by immigrants whose products were always of poor quality and who had degraded French cuisine. “If you see that the owner of a café is not French, then do not go. The foreign owners cut corners and don’t follow standards of hygiene. They cannot be trusted,” he said.
I didn’t have the guts to question my host dad. He was a pretty intimidating individual and, considering that it was the first week of my program, I wanted to avoid getting off on the wrong foot. Nevertheless, my host dad’s xenophobic rant opened my eyes to a serious issue in Europe, the United States and the world today.
The human race is presently experiencing a tremendous amount of transnational, transcontinental and cross-cultural migration. Having spent just about a month on the outskirts of Paris, I quickly learned that the stereotypical image of a Parisian no longer holds true. Just down the road from where I live there is a grocery shop owned by a Syrian man, as well as a sushi restaurant, a West African restaurant, a Chinese restaurant—you name it. International cuisine aside, if you hop on the metro in the morning you’ll see how truly diverse this city has really become.
This meeting of peoples and clash of cultures is obviously not a simple process. In Europe, it has manifested itself with a surge in xenophobia, right-wing anti-immigrant parties and a struggle to define national identities. The U.S. also finds itself in the midst of a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment and a heated debate over borders, even as a country that promotes the values of opportunity and freedom.
Clearly, globalization presents a host of serious issues that face society today. In terms of our economies, our politics and our identities, the people of the world have a lot to deal with now that we’ve never faced before. As an individual, I acknowledge a feeling of helplessness and uncertainty when it comes to these kinds of issues. I’m not totally sure what I think about immigration policies or the global effects of Chinese fiscal policy.
What I do know, however, is that I feel lucky to be living in such a time. Just within the confines of this campus I’ve met people from Senegal, China, India, Vietnam, Mali, France and more. Even at Duke, we have a student body with people from all over the world. You don’t have to go very far to find someone of a different race, religion or cultural background. Even as the tide of anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to grow in many places, it’s important to cherish the more present realities of this global world. Globalization is a process of people from all over the world meeting each other. It takes place on an individual level, face to face. As people it’s an opportunity to learn to live together and to recognize our shared humanity, a phenomenon that will certainly make our lives more exciting.
Philip Doerr is a Trinity junior and is currently studying abroad in Paris, France. His column runs every other Thursday.