Not one or the other, too German to be Turkish

As soon as I finish writing something else on the subject of nationality, and the strange fluidity between identities, one more thing seems to find its way onto my radar. The January 6 edition of Marketplace on NPR (and American Public Media) aired a story tonight on the reverse migration of Turks back to Turkey, after several generations have lived and worked in Germany since economic growth created worker shortages fifty years ago.

What was most intriguing to me, beyond the economic ramifications and readjustments for new reverse migrants, were the cultural chasms in their lives. Most of the people featured in the story were born and raised in Germany but with Turkish ethnicity, and so always remained foreign to a certain degree. But these adults embody some entirely German characteristics and will continue to have blended identities. This bit from the story says so much about the contradictions and combinations that arise when the "nationality" construct takes on multiple layers:

[Reporter] Stephen Beard: Ahmet Bahadiarli is driving around the pleasant suburb of Bahcesehir on the outskirts of Istanbul. Ahmet settled here when he arrived in Turkey more than a year ago, because it reminded him of Germany, the country where he was born.

Ahmet Bahadiarli: I was looking for the Germany in Istanbul or the Germany in Turkey. Bahcesehir is a planned suburb. I'm living in a gated community.

He likes his gated apartment complex not because he's worried about crime. It's because in unruly Istanbul, he craves German-style order -- prompting the question: Why did he leave Germany?

Bahadiarli: I never felt really comfortable in Germany. May I behave like a German, I think like a German, but I never feel like a German. I always feel myself as a foreigner.

Even his German friends, he says, were too ready to dismiss all Turks there as muggers or Muslim fanatics. But here in Istanbul he feels at home. And since he makes a living as a day trader and all he needs is a laptop and an Internet connection, he says the move has been fairly seamless. He thinks he'll stay.

As a construct that spreads itself far wider than a single country or ethnicity or linguistic group or even a continent, nationality is a strange thing indeed. We have this irresistible urge to categorize and organize our world into neat, little boxes. It is a universal compulsion, it seems, to think in non-inclusive terms. The consequences are cultural characters wholly caught between two homes.

There's always going to be a cultural clash, says business manager Yildiz Taylan. She left Turkey at the age of nine, and now is back from Germany at the age of 40 to find her roots.

Yildiz Taylan: I am very, very German, I have to admit it. The first step to finding myself and finding the culture, is to admit "OK, I'm too German to be Turkish anymore. I'm sorry, it's gone!"