Put me down as an Opel Kadet

turtle feet

“(….) On Sunday we got to go to the nearest town and buy toothpaste and cigarettes and other essential things from the supermarket. As soon as you entered the supermarket, the cashier would turn off the music and announce ‘Auslander! Auslander!’ over the speakers, to let all the shoppers know that there’s a foreigner in the store-in case someone forgot to smile. Germans are very polite people. Then one day I was called into the Foreigners’ Office to file a petition for an asylum. I thought, dobro, I’m getting out of here. By the way, I get there, and there’s a woman officer sitting behind the desk-she looks nice, a blond frau, and she hands me a set of documents to fill out. I write my name, date and place of birth, and when I get to nationality, I write Yugoslavian. The woman almost had a heart attack. What are you doing? There’s no country called Yugoslavia anymore! There is Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. Choose one and write it down. She gave me a new set of documents and I started again: name, birthdate, place of birth, and when I got to nationality, I wrote Yugoslavian. Choveche, you’ve never seen anyone that upset. There were cogwheels and springs coming out of her ears. She called four other officers and they all sat around me, instructing me what to write. One of them said, Put down that you’re Bosnian, you were born in Bosnia. I told him I can’t. I was born in Bosnia to a Serbian father and Croatian mother. Therefore I can’t call myself Bosnian, Serbian, or Croatian. I am a Yugoslavian. But such country doesn’t exist! Well, I told them, put me down as an Opel Kadet. They all went nuts: But that’s a car model! You’re not a car. I said, put me down as an Opel Kadet. You could take me to court, you could put me in prison, you could deport me, but I’m not changing my mind. If other people can make up countries and nationalities, then I can make up my own nationality: Opel Kadet. It sounds good. By the way, everything is made up: Germany is made up, Europe is made up, the earth is made up, life is made up, time is made up. There are no facts, only stories. So put me down as Opel Kadet. And they did. We fought for nine hours. In the end, they gave up. They typed all the documents, signed them, and stamped them. I was officially a car. Color gray. Model 1987. Four doors plus a hatchback. No power steering.”

Nikolai Grozni, Turtle Feet (Riverhead, 2008)

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