Last week, at a formal dinner in Homerton I met a group of colleagues from Kazakhstan. Most people won't even know where it is. Our Faculty is running a project with Kazakhstan to enlighten this poor primitive nation. At least that's what their idiom suggests: "We will teach them..." (rather than, for instance, " we will exchange experience"). But this is another story.
A Cambridge colleague introduced me, also suggesting that I spoke Russian. Another blunder: they do have a language of their own in Kazakhstan, apart from speaking Russian and English and Turkish and possibly some other language. In fact, their English was excellent. But since my Russian was mentioned, subsequent questions were inevitable, and I had to admit that I was born in Moscow, and yes, I have been to Kazakhstan, more precisely to Qustanai, and the reason was that my familty was deported there. The Cambridge colleagues stared in horror. The Kazakh colleagues got agitated. What sort of deportees? (there were dozens of nationalities among them). Germans? Oh we love Germans, they are so nice, and they did so much for our education and culture, opened schools and theatres and were so friendly. Any relatives left? No, I had to say, everybody repatriated to Germany in the '90s. Kazakh colleague: Yes, we miss them. In my school, I was the only Kazakh pupil, all the rest we Germans.
The Cambridge colleagues grew more and more perplexed. Not only was their knowledge of geography insufficient, but their knowledge of 20th century history outside the UK was non-existent. I explained briefly, without any graphic details. They stared at me with awe. I doubt that they understood.