Elegy

This is hard to write. Trigger warnings all over the place.

An old student of mine took her life this time last year. I think about her often. This is to her.

My first, temporary response to the news of your death was relief. Because I was sure the bad news was going to be the Worst News and then I thought I was being told you were only going to be late to the writing meeting. Relief is what I felt. Then your friend went on with the news and it hit me that it was indeed the Worst News and I felt confusion. Confusion before grief.

I looked up how you had died and it took some time because the news were being responsible. Even though your death was news worthy, they kept it out of the headlines. Suicide can spread you see. If the news report a suicide in a certain way, young people can ‘catch’ the compulsion. So, you were a person under a train where ‘all signs pointed to suicide’. Not a fifteen year old girl. Not a K-pop fan. Not a funny, shy and fiercely intelligent young lady. A person. Who died and stopped the trains for a few hours.

I want to smash everything at the thought that your impact on the world was a few hours delay on the trains. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

If I could have told you this somehow:- That genuinely and honestly this adolescence shit does get better even though it is pretty grim for a long time. Would that have made any difference? Could it have done?

Your mother opened a Facebook memorial for you and posted all your gawkiest childhood pics. Just like when my friend died of leukaemia and her mum played Bon Jovi at the wake. She kept calling you a ‘princess’ and ‘beautiful’. You were beautiful. Oh my god, the hearts you were about to break, girl. But that wasn’t the best of you. It wasn’t the most remarkable thing about you. It wasn’t YOU.

Maybe you were a princess inside but that is not what I associate with you at all. You weren’t some fucking girl in a big dress and a tower waiting for some boy to make you a woman. You were a bad ass. You were quietly subversive. You were hilarious. You were a little bit nuts in a good way. You were bookish and shy. You were fierce and brave.

And the way you took care of your friends and the fun you had.

So. I do not know what happened to you and why you felt the way you did. I wish I could have helped you. I wish you had accepted help from anyone at all. I don’t understand what happened. I did all the research I could. Exhaustively searching the internet for clues. Some meaning in it all. Eventually, I just talked to your friends and they told me that you were on an upswing. That you waited for a time when you were feeling the best, so you could never get so low again. We visited your grave. A day of three people not believing what just happened and not knowing what to say to each other.

A teacher at my new school put up a sign in the staffroom “Teaching is the ultimate act of optimism”. I don’t think I agreed with it until now. I taught you and I tried to make your life better. I hoped against hope that you would go on to have a great life. And you won’t. You died as a child. You didn’t get to see that all these thoughts are an illusion. That they pop up and try to pull your strings. But they are nothing. They are brain acid burps. Depression lies.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Nanowrimo

This is the story of Nanowrimo for me.

One day, in London, a friend told me about a writing competition where you write your novel against the clock. I signed up and then in the first week, a bunch of shit happened and I was too busy and blah blah blah.

Then I moved country and I had no friends and nothing to do so I wrote my first 50 000 word manuscript. Chuffed with my success, I came back from a holiday inspired by a concert and wrote my first 100 000 word manuscript over the course of 6 months or so. It was wild.

The next year, I decided to share the nanowrimo love with my students. My book nerd kids showed up after school and we had 5 minute dance parties, raisins and hot chocolate. I made a printed book of their best bits. I still have it. The next year: some new kids, some kids who had left school showed up. Same raisins, same hot chocolate, added popcorn into the mix. And I just kept doing it.

A librarian got in contact and we tried to run a library project together in my geography lessons. It wasn’t a rousing success but it wasn’t a bust. I mentioned Nanowrimo and he let us have our wrap party in the library. It was super sweet.

The next year, I was pretty sure I would be leaving the school (if not the town, if not the country) but I wanted to make sure my nanos had somewhere to go. So, I tried to make Nanowrimo more of a town thing. It didn’t really work for a lot of reasons but my students had somewhere to go. So, we would write in the town library and it was all good times.

I left that school and felt awful about it but I had to go. The next year, the library was hosting Nanowrimo again and so I got involved again but this time without having to organise a thing.

My twitter from when I was trying to get all the town interested was still up and so I had the twitter handles of my old students. And they were getting excited about Nanowrimo! Whether they were in our town or not. They were going to write-ins in their new city. Or thinking about their plots.

And I felt so warm and fuzzy, I cannot even describe. Like, it was just a way to share a love of books with my book-nerd kids. That is all it was. Just a bit of fun. And it turned out to be life changing. It turned out to be something good in their lives. And I went to our write-ins and they are growing and changing and I just feel so proud of them.

I haven’t won since that first time but, in a way, I have won every single year since I started the club.

Posted in Denmark | 4 Comments

Micro Aggressions and Stranger Danes

To preserve anonymity of the people I meet, I try not to tell stories that would give away individuals. I’ve had a few experiences in the last few weeks that I really wanted to talk about but there was no way to do so without invading the privacy of others.

I don’t know what happened but I suddenly had a flood of invitations to events where I would be an unaccompanied foreigner to a group of people that do not know me or each other. A wedding, a party, a training event, that sort of thing.

And I had to meet a LOT of stranger Danes.

Here is my Ideal Stranger Dane, of which I met maybe half a dozen at these events.

  • Starts out with a question or a comment not about where I come from
  • Talks to me about something interesting that we can both get stuck into
  • Finds things in common
  • Makes jokes/laughs at my jokes
  • Is patient with my mistakes in pronunciation/word order/correct word usage

Here are the things that are (more or less), involuntary that Stranger Danes sometimes do (and it gets on my nerves)

  • Shudders or pulls a face when they hear my accent
  • Keeps that expression on their face whenever I speak to them
  • Walks away/turns their back on me when I approach while they are on their own
  • Repeats everything I say back to me with a singy-songy voice as if teaching an infant how to speak
  • Does not return my smile (or if they do, it doesn’t touch their eyes)
  • Only makes eye contact when talking about crime
  • Looks pissed off when I say Danish is not actually that hard for an English speaker (the hard thing only being that it must be perfect or ELSE)
  • Looks super pissed off when I say I have been in Denmark for 6 years

Here are the things that are just thoughtless but are somewhat of a choice

  • Asks DURING Danish language conversations I am having with them, if I speak Danish
  • Asks after I have replied in the affirmative “But do you UNDERSTAND Danish?”
  • Tells me that I do not understand Danish, while I am listening
  • Goes on about how hard Danish must be for me
  • Only asks me about where I am from and why I came to Denmark
  • Ignores me after this information has been shared
  • Compares me pointedly with other people who are also learning Danish
  • Insists that if I have a problem with an activity it must be because of my shitty language skills
  • Tells me that I am not ‘integrating’ if I choose not to be ignored or patronised by choosing another activity or if everyone around me chooses to move away from me
  • Underestimates my intelligence vocally

There are plenty of foreigners who can handle this or do not notice it. But it gets to me after a while. Especially since, if I bring this up, some people will jump on me to tell me all this stuff happens because I am a fucking bitch who deserved it.

Well, it never happened in the UK and it never happened in France and it never happened in Germany. In the UK, I make friends super easily. In France and Germany, people are used to hearing their language being mauled and they’re cool with it. They just let you communicate and are more or less Ideal Strangers.

In Denmark, people are not used to hearing their language mangled and they have been infected with the idea that foreigners are bad. Our badness stems from not wanting to be part of the group and not learning the language to perfection. Look at Prince Henri, he’s pretty much reviled and his Danish is perfect… he just has a French accent. That’s enough for Danish people to think that he is a stuck up prick. That’s all it took.

Of course, none of the people who were less than Ideal were bad people. They are nice, decent, otherwise smart people. They just lack empathy, curiosity and self-awareness. So, those people didn’t get to find out about the things that we have in common or some awesome or interesting point of view that only I can share. They didn’t get to find out that I am funny. They didn’t get to hear what it is actually like to be foreign in their country. So. I guess I won that one?

 

Posted in Danish, Danish Language, Denmark, Personal, Travelogue | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

New word: Danboozle

Danboozle: verb

To try to convince someone to do something in a certain way because ‘this is how it is done in Denmark’ (whether it is or not).

Example:- Here in Denmark, we always rinse the washing up thoroughly under hot water before placing it in the dishwasher.

 

Posted in Denmark | 7 Comments

Fightbooking

This is the best thing I’ve seen. It’s a fight amongst suburban Danes about dog shit.

For those of you lucky enough not to know: dog shit is somewhat of an epidemic in Denmark. I’ve never had it dansplained as a ‘negative form of politeness’ or ‘just the way Danes are: deal with it’, so I’m not sure why exactly that is. My take is that people just feel entitled to do whatever the fuck they want, so why would they bend down with a plastic bag and feel how warm their dog’s poo is?

Anyway, let’s get some popcorn because someone is mad about it.

First

Red: It’s gone wrong again dear dog owners Fucking filth !!!!!

 

2

Orange: Agreed…. It’s just a bit difficult and find the dog owner… Heheh

Red: Yes unfortunately, Orange (;

Lime: Ew basterd

Orange: Where is it?

Orange: And is it usually bad there??

Red: By the shared housing commune, forest hill path towards the subway underpass

Blue: Someone’s got shit on their shoes! :’)

Red: And who do you think that was, Blue??

Blue: The wolf?

Blue: Or you? :D

Red: Good Guess my boy

Dark pink: Oh no! We just have to hope that the dog is on Facebook and in this group so they can see it themselves!!!

Red: You trying to be cute, Dark pink?

Yellow: Look on the bright side dear Red, you could have been bare footed ! First world’s problems

 

(I rather think the lack of safe disposal of hazardous waste is also a third world problem but ok)

3

Purple: Hello I am a dog owner myself but often see, that the bags with shit in them are thrown on the ground.

Cyan: Unbelievable people can’t tidy up after their dog, their best friend. That can’t be. As far as I know, you’re not allowed to have a dog in forest hill. You can look after a holiday dog but you should also look after these (accidents). Tidy up after yourself. There’s no one that thought about sliding in one. :-( :-(. Not even you with a dog :(

Green: Of course it’s not okay and filthy. But why should all of us, who have fuck all to do with it, be “punished” with a cloying picture of a smeared shit thrown at us on Facebook? What are you trying to achieve? I think recently all the grumpy old men and their petty problems have been filling up too much of this wall.

Cyan: Green, I liked Red’s status. Many that follow fb, and many more will get to read it. Also many might feel embarrassed about this filth in an otherwise dog free area. You maybe have a dog yourself? That you don’t even want to clean up after. Ugh, shame on you :(

Green: There’s nothing wrong with the message. It’s how it is delivered and the forum it is delivered in. Like everyone in this area is a badly behaved dog owner. And such a foolish comment that I should be ashamed. You know nothing about me. That’s exactly my point, that grumpy men like you, tar us with the same brush, if there’s something they’re not happy about. As far as I am aware, there is neither nor ought there to be anywhere in the local area that is declared dog free. Luckily.

 

The reply from Cyan which came in after I did the screenshots:-

I’m not grumpy. It just sounded like you had a dog yourself and didn’t care about the leftovers.

Of course there should be space for dogs. But in an area where you are not allowed to have dogs, the owner should make damn sure they tidy up after their fiddle.

 

And this argument about nothing is everything I have been saying about Denmark for six years.

  • Someone has a complaint about something because it directly affected them
  • Some people agree it is bad (but what can you do?)
  • A guy makes a joke which doesn’t really land
  • Someone passive aggressively tells off the complainant for complaining
  • Someone else tells him to think positively and be grateful for what he has
  • Someone else agrees it is a bad thing at length
  • Someone else says the complainant is making people who do not do the bad thing feel bad and it’s just grumpy old men who complain
  • One of the so-called grumpy old men accuses him of, in fact, doing that very bad thing if he’s saying they shouldn’t talk about it

No one thinks of solutions to the problem. No one asks “how do other cultures deal with this more successfully?” They just go round and round with the same old dance. Jokes, passive aggression, “positivity”, not-all-dog owners, ad hominem attacks.

I think it’s funny myself. Also, I think it’s interesting to see how they interact in this space. If they were to meet in the street, even where the dog shit was, they wouldn’t say anything to each other without prior appointment a month in advance.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Denmark | 4 Comments

One from the Vaults: The Buck Stops Where?

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Something prescient from 2011 about Venstre foreign policy hope you enjoy reading it again.

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And so, wearily, on to immigration.

As I noted previously, Venstre allowing certain people from certain “developed” countries to have an easier experience when they try to live here permanently with their Danish husband or wife throws up problems.

The Integration Minister (Søren Pind) said at the time in a newspaper column that he was “sick to death of equality mongers”.

The Press releases from the Integration Ministry are never translated into English. Highlights of a recent one saying how successful the current immigration policies are include “Denmark is internationally seen an example of good integration,” (which is demonstrably untrue, as international reports have noted Denmark is the worst at integration), and “Denmark is today more open to foreigners than ever before but now you come to Denmark to study and work, unlike earlier where you came for asylum or family reunification,”
and my personal favourite
“But at the same time I am in the process of modernising the Danish Immigration legislation, so that for example, now it will be easier to have family reunification with foreigners who come from countries which have a marked similarity with Denmark.”

If Søren “effing” Pind thinks that Japan, Canada, The USA and Australia are “markedly similar” to Denmark, then this guys problems are more serious than we think.
His grounds for choosing the countries that are on the favoured list have nothing to do with similarity with Denmark but are rather
1) No visa required to visit Denmark from their country
2) Member of OECD
3) At the top of the Human Development Index

Which includes South Korea and Israel for all three criteria. He never mentions them in his speeches.

The OECD is a club you can belong to if you like democracy and market economies. There are 34 countries in it, less than 30% are outside of Europe. The President of the OECD is Mexican. If he married a Dane, he would have to sit the language test to be allowed to stay in the country with her.
There are no African countries in the group. Only Japan, S Korea and Israel are from Asia. Only Chile and Mexico are from Central/South America.

The Human Development Index is a calculation made on the basis of life expectancy, education and income… A way of calculating if a country is “developing” or “developed”. Denmark comes 19th, behind all the other Scandinavian countries and, as I have noted, South Korea, Japan and Israel.
Making the cut of “Highly Developed Country” but behind Denmark are countries like Bahrain, Qatar, UEA, Barbados, Singapore and Brunei.
As they are not members of the OECD, these highly developed countries are not “similar” enough for Mr Pind.

Then the visa arrangements. How very strange that this would be requirement for saying a person was more able to integrate. Whether you need a visa or not to enter a country depends on if a visa has been negotiated with the country or not. “Similarity” is a very funny way of putting something like that.

Now, let’s just cut the crap for a second. If a Dane has fallen in love with someone from another country, surely the Dane should be the judge of whether she or he is “similar” enough to be romantically involved with. Why second guess them? Why say that similarity between cultures can only be judged on visa arrangements, a country’s membership of an arbitrary group AND the use of controversial development indicators?
He has enough courage to come out and say things that are not true, like Denmark is internationally recognised as a good place for integration but not enough courage to say that he only wants Danes to marry people from predominantly white, non-muslim, rich, democratic, market-forces led countries.

He has to couch it in terms that are understandable but not easily translated into plain English and spread far and wide. Dogwhistle politics, they call it. He uses the word “similar” to mean a certain thing and that thing is not about cultural values or ability to learn a language or will to integrate but rather a similarity on the most superficial of bases.

We have to watch this development carefully. He is saying that people from certain countries do not have to pass a stupid test to be allowed to stay with their Danish spouse today but tomorrow, he will almost certainly be saying those people should also be allowed welfare benefits like receiving health care without having to pay extra out of pocket.
This will be a way of ensuring that foreign wives of Danes only give birth on Danish soil if there is a good chance they are white. This is what is coming, everyone so try to act surprised when it happens.

This is the State’s Minister being questioned on the new rules that would make exceptions for people from certain countries.

His answers are instructive. Some highlights if I may…
Enhedslisten’s (the Red-Green party), Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen asked the Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen, how is this remotely fair?

Why should an Argentinian man have to sit a test that a Japanese man does not have to? What objective reasons are there?

He tries not to answer it and just goes into some guff which reveals he wants it both ways, he wants tough immigration rules but he wants to be perceived as having an open society. (We want an open society, not a wide-open society)
Johanne gets to ask again and she says that she was not asking about the administration’s immigration policy but the concrete question of “how is that even fair?”

He tries to pass the buck to Søren Pind “because I am indeed not an expert at caseworker level here” (echoing his COP15 performance when he was trying to be chair and when he got it wrong “I am not familiar with the regulations in this system”)
He makes the general point that the thinking of the administration is to be as flexible as possible for those that have “integration potential”, who have “the will (to integrate?)”, who can… fit in our society.

Line Barfod asks the same question “What are the objective criteria that say that people from certain countries should be subject to different rules? What are the objective facts behind the Minister’s opinion that an Argentinian man cannot handle Denmark?”

He blusters, passes the buck to Søren Pind again, he says the grounds have something to do with the UN’s development index.

Lene clarifies that she does not require Lars to go into great masses of detail into individual cases, simply wants him to explain what the objective criteria are for his opinion that an Argentinian man will find it harder to manage Denmark and have a weaker desire learn Danish than a Japanese man. Why would an Argentinian man find learning Danish harder than a Japanese man?

He answers that the debate needs to be had. But later.

This is interesting. They picked “men” on purpose. They picked those countries on purpose.

Why they could not have said “Why would a woman from Pakistan find it harder to learn Danish than a woman from the USA?” goes to the heart of what this is about. They needed to find the most “ridiculous” case thrown up by this law. The case of two men from equally strange but equally non-muslim countries being treated very differently.

If they had brought up women from Islamic countries, there was always a risk he would say “Well, of COURSE, they will find it harder to integrate!” If they had brought up men and women from African countries, would he have made other ignorant observations?

Even if he did not say ignorant things, the Press would dutifully report the story in such a way that they did not need to be said. The prejudice in this country is that people from the US are more able to integrate than people from “Muslim” countries. What objective criteria is this based on? There is none.

Dogwhistle politics.

He claims that he wants to make it easier for those who can and want to integrate to come here. As there is no way of knowing who that is ahead of time, they have just decided to claim those from developed, democratic, rich countries are better at integration than those from “dissimilar” countries.

This would be a lot easier to talk about if they would reveal what integration is. Søren Pind said it was “assimilation”, becoming Danish and a bunch of American immigrants freaked out. They love being here, they said, but they do not want to BE Danish.

Is integration the ability to get a job? They already have a point system in play which allows those with educational backgrounds far in advance of the average Dane to settle here. If you have a PhD from a top 10 university but also come from a “dissimilar” country like Barbados or China, how will that impede job hunting?

If integration is about speaking Danish, then Prince Henrik (bless his heart), never really integrated properly into Danish society and he is FRENCH. As similar as you can get on these development criteria.
Plus, some of my friends are Americans in Denmark who cannot speak Danish. Even luksus Australian Gus does not speak fluent Danish. Meanwhile, all of the immigrants from “dissimilar countries” I know speak fluent Danish (fluent enough to get 12 in their 9th class Danish oral exam, some of them).

What do they mean by integration and why on earth would coming from a muslim, poor, non-democratic country preclude you from finding it easy?

Lars Løkke Rasmussen should have been hounded from office ages ago. He is incompetent, he passes the buck, his ministers make embarrassing mistakes, he presides over an administration which deliberately and accidentally misleads and he seems to be drunk most of the time.

The Danish Press leave him be. He is allowed to make such statements, answer questions in this way and get away with all manner of double-speak without being challenged.

The buck should stop with him but as he refuses to take on that responsibility, it must stop with the Press.

Posted in Danish | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments

A little music for your entertainment

If you haven’t seen True Detective yet, I recommend you do. The title put me off too. It’s good! It’s really good!

Anyway, the following song is the title track for the show. It’s basically been on repeat on my mp3 player since I heard it.

Posted in Personal | Tagged ,
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