Of course, there are those that would say “Denmark does NOT need foreigners” but those people usually have recent French, Dutch or German ancestry. They almost certainly have Greek ancestry. So, let’s treat those people with the contempt they deserve, alright?
Foreigners come to Denmark for three main reasons. A job, a partner and fleeing persecution. The Danish establishment acts like it only wants the first group (and only on the proviso that they piss off back home before they get old or sick), but it needs the other two groups just as much. The Danish gene pool has been stagnating for too long. When you hear fuckwits pronounce Denmark as “homogenous” (they are fuckwits because it’s not true and anyone with a library card can find that out), stagnation goes hand in hand with that. Genetic stagnation leads to dangerous situations like illnesses and so on. Denmark is a hotspot for diabetes and cancer. No one has adequately explained to me if this is environmental or hereditary. A lack of biodiversity cannot help, if you did this to beasts you would have to explain yourself to Societies for Protection of Animals.
Genetic stagnation is ended with the entrance of foreign spouses and refugees. What also ends is cultural stagnation. I am sure it is very reassuring to do things in the same way as your forefathers but this nostalgia is actually a recent invention. Christmas, for example, the most Danish of all the festivals, had its current rituals established only a few hundred years ago. And *shock horror* from different countries (Galilee/Roman Judea being one of the most obvious sources). Sankt Hans night (coming up in a few weeks, prepare yourself for the breathless blogs), is German but originally they were not burning a witch at all but evil spirits. It changed. Everything changes.
Some Danes like to think that raising a dannebrog and singing Evangelical Lutheran hymns is as Danish as it gets, timeless and immutable; but the old Danish flag was of a rook (in honour of Odin) and Vikings had to be shown magic tricks to convert to Christianity. Not to mention, the hymns were penned in the 1800s. Not to mention, Denmark used to be Catholic until the Reformation.
Why don’t Danes still worship Odin? And drink mead out of horns? And die of typhoid? Because those cultural markers are no longer important. They abandoned them for things that suited them better. Like every culture does. It is like that EVERYWHERE, is where I am going with this.
The arrival of American spouses, Somali refugees and everyone else makes for a richer cultural inheritance. This is as true for food as for art as for “takes” on the world. Denmark needs these people or it will disappear up its own bum like a sick ourbourous, mistaking recent innovations in family traditions for something that needs to be defended to the death or lose something essential about the national character.
If I could make a criticism of the film Hvidstengruppen, it would be that they seemed to be fighting for “Danishness”, so idiots watch it and are persuaded that those people DIED for Danishness. We must preserve 1940s Danishness at all costs or risk spitting on their graves, they splutter. The tag line of the movie had it “Some die so that others may live” but the film did not really go there at all. I expect that the Danish resistance to the German occupation had less to do with the very abstract idea of “I want Denmark to be Danish”; it probably was more about the unaccountability of the German forces which led to cruelty, discrimination and neglect. People knew about death camps and the fate of Jews, trade unionists, homosexuals, gypsies, black people and so on. That tends to prey on the mind.
No one dies so they can dance around a Christmas tree, I’m sorry but they don’t, they risk death because they are afraid their daughter might get raped or that their son might not be able to get a job or their entire livelihood might be on the line. Fuck me, even Allo Allo was able to get that message across. René, Michelle, Mimi and everyone weren’t interested in “Frenchness”, they just wanted a nice life. (Ditto for the majority of the German characters, which is what made ‘Allo Allo’ a king amongst sitcoms)
The Danish state has very recently relaxed entry and residency requirements as it now recognises the economic benefits of foreigners.
Why are foreigners such an economic boon to Denmark? At first I thought it was the difference in educational systems. Foreign trained experts have been given much deeper insights into their subjects and have been given more independence than even very high level Danish students. Also, Danish students are studying things that Denmark does not need. Denmark needs high technology experts to design pieces of kit or pharmaceuticals to sell around the world. Danish students are opting for other subjects, so these companies must always look abroad.
I am reading a fascinating book on creativity called Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, and I am starting to wonder if Danish culture is to blame for the Danish problem of needing foreign workers in high technology posts. (Fun fact: Many nations have similar problems.)
High technology firms need creativity in a very high degree. They need mastery of a subject (and I am still not convinced a Danish trained student is getting that opportunity) and they need fresh insights.
Apparently, what can fuel deeper and better insights is foreign travel. Seeing new cultures and new ways of doing things makes the mind more flexible to possibilities.
Now, it is reasonably common for Danes to spend a year abroad. But I keep meeting Danes who had their year out in the UK or the USA. Places where the culture can seem the same as in Denmark for a long time, maybe up to a year. And then these benefits are only possible if you bend your mind to a new understanding in your new environment. The account of the Dane abroad, bringing their own ryebread and staying in Danish hotels, does not allow for much cultural understanding of the unfamiliar country. (I am somewhat of an expert of this phenomenon, my people are total dicks when they visit other countries “Little Englanders” we call them. Ugh.)
Having a foreign spouse or a friend from Pakistan might confer similar benefits (someone go do that experiment and come back, plox). But enjoying holidays in the same country, in the same house, with the same culture all around you and no difference or diversity… it stunts your mind.
What can also feed creativity are chance encounters. Denmark desperately needs a thing called “the third space” (1st: home, 2nd: work, 3rd: none of the above), where people can meet at random. Conversations with strangers, with acquaintances and with friends are what keep us going. It is what sparks new thoughts and gives us new possibilities. Denmark does not really have “third spaces”, there are bars and restaurants but they are not used in order to meet people by chance. This only happens in pick-up nightclubs and the only thing these encounters seem to create are unplanned pregnancies and divorce petitions.
The only exception I can think of is the much-lauded Sports Club. But even so, interactions are hardly random and by chance. You go to your row club every Thursday, you are going to see your rowing buddies every Thursday. You only get to see the people you planned to see.
Denmark needs some chaos. Some randomness. It needs to mix it up a little. For too many Danes, it is the same old faces and the same old routines. If you get a job in Denmark, it is likely because you already know someone at your workplace and they recommended you. With that system, fresh blood is rarely found, those organisations stick to the same comfortable routines.
When this was working for them, of course, they did not see it needed to change. But they need creativity now. They need insights. They need foreigners because many foreigners bring this chaotic “third space” principle with them and foreigners are bending their minds to suit Danish culture.
If the Danishness puritans really wanted to keep multiculture out whilst still remaining competitive in the global economy; they could do much worse than sending their students out for immersive gap years in diverse foreign cultures whilst trying to nurture a “cafe culture” or something similar where Danes can meet at random and experience the possibilities that brings with it.
Else, they need foreigners and they need them now.