Danish class

There are some evenings where I should not go to Danish class, if I am tired or out of sorts it just makes me want to leave the country as fast as I can.

I really do not want to move countries but given my disappointment with the Danish media, the crappy weather and then the dull slog of Danish grammar exercises; it puts a cast on my day.

The thing of it is that I cannot even think what it is I do not like about the class. There are a few things that float around but defy being pinned down. I do not appreciate the haphazard way we are entered to exams, I do not like the opaque system for changing groups, I do not like the way all we practice is how to pass the tests. But you cannot point to any one thing and say “that is it… I hate class because of x”

The group I joined in September has completely changed. There are just two of us left and he is moving to the “exam team” next August. I do not understand how people get moved out, I do not understand how the system works. A couple of Belgians were with us briefly, the guy had been speaking Danish for a year before class and his gf was pretty good from the beginning… but my understanding was once you were in a group, you stayed in it. She got entered for exams a bit faster than the rest of us. Who knows if I would have passed if I had been entered at the same time, it was never discussed. I dislike this system. There is too much of a margin for favouritism and error. She certainly is better at speaking but there is no way of telling who could read/write better at that stage. It was not discussed as a possibility.

Then there is the constant exam practice. We are just doing things that prepare us for the test. Nothing else. I am in the sausage factory again and I am being made into a product. What about my needs as a learner? What about my priorities?

My test last night was okay, I suppose. I get the results on Monday. The tasks were pretty funny. The first one was “write an email to a friend explaining why you have moved house”. An email. Do you see. Because people do not write letters anymore but the ministry in charge is not imaginative enough to see what I could use written Danish for. An email. Presumably my computer does not have a spell checker, google translate is broken and my dictionaries have all been burned.

The next one was “write an email to apply for a job”. The job was specified. The job was “cleaner for a børnehaven” and not any job of my choice. Not a job where I have the vocabulary to describe my competences. I had to describe myself and I did in terms of “strong and healthy” because I cannot spell “honest” and I am fucked if I know how to say “hard working”, I think I wrote “difficult working”
I do not have applying-for-job vocabulary and as the email HAD to include “why you want the job”, I had to write stuff like “I really like clean kindergartens”. Don’t you go get these sorts of jobs in person? I just turned up to my old cleaning job. “Hi, here about the cleaning” Doesn’t your social worker force you to take these jobs here?
I also had to say how my Danish was. As if you need to speak Danish to clean. I have cleaned, you are on your own wiping stuff and hoovering. Your boss barks at you, you try not to think about your aching body. You do not need to be able to speak any language, just need to find ways of keeping sane in the face of extreme boredom, fatigue and frustration with lazy, dirty people.

Then there were reading exercises and these were a bit tricky. I had to put in sentences into paragraphs, put in missing words, match descriptions with longer text. And still I cannot work up the appetite to learn. Even though it is beginning to present appropriate challenge.

In the Danish class itself, one of my partners told me that she had seen my youtube in our discussions about free time (I teach her little sister) and that was pretty cool. But she could have told me that in French and English. Danish seems really unnatural to use when we both speak each others’ language.

I need to chill out, really, I need to stop being so negative but I have not been sleeping. I drop off after hours of trying only to wake up again and again. My back hurts almost full time and I keep getting tension headaches. I need to push myself into the realms of pollyannaism and other mental tricks but it is hard. I feel good after running but that is hard-won, during any run I feel like shit. I tried a little red wine with dinner last night but it just made me sad and dizzy, not relaxed and sleepy. The news and things that I choose to watch makes me feel weepy. I would love to explain it as The Time of the Month but my contraception is such that the usual rules do not apply. Hoping that my visit to Guildford will chill me out. I definitely want to meet Paula in London on Saturday (if you are free) and maybe just seeing familiar things and friendly faces will reset my clock.

The dangers of integration

If you want to have a homogeneous society, you really need to be careful about who you let in. All this, “we just want skilled immigrants” stuff is asking for trouble. Unskilled immigrants and immigrants whose skills you do not value (for instance qualified doctors from Iran), are easy to push around. You work on their self esteem and it is like kicking them where it does not show. You tell them they are shit and they are lucky to get what they are given and you know, they will probably conform as you want them to. The Stockholm Syndrome, they call it.

Skilled immigrants, they are a bit different. You try telling them they are shit and must change to fit your ideals, they will likely move to another country. You have to be more gentle. Softly-softly. You need to have “Welcome Evenings” with free snacks and do your best to encourage them to conform. Good luck. Often, if they have moved for love, they will do as you want. They might keep some quirky little things from the old country but they are likely similar to the host country’s little quirks. How delightful, you do almost exactly the same as me!

The trouble is, if you have been running things a certain way, you might want to continue without any interruption.

For instance, if your news channels regularly show anti-immigration stories or “We are Number One AGAIN” puff pieces high-fiving the nation or regularly place extremist politicians in fluffy little news items “nawwwww, he’s singing a song, ooooh, that’s his Mum, she’s so proud, oh look, he’s holding a kitten”, if you have unquestioning news … not even analysis, un-alysis more like, of the politics of hate and of fear, then the last bloody thing you want is immigrants being able to speak your language AND going around with intact self-esteem.

The Danish people are probably not a bunch of racists. They are the same as everyone else. When you know better, you do better. But their media is crazy. I watched the news last night and I can understand a lot of it now, BAD MOVE Ministry of Integration, BAD MOVE….
No wonder they elect the extremist parties if they are being told they are cuddly guys who are good to their mommas. No wonder no one throws eggs at them. No wonder there are no tshirts or banners that read “Messerschmidt is not MY MEP”. The Danish tv media is not even trying to be politically correct. It is not even trying to be balanced or fair or critical or thoughtful.

Before, when I was unable to speak the language, I had no idea. Now, I can understand enough to get cross. But then what a reasonable person would do, is make their excuses and leave (as I did the UK). And perhaps this how the status quo is maintained after all.

Passive Aggressives R Us

I have held back from posting about passive aggression before. It is a bit of an Oprah (bless her) term and not everyone knows what it means AND people in the UK are just as bloody passive aggressive if you ask me.

Passive aggression is the thing you do when you want something to happen but you do not want to take the responsibility for it.

For instance, if your partner wants to go to a party – but – you do not want them to go – but – you sure as shit do not want to be the one who stopped their fun you might say

“It is fine, do what you want.”


There are other techniques. These include “forgetting” as in “I forgot to find out that thing you asked me to find out” (because you do not want said thing to happen) or “accidents” as in when something does not go your way something “accidentally” gets broken.

In a lot of families, the main passive aggressor is the older generation of women. This might be because they had no power and so to be able to get men to do things, or to have things the way they wanted, they would have to do such things as sulking, stropping, forgetting and making things happen accidentally on purpose.

I had one relationship where I had to prove, continually, that when I said “oh whatever” it meant I was ambivalent not that he really had no choice.
I had two relationships where the guy was very much a passive aggressor and sometimes, not so passive.

My last school, the head of department was all about calling out passive aggression. Teachers are big on it, especially in the UK where they have very little power, teachers gossiping, teachers saying “don’t tell him I told you but”, teachers “forgetting”, teachers blocking things they do not want to happen.

So, I held back on calling Danish culture passive aggressive because as far as I know it, most cultures are.

Though there certainly are more examples of it that I can think of.

The way people try to push in at queues, the way people push past you without a by-your-leave, the people who email instead of talk, the people who “tell on” you, the people who only tell you that something is wrong when it is so badly wrong and too late and they look clever and you look stupid, the people who frown at you but never say why, the people who talk about you but never to you, the people who say about the most integrated immigrants you know “they really don’t even try to integrate, we hope you will be different”, the photocopying queue jumping.

Lots of examples. I think that it thrives here because people feel powerless. I think people feel uncomfortable in management positions but they still want to take management decisions.

But seriously, as passive aggressive as it is here, they have nothing on my old head of department in North London who would email us every few days to tell us we were “unproffesional” and name us and how she thought we had fallen down… in group emails. If you asked her for help, she would email back and then print out the email. If there was a problem, she would always email. If you asked for advice, it was always “have you called the parents?” whether that was appropriate or not.

So, I guess I am trying to say, it can always be worse!

Conversational Course

There is a gap in the market of people who will teach you to speak Danish. The gov has sponsored the Sprogskole movement who teach you how to pass the Danish tests so they can get money from the kommune but there is no one (especially in deepest darkest Jutland), who will teach you conversational Danish.

It is a bit frustrating. My next test is only reading and writing (and I think she said listening but, ironically, I didn’t catch it properly) and that is good because they are my best skills. My passive skills are way better than my active, my writing is miles ahead of my speaking. What I really need is practice speaking.

Today, a kid asked me for a word and apart from the fact I got the wrong one… I said udbryde instead of nedbryde (outburst/outbreak vs breakdown)… she was all like “what what? HAHAHAHA SAY IT AGAIN WHAT? HAHAHAH” and then she quite patiently coached me in how to say it but to get there we had to have the whole shebang of piss taking.

I have toyed with the idea of teaching kids something like Thai or Hungarian (something they do not know, I mean, I can’t speak either of those), and just laughing and pointing… then showing them that this impedes learning. But you know, the trickiest thing about being a teacher is having to constantly bear in mind who the adult is.
As it is *still* me, I have to only do things that will help them learn. Even if the thing I want them to learn is “don’t be an asshole”.
I will have to think of some other way. But it is a losing battle, the entire culture seems to be geared up to not accepting foreign accents, seeing foreign accents as amusing or “wrong”. Are there no foreign characters on tv here? (I don’t know, I have no tv)

If a French man says “zee” we don’t say “HAHAHAHHAHAH it is THE… THE! Say THE!” we just nod. If we feel the need to take the piss we will do it decently behind their backs. It is not their fault they are foreign and if they had had a choice they would surely have been born English speakers. Or something like that. We are less dick-tastic about it, is what I mean.

So yeah, I need someone to teach me how to speak and there is no one because the sprog skole market is sewn up. I refuse to practice with people I know in case some of them prove to be dicks about it and I do not want to fall out with people/think less of them if I can help it. I will still have to work with them after, you see.

There is the added problem of while I can identify it as a learning need, I cannot build up the motivation to take steps towards doing anything about it. When it is speaking practice time in the lesson it is always at 7pm and I am bloody knackered out by work and two hours of grammar exercises, so sprogskole is out. Even if I found a teacher, somehow, I would still feel awkward about speaking Danish.

I think this is very sad and reflects very poorly on this nation. I always “get” speaking last, even in my first language I was relatively old before my first words but I hear from Mum that they were “these are gorgeous sausages, aren’t they?” and I was to later explain “I have been practising speaking in bed at night”

But I was speaking way more in Swahili and Japanese and I never got beyond beginner with those languages. They are straightforward to pronounce and there are cultural factors at play. Japanese speakers are way better at managing other people’s feelings, they will try to protect others from embarrassment where possible (as a cultural thing, I mean) and Swahili is a trading language, it is apparently impossible to have the wrong accent, they will be all like “cool, where is your accent from!?”

French, while tricky to pronounce in the initial stages, is fine after you get used to it and the French are usually p good about how you say things. They translate your accent, as a rule.

Welsh, is rock hard to pronounce, especially since I cannot tell the difference between LL and CH but the language movement in Wales is different, people are pleased that a saes is having a go. As a rule.

It reflects very poorly on the Danish view of the world that I do not get that vibe. That me having a go and sticking my neck out is greeted with derision and amusement. It is not that it is a minority language, it is not that there are so few foreign speakers, it is codified rudeness and an inferiority complex about English skills manifesting as “a sense of humour”.

One of the most important things my Teaching English as a Foreign Language instructor ever taught me was “Do not correct every little mistake, OF COURSE you can speak better English than your students, good for you, you do not need to push it down their throats”

I will learn Danish, just out of bloody mindedness but it is not obvious how.