In which your blogger reflects

I feel like I made a huge mistake. Everyone else here seems to have been convinced or tricked here. Someone said “It’ll only be for a year” or “I get a bigger salary there” or “But my Auntie Helle is there” and then someone was in love enough to go along with it. And some people can live with that decision and some people are finding it hard to find new ways of making it work.

What’s my excuse? I wanted to find stuff out, I wanted to learn something new, I wanted to learn a new language, I wanted to check out another educational system, I wanted to see what all this “Happiest Country” stuff was about.

So. Stuff. I have found out stuff, I have learned a lot of new things, I have checked out another educational system, I have found that this country may well be the happiest but misery is relative.

As for the language. I am sick and tired of not making progress. I hate how it is a benchmark on which people can judge me.

I have to work, I cannot go to Sprogskole in the daytime… I cannot go to Sprogskole in the evening either. I have only the option of some computer delivered program.
Which, and this is not a baseless whinge, is fucking terrible. The exercises test what I already know and they are not marked individually but rather the answers are given at the end. There is no teaching as such. There is a once per fortnight opportunity to speak but for someone who hates using the phone with strangers, makes me want to throw up all over my fancy-pants computer. The user interface is the opposite of intuitive, the text is CENTRE justified and there is no way of resizing the windows so it all stays in, you have to scroll from side to side every time. It is the worst. I have learned nothing from it. I am on strike.

I hate how if I try to use Danish I am often rebuffed or ignored or answered in English. I am trying my hardest, making no progress and getting labelled as lazy, indifferent, stupid, colonial and all that shit.
Not by everyone but by the most unlikely of people. I do at least attempt Danish in every public situation. Even the tricky ones. I do at least have a go.

The solutions suggested to me include “socialising” and conducting more of my work business in Danish. Well, I tried to socialise with some Danes a few times and you know what, it was painful for everyone BECAUSE I DO NOT SPEAK DANISH.

As for work, what is happening is that I am constantly on the backfoot. Children tell me special events are going to be happening in my lessons and it is news to me. And no one tells me these things because I WAS IN THE MEETING when it was discussed. I keep making mistakes at work and no one told me how to do it right because I WAS IN THE MEETING when it was discussed. And I am getting to the stage where a little knowledge is dangerous, I understand enough to make my head nod and think I have got it but I have not anywhere near caught enough of it to be useful to me.

I have learned enough to know when I am being talked about and it happens a lot more than it ever did in Welsh or Somali or Turkish or any of the other languages I have had to be able to learn if I am being talked about pretty damned quickly. You know what, it never happened in Welsh, the Somali girls made it obvious on purpose and the Turkish lads had better things to talk about.
(Learn the prepositions and the swearwords. That’s my top tip!)

When people say things like “I hate it when people speak foreign, I always think they are talking about me” I think “you narcissistic twat”.

Except here. I am having to deal with “hun”, “hendes” and “hende” on a daily basis. And not just from the kids. I am having to deal with pretending not to understand because I do not understand enough to react appropriately. I am having to deal with people getting really frosty when someone or other lets them know I understand a lot.

“How are your Danish lessons?” they say with a stiff arctic breeze.

“How are your manners?” I think but do not say.

(there was a spate of that two weeks ago, heaven knows what the gossip about me was)

THIS is what is isolating.
It is not being able to make progress in the language because of work and not being able to work properly because I do not understand the language. Of getting better at understanding social chit chat and finding myself socially isolated because it is basically catching people out. It is made even more socially awkward when they examine their guilty consciences and think I have understood something when I was not even listening at the time. “That BITCH, she gave no sign of understanding me at all!!”

Round and round we go. I am stuck on this plateau and can’t get off.

I have worked my socks off in this language. You should see the collection of magazines I have. The websites I visit. The radio station I am tuned to. The tv channels I made the internet to stream into my computer. My library book.

And yet, for whatever reason, it is not good enough. And I am internalising that message. We all do. If we get to be fluent we can call ourselves good immigrants and spit on the others. If we do not, it is because we did not care enough or try hard enough.

How about, I am finding it hard because I am only fluent in one language? How about, I am finding it hard because I am getting on in years? How about, I am finding it hard because I am really not sure if this is the country I will spend the rest of my days? How about, I am finding it hard because I have a Swedish accent because no fucker taught me the vowels because I started Sprogskole in October because I did not get my CPR number until September even though I was in the country from August? How about, I am finding it hard because the region I am in has a difficult accent? How about, my progress is acceptable (good even), for someone who has only been here a short time? How about, I should not be basing my self esteem on this shit anyway?

And do I want to stay here? There is so much that I love here.

I love the flat I have, the network of friends, the relaxed working culture, my classes, the creative freedom I have over my lessons, the amount of time that is mine and mine alone, the emphasis I can give to my guitar, my knitting, my writing, the countryside, the comfort, the ease of access to the rest of Europe.
There is also the inertia. I would not want to start teaching somewhere new. And I would hate the UK as much as I did before I came. So, what other jobs could I do? I have no idea.

It is just so off-putting. There is a lot in my life which is overwhelming me and what I do not need right now is a guilt trip when I know I have tried my best.

*sigh*

The Muslims and the Rhetoric of Hate

There is a great bit in a book by Alice Walker (Possessing the Secret of Joy) where a woman goes in search of her roots and gets talking to a woman from her old country.

The woman says “What does an American look like?” (It is a trick question)

What does an American look like? They are all colours and shapes and heights. I am sure you have seen more than one American before. Do they look the same? No.

Why then, is the idea of The Muslim some dark skinned, turban wearing (for heaven’s sake, that’s the wrong religion) man with a beard, looking angry?

Muslims, as was reported on cnn, are 25% of the world’s population. A quarter of the people on this planet are Muslim.

The majority of these are in Indonesia. China has more Muslims than Syria.

Islam being a religion and not a “race” (whatever that is supposed to mean), means that anyone at all can be a Muslim and it has nothing to do with facial hair or skin tone.

Then there are further complications. Islam is not just *one* religion. It has schismed and fractured. There are different interpretations, different lines in the sand, different brothers-in-law to follow.
Imagine saying Methodism was the same as Greek Orthodox. I said IMAGINE IT.

And then if we want to be really picky, it is important to remember that groups of people contain (*and I know it might come as a shock*) women.

Furthermore, disabled people… Homosexual people… Transgendered people… Fat people… Thin people…
Grumpy people… Ambitious people… Hypocritical people… Consistent people… Rude people… Polite people… Have I covered my bases here?

Muslims are all the colours, they are all the ethnicities, all the nationalities and all of the bases I just listed above.
Perhaps I did not say it clearly enough before but we are talking one person in four. At least.


What does a Muslim look like?

Characterisations of this group tend to be of the nastier kind. They find the worst examples of anti-social behaviour and say it signifies the wider group.
Sometimes the people they say represent THE MUSLIMS are actually just brown skinned teens who are not even Muslim…
They find the nastier excesses of men who think they are Muslims (but are doing it wrong), and say that their messed up ideas are the only ones available.

It is lazy. It is lazy and it is racist. It is lazy, it is racist and it is NOT free speech.

It is lazy, racist, not free speech and it is the first steps towards depersonalisation.

You see, it is all very sinister. You say one group is lazy, you can find a few examples of laziness (of course you can, you have one quarter of the world to choose from) or violence or idiocy or criminality or greed… and then the whole group can be tainted with this judgement.

Then you can do what you want to Them. You can treat Them as badly as you want… And people will turn a blind eye, they will rationalise it, they will excuse it, they will say “fair’s fair”, they will say “it is a few letting down the majority” without listening to themselves.

I just hope everyone reading this can take a few deep breaths and become better people. If you have not met a Muslim, I advise you to do that tomorrow. If you have only met one, I advise you to meet another. If you do not know how to find A Muslim, then I would suggest you perhaps do not understand what these flashing lights on this flat surface you are staring at are capable of.
See if you can make friends with one in Nigeria or perhaps Germany? Then next time someone says “Ahh, those Muslims, always doing their Muslimy things that I do not agree with” you will have a base on which to mount your friends’ defence.

Because if you don’t. If you choose to think of a huge, diverse quarter of the entire population of the bloody planet as a scowling bunch of men in turbans scrounging off benefits when I have gone to all this effort to explain to you that they are not… then what you are is a bloody idiot.

You don’t want to be a bloody idiot, do you?

Overgeneralisation

The greatest thing about me is how thoughtful I am. It happens to make me one of nature’s worriers. People tell me I think too much, most of the time. But like those dropped stitches in carpets, without this flaw I would be too Godlike, too perfect.

About that.

I really think about stuff. And when I say things it is after a lot of thought. When (and it usually is), men tell me that I have not thought of something or bring something up as if I had not thought of it, I tend to get a little agitated. A lot of people who disagree with me have now switched to “you think too much”. Which, as I have said, is a fair comment. But you must admit, their task of contradicting me is made infinitely easier if the only possibilities are “have not thought of something enough” or “thought about it too much”. I am just saying.

I do not like to make generalisations. No. Wait. I sort of do. I like them because they are funny. (Like when I said there were five types of International Internet person… that is my idea of a funny funny joke.)
And I use them where they are useful. It is okay to say that British people apologise when they bump into someone. Even if a few of them never do that. It is okay to say that Northern British people are tight with money. Even if some of them are generous to a fault.

But I am careful about them, especially the ones that seem mean or a little cruel. I honestly do not think anyone could analyse anything I have written and find an unqualified generalisation. My generalisations are qualified up the wazoo.

Generalisations are interesting to me. Where do they come from? Who has made them? What can be gained by making them?
For instance there are mean generalisations that have been made up in order to squash people. You have to look at these dispassionately and meet as many people from that group to make a decision on the generalisation’s provenance.

Often, generalisations disappear in your mind the more people you meet. I know it happened for me for every group I have ever heard a generalisation about. Jewish people are not all mean with money, Thai women are all not grasping whores, black men are not all cool nor dangerous, Chinese guys are not all nerdy.

Isn’t it FUNNY that I had no generalisations in my head about Danes before I came? None at all. I assumed they were a bit like the Swedes and the Dutch. You know, laid back and free? But had absolutely no idea. None.

I have an idea where the generalisations are coming from and it will not be popular.

Thursday, I went into town to do my business. I bought yarn, a magazine, a wireless router, a lamp, a bulb and went to the Kommune about a letter they sent me. That is six different Danes I interacted with. Six Danes I attempted to speak Danish to.
Three of them were lovely and kind and good. Three of them would not have pissed on me if I were on fire.

If, in a not very scientific survey, half of those surveyed are rude then you start to wonder what is going on.

My politeness is not my clean and beautiful soul poking through, it is careful and constant social conditioning. I am not polite because I expect politeness in return but because I have had rudeness tutted out of me back home. Of course, I have also been socially conditioned to take umbrage at rudeness and do something about it. There are enough rude people, God knows, in the UK to give me plenty of practice.

Of course, it is highly inappropriate for an outsider to impose their standards on an alien culture. If the Danes are truly happy in this state (where half of them are polite and half of them are DICKS), then who am I to try to change that?

It’s just…
Politeness is free, it does not take a lot of effort and it makes other people feel nice. If half of the Danes here “get it” what the Hell is wrong with the other 50%?

Question

Hardly a week goes by without being asked a variant on

“If you can think critically and are expressing those thoughts freely; shouldn’t you consider a different country?”

To which the answer is “But I just bought a dining table!”

When Danish people ask me, you know, I am a simple, compassionate and patient woman. I excuse Danish people for this petit faux pas. If no one ever publicly questions your country then an ungrateful outsider would be particularly hard to take. Besides. Danish people rarely ask me to leave. They listen to my gripes, add their own and we set the world to rights.

The people who ask the most are the other internationals.

There is a shocking oversimplification taking place on the Danish International Internet Community. I was guilty of it and for this I apologise.

There are at least five types of Danish International Internet User.

Genuinely Happy
Came here for whatever reason, Denmark is entirely to their liking. They love it here. They do not need to piss on anyone’s chips. They are truly stoked to be here. Maybe a bit confused at the blog posts on the downsides of Denmark. Truly nice people who are happy. Happy and nice. Did I mention that I like these people? Well, I do.

A little bit miffed
So, Denmark was a bit of a disappointment. But it would have been worse in Finland, am I right? They like the clean beaches. They love (some of) the quaint food items. They can rationalise the disappointment with the thought that “it is the same everywhere”. They do not mind when people speak about the downsides of Denmark, it gives them a vicarious thrill to hear someone else say it. Sometimes they say it in public. Sometimes.

Very miffed
The crushing disappointment. The PR job done on Denmark was believable and yet entirely positive. The reality, whilst not dreadful, is unbearable in its dissimilitude to the picture painted before their arrival.

Loud about it
They will not stop, they will not rest, they want the Paradise they were promised. They will help this country achieve its potential… or… repatriate trying.

Quiet about it
It is not possible, sometimes, to say all that you think. Sometimes it is better and safer to say nothing.

Silencing about it
Anyone that dares say anything which sounds like a criticism, no matter how constructively put, must be stopped. Their thoughts must be silenced. If they complain about being shut down; stage two can commence… reframing such complaints as “opposing free speech”.

If people are to speak about this country at all, it must be in either glowing praise or else not-very-serious little gripes. Anything meaty or serious must be stopped.

If they continue to say things which remind the person that they are terribly disappointed with their life here; then they must be asked…

“If you hate it here then why don’t you go home?”

Remember. This is the Internet we are talking about. If someone “meets” someone else on the Internet until they have seen the whites of each other’s eyes, the person they are talking to is a construct of themselves. Trust me. I have clocked up four years of Internet dating, I know whereof I speak.

If anyone goes on the rampage, often their attacks are of imagined things, things they wish were not true about themselves. If someone claims that *someone else* thinks something based on an impression and not a direct quote of this other person, then we are dealing with the accuser’s own feelings and insecurities.

They recast reality in the terms “negative” and “positive” and merrily dismiss people on the basis that they are one thing or the other.

It is funny to note which “camp” denies things happened, denies things are a problem and tells people not to discuss things. The FUN you can have when you are laughing.

These people are very unhappy here. Like many of the Internationals. But they have made it their life’s work to convince everyone they are HAPPY. They are GLAD to be here.

It’s like that bit in Annie with the abusive orphanage lady. She abuses them and what do they have to say?

“WE LOVE YOU MISS HANNIGAN”

The “shut up! I HEART DK I do I DO!” brigade think that if they only try hard enough, only suck up enough, only say they LOVE IT HERE loudly enough; then Denmark will love them back. Since when in human history has that been the case? Hmm?

The question “why don’t you leave?” is not meant as a serious inquiry. It is meant as an attack. It is also the question on their lips for themselves. Which is the saddest thing of all.

Well… The saddest thing after the picture of a one legged puppy called Li’l Brudder.

“I’m going to be a quarter back when I grow up! I’m going to make it on my own!”

Oh Li’l Bruder! The heart of a champion!

The Things I Do Not Like

Let’s do a quick scan of the readership… I know I have some real life Danes who read this and before I start, I need to make it clear that the following crass generalisations are only about you if you do it. Okay? I mean “the other Danes”.

Lovely.

What I really do not like about this place is the people.

Heh. SOME of the people. I mean SOME of the people.

There is something very “arrested development” about the cultural practices that some of the people do. The funny thing is, it is not the majority of the Danes here who partake but it is so accepted it feels a lot more widespread. Imagine my confusion.

Telling Tales

There is something satisfying about being a goodie-goodie who gets naughty people into trouble. When you are seven.

You have to leave that stuff behind when you develop a sense of self awareness that extends to questioning your own motivations.

Passive Aggression and other Indirect Manipulation

Children have no power. They quickly learn to get their own way with indirect means. They then unlearn it when they realise it is douchebaggery of the highest order.

Entitlement

Go spend time with a Danish toddler. Listen to their self-talk. The little babbly things they say while they are playing. What did you hear?

“What are you doing? Where has Mummy gone? I’ll put this here. Take this.” probably. Did you also hear
“I am allowed. You are not allowed”?

Children are told what to do in the institutions they attend. No one has time to explain the rules (who has time, seriously?) so the rules can seem arbitrary and unfair. They change the rules when they are playing. They subvert their experience.

They are allowed.

Now, go observe an adult Dane doing something antisocial (for example, putting a seat back as far as it will go on a plane during the daytime). What do they say?

“I am allowed, aren’t I?”

“It’s a free country!”

The most irritating thing we could do in primary school was antagonise other children and then cry “it’s a free country, isn’t it?” We (I) did it a lot.

You irritate a child who is playing quietly by themselves and when they ask you to leave them alone you tell them you have the freedom to bother them.

At some point though you discover that even things like freedom have limits if you want to be a mature human being.

“Can’t you take a joke?” / “Bare rolig!” / “Det er bare sjovt!”

Similarly, we (I) would do something infuriating to another child and then criticise their sense of humour until they cried out of frustration.

Here, I have been pissed on. Physically pissed on. And told to calm down.
Here, I have been roundly mocked for making an effort to speak the language. And told “It is our sense of humour”

“That’s not fair!”

Children notice who gets gold stars. Who has to do chores. Who gets opportunities. Who gets told off. They note it and comment on it. God knows where they get the idea that people can expect equality. I mean, it is lovely and all but it is a bit impractical. For example, I did not get drum lessons as a kid because my music teacher could recognise a lost cause when he saw one. And although I was bummed out, I could see his point.

Adults cut out the fairness talk as soon as a teacher in high school lays the smack down with “LIFE ISN’T FAIR!” or “WHEN YOU GET OUT OF THOSE SCHOOL GATES YOU WILL SEE”

Here, I have had to attend meetings I cannot understand for several hours (missing my language classes) because everyone else has to and had to explain my sticker policy… to adults.

The Take Home Message
I don’t know. I really do not know. I know how to deal with immature children. I tell them what is acceptable. I set a good example. I make fun of them if it is serious immaturity I am dealing with.
With adults, what are you supposed to do? Especially if that adult claims “it is how we do things ~in Denmark~”
Many of the expat blogs have gone private recently, for as many reasons as the bloggers themselves. I have to admit, I am feeling the pressure and want to say less and less on this medium. For all the “we have freedom of speech here”, I feel that just speaking about my experiences is enough to get me into trouble. Because of the Tattle Tales and the You’re Not Allowed-I am Allowed and the Passive Aggressives.
Well anyway, if they ride me out of town on a rail for speaking my mind in the only way I know how, then at least I will have that story to tell at dinner parties.
(What it might look like to be banished from Denmark)