On Selfishness

The snow is melting, receding away and leaving behind all the pavements and grass verges. We can see roof tiles for the first time in weeks.

There is a huge problem in my town with personal responsibility. Most people are fine but there is a significant minority who ignore their duties to the rest of society and leave rubbish in the streets. Some dog owners have, somehow, ignored the message that leaving dog mess in the street is dangerous and illegal. The snow is melting and all the mess that these people have dumped is still there.

The poo is everywhere, frozen for posterity. It thaws out and everywhere smells of dogs. It is melting and being spread by bicycle tyres and boots. Judging from the prints.

We could blame the Welfare State, the way that the state cares for the individual. The individual does not need to take responsibility for themselves. Possibly. But I suspect it is not to blame. Plenty of countries have similar systems but still remember to take a bag on a dog walk.(*ahem* MY COUNTRY *ahem*)

It could be the lack of fear of social condemnation. If someone dared to walk away from their dog’s poop without stooping to dispose of it decently, they could expect a Smack Down from any and all passers-by back home. No one wants to pick up their dog’s steaming mess but if they dread the torrent of tuts or the likelihood that someone might call them disgusting, they think twice. Maybe. But I have seen Danes take dog walkers to task, I have seen the laminated signs. I have heard the tuts. It happens here. And no one cares.

Maybe it is the idea of “so fucking what?” which you hear from time to time. The logic goes like this “I don’t want to do it. You want me to do it. But you are not me, and I do not know you. Thusly: So Fucking What?” This is sometimes called Individualism but I really do not think that anyone in a society who uniformly wear Converse sneakers, tight jeans (socks on top of hem), a smock, a palestinian scarf tied *just so* and a red coat in public can be described as “individual”. It is not individuality when you are identical to everyone in your peer group. When someone decides not to be socially responsible because they cannot be bothered, we have a word and it is “selfish”.

Selfishness is catching. I have seen children in London throwing rubbish in the street when bins are available. I say “hey, what?!” and they say “why should I!” and that idea spreads and suddenly you are living in a post-apocalyptic landscape. There is a tipping point. If you own a dog and maybe you were good about picking up the shit, you see all the dog shit lying around and then one day, you decide as “everyone else is doing it” you join in too. That, also, is not the mark of an individual.

Selfishness as epidemic.

If I were an anthropologist or a cognitive neurologist, I would be all over the rude people of Denmark. Their brains must be fascinating. I want to know, when it comes to social standards, is it a case of “can’t” or “won’t”?

For instance, I have a recurring theme of standing to one side to let a disabled or old person get past and then a Dane behind me overtakes me and steps into the space, stopping the disabled person from moving and also getting in my way. I have seen this happen when there is zero space for them to overtake into (like at  a door entrance), so they shove me aside to do it.

I want people to put electrodes on these brains and measure electrical activity. *Can* Danes see what is happening, are they aware of it on any level? Had they understood that I was giving up my advantage of speed and vitality in order to let someone a bit slower to have free movement? Or did they not “see” it, did they just see a woman stop dead in their path? Had they not understood what was expected of them or what would be kind or what would be selfless?

Also, with the poop issue, do their brains show traces of understanding that toxoplasmosis can blind children, do they “get” that the smell of poop is bad and other people do not like it, do they have the appreciation that if you are not looking you can get poo on your shoes and it is hard to get it off? Or are their brain patterns isolated from thinking in this way? Do all they think about is their own convenience and their interests? Without such scans, I am reduced to guesswork.

The number of times I have been moved to one side (shoved) by a Dane, when I have had space around me for them to walk in, so they can continue to walk in a straight line… I need Professor Science to check their minds. Is it that they are unable to see the space around me? Is it invisible to them? In the same way I cannot hear the difference between Welsh LL and Welsh CH. And Danes cannot hear Vuh or Wuh. Do Danes have absolutely no conception of “I could walk around her”? Are they simply not wired that way?

Immigrants and indeed “internationals” are reduced to such mental gymnastics to stay happy here. “It is just their culture!”

I call this the “Noble Savage” mental compensation. We, who have higher standards of public decency, have to excuse Danes because it is “just their way”. When, and I have made this point before, it actually is not. I find it distressing that a lot of what foreigners have to do is excuse Denmark as if they were discussing a developing nation. (no offence to developing nations) That’s what I hear when internationals gather. Someone will always stoop to patronising the entire country.

“They can’t help it! They have only had electricity for over one hundred years… They have only had a functioning legal system and state for around four hundred years… They have only had a written language since the Iron Age…. .”

Which is why I need the brain scans. If some Danes *cannot* see what would be kinder or more selfless in a public forum, then I need to start the patronisation STAT. If some Danes (which I suspect) are as aware as I am but are making split second decisions to put themselves first every time, then we have a problem. We have a major problem. Because they are only doing it because everyone else is doing it.

Which puts a lot more pressure on the rest of us. We need to start being super polite all over the place. We need to advertise our values. There needs to be a huge push from the State to make dog owners feel that those who leave poop in the street are aberrations. We need to decide what the minimum standards are and ENFORCE them using tutting and big theatrical sighs.

I have already started, I say things like “NO NO NO, AFTER YOU!”

I started in London. It is very effective. The people who have shoved you, they like to think of themselves as polite and selfless and they like to think that the time they shoved you did not happen. So, if you yell something passive aggressive after them, they very rarely acknowledge it happened at all. Meanwhile, all the people around you start smiling and nodding. And they do the same later. Before you know it, shovey-people have to face up to the fact they are not as polite and selfless as they like to think… and they have to do something about it.

Feel Free

Sometimes people ask me why I am so disappointed with Denmark as a whole. Why do I spend so much time moaning about it when it was clear it was just another country. Why did I get my hopes up that this place would be any better or any different from my home country?

Some Danish people have given *such* looks. The “Oh where did you hear THIS place was relaxed and free spirited?”
Disappointed-but-in-violent-denial immigrants tell me that they never shared my hopes that this place would be different in the first place. “I KNEW THIS PLACE WOULD BE A SHIT HOLE!” they cry “But you have to make the most of it!”

Well. Whatever. I was in London this week and I took a photograph of an advert for Denmark. My hands were shaking from low blood sugar and anger and a man waited by my side until the camera went down (I love that about cities, the natives give way for tourists) and so the photograph is blurry. I will read it out to you and you can just about make out the letters.

Lions are in the air
Feel FREE

“Fly Norwegian and experience the most free thinking, relaxed and tolerant attitude to life ever. FEEL FREE!”

Now, some possibilities suggest themselves. Had I not taken such a blurry photo, I would be changing the pink haired white woman (when was the last time you saw a woman with non-standard coloured hair in Denmark. QUICK! WHEN?) to a lady in hijab. I like the way the white woman is covering her ears as if she is saying “nah nah nah, not listening!”

Either the Norwegians have suggested this copy to the ad men, in which case they are having a laugh. Norway know they are way cooler than Denmark.
Or the admen were from London and were going on the faulty information I was. Or the admen are from Denmark and they truly believe that they can say this shit and not get sued under Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

Which they bloody well should be. Free spirited are they? Relaxed is it? TOLERANT are you?

As I have said before and will say again. Most Danes are okay.
BUT the government and the culture, right here right now, not 10 years ago… not in the future… but NOW, is of closed mindedness, uptightedness and intolerance not seen in many other similar nations.
Sweden isn’t like this, Scotland isn’t like this… Denmark has broken the mould for being a little socialist paradise which decided to elect the sort of people you would avoid in situations like parties and allowed them to change everything.

Exhibit A: if a foreigner (or indeed an immigrant), says “hey, you are missing a trick here, you could streamline this process it would be a bit better, maybe you should consider it” they get a cold angry blast of “SÅDAN DET ER BARE!” which is not the sign of free-thinking-mindedness.

Exhibit B: If someone puts prawns on their smørbrod along with pickle and crunions, they WILL get told that prawns are only for egg or maybe curry sauce. That is the sign of an un-relaxed country. CHILL OUT DENMARK, Prawns and crunions is delicious!

Exhibit C: If someone is invited to a party and it says on the invite “wear formal stuff, but you know, formal wear from cultures you have links with is welcome too. Takes all sorts to make a world.” and they follow those instructions… they will be called tribal and clownish and told they are not comfortable in this country and should GO THE FUCK HOME etc. Which is the definition of intolerance. Go get a dictionary and check, THAT is the example they give (When someone is invited to wear traditional dress and then are called clownish and told to fuck off home)

Denmark! This is why I felt tricked. All the adverts in my country keep saying you are free and happy and relaxed and tolerant and kind. I read about your taxes and I *approved*! Can’t go around increasing social justice with low taxes, I thought. I heard about the high cost of food and I thought “good! the farmers are not being squeezed by unscrupulous bloody supermarkets” and I got here and the waft, the stench of racism and xenophobia! THE STENCH OF IT.

I will give you a quick example of how my country works.

I was on a bus by mistake and there were several old people sat down. One of the old women had been shoving another old woman and then the shoved woman said she could not move up any further and there was a bit of a raised voice situation and everyone on the bus did the disapproval face at both of them for carrying on. And then an old Somali woman turned and said

“OLD WOMAN!”

and they both looked over

and she waved her hand in “give over!” gesture and said something that I didn’t catch. One word, I think it was along the lines of “you’re embarrassing yourselves” but I didn’t catch it.

And the shoving old woman said

“I older than SHE!”

and the Somali woman shook her head and did the hand thing and the bus continued to look at the women with “stop shouting” faces.

Everyone involved was from a different area of the world and no one made it racial. No one made it about immigrants vs “ethnic English” (Jesus, if they ever make that a thing, I will personally slap everyone at home that uses the phrase). They just had a great time being pissed off with each other on the grounds of being bad tempered.

A second example. A different bus. A bunch of Chinese 17 year olds got on, as part of a school trip, I guess. They let an old lady sit down and she smiled at them and then she pointed at one guy’s jacket and said
“You’re wet! It is raining! It is also SNOWING too.” and did the international sign for snow. And she kept engaging them in little simple conversations about the weather and they were smiling and trying. And I had a little cry on the seat behind because no one ever does that for me.

Relaxed and tolerant, my arse.

Moral Cowardice

The one thing I was not prepared for when I moved here was the lack of arsey-ness from ordinary people. Back home, I was used to discussions ranging from social policy to tax collection and the conclusion would almost always be that the people in charge had no idea how to run the country, the other lot would be no better and what were you going to do?

Radiohead put it this way “pragmatism, not idealism. concerned. but powerless… like a pig in a cage. on antibiotics”. People in Britain do not like the way their country is being run, they know they have little chance of influencing it but it does not stop them complaining. Sometimes, for a few shining moments, people living in Britain get so pissed off that things DO change. These moments are few and far between but they are important. All that bitching and whining in the pub is for a purpose. It’s like that bit for a steam train while it huffs and puffs and then it’s ready and it moves along the track.

How could I have been prepared for what Denmark would be like? People here do bitch about things but the conclusion is never that their politicians are a bunch of corrupt assholes who have sold them out. It is never that “Guy Fawkes had the right idea”. If you get close to expressing the opinion, someone will say “well. we voted them in. we have to trust them.”

Where’s that written?

“Well, those are our laws. We have to obey them. There can be no exceptions.”

Uhh. What? No, that’s not what laws are. Laws are the rights you have agreed to compromise for the greater good and it is a fluid arrangement. Constant re-negotiation required, actually.

The thing is, in my country, we are basically lazy sods who cannot be bothered to run our affairs better. It would be complicated and boring. So, we let other people do it. When they get it badly wrong, we get annoyed and we let them know. Our laws and our politicians are there *for* us and it only gets really shit in my country when we forget that.

For instance, the politicians back home OBEYED the rules about how much money they could be paid by the State for various things. When you look at the receipts, they were not breaking laws, they were following the rules. But it was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. So, they are going to pay it back. Ha.
For instance, a very unfair tax was brought in a few years back and people did riots (imagine that) and the tax was taken away. People did not pay the tax, grumble and hope it went away after a sustained letter writing campaign to the newspapers. People certainly did not trust the authorities to do the right thing.

Anyway. Denmark has a long and dirty history of deporting women who were brought here by abusive Danes and eventually ask for help. It does not matter if they are good people, if they have learned the language, if they have kids here or if they are just asking to be here long enough to complete the court case against the Dane… they are deported. Out of “fairness”.

And instead of people saying things like “that’s a fucking disgrace!” all you hear is “we voted for them, we have to trust them” or “those are our rules, they must apply to everyone.”

This is my message to all those ligegladers out there.

“Denmark. You do not have to trust the people you voted for. In fact, democracy functions a lot better if you oversee what they are doing and keep them accountable. You do not have to have rules which are unkind, compassion-less or evil. You can work out exceptions to them which mean the rules are still humane and therefore just.
“You do not need to accept cruel laws applied without moderation for the sake of “fairness”. Sure, you will not be able to change everything you do not like about your country but it is important that when things are seriously bad, you try.”

And the answer to “if you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?” this week is

“Think of me as a missionary, you need my help to show you how to act like human beings. As soon as my work is done, I’ll move on.”

But it will go back to “because I just bought a shit load of furniture from Ikea and cannot bear to part with it until I have forgotten how much it cost to have it delivered.” next week I promise.