On Cognitive Bias

We all have them. If there is one thing that makes me reach for the sick bag, it is when someone implies that I am “not objective” and either say outright or leave the thought hanging that they are. No, you aren’t. You pompous fool.

There are loads of things everyone gets wrong about the world all the time. I just read a mo-fo-ing book about it, which I am going to go ahead and pimp to y’all. It’s by Cordelia Fine (who I LOVE), and it’s called A Mind of its Own (not to be confused with the book about the penis by David Friedman). Our brains are lying scumbags, yo! They protect us from so much mental distress by refusing to display the world as it is. We look on the bright side, hide our true motives from ourselves, dismiss opposing points of view and go overboard for beliefs we already believed in.

People are pompous fools. We can’t help ourselves. Do not act like you are not one because that makes you sound way way worse. Believe.

Anyway. Going through the integration process in Denmark has been fascinating from a self-knowledge perspective. How much can you really know about yourself if you have never transplanted yourself into another culture? I am so grateful for this blog. I kept all the archives, they are safe. (They are also very likely still on google cache, right?) I can look back on my journey and see how I processed everything and when. Not many others have that. Many others come through the process and forget how raw and visceral everything was in the beginning. “Have you tried… accepting Denmark as it is?” they ask. Forgetting everything they were going through in those days.

I have felt myself in confirmation bias’ grip. I have been part of group think. I even remember thinking “It won’t be like that for me” before I moved to Denmark. How textbook can one person be?

Now I am a pure and holy objective thinker and due to my enlightenment I am able to see things as they TRULY are. Just kidding. I am still subject to my brain’s vagaries and distortions. Obviously. (But that is not a stick to beat me with, and it never was. You see, you forgive your own peccadilloes and judge mine more harshly. That is also a cognitive bias.)

The temptation, with a blog like this, is to write about the things Denmark does right… you know, to “balance” when I have written about Denmark doing wrong. I do recognise that Denmark has good points. I do recognise that that Danish state occasionally makes good decisions. I do recognise that many Danish people are pretty awesome. But.

Denmark already has a major industry writing on its behalf. Even people not on the payroll look to Denmark to be somewhere special. Journalists might not be totally clear on which language Danes speak but they know it is a socialist paradise, whatever they speak. Bloggers might not be entirely sure what the difference between Sweden and Denmark is but they know it is free and tolerant, whichever one it is. Denmark has a huge sector of the state working to attract “luksus” immigrants to work here for a few years, pay into the system and then BOG OFF before they can cash out. They highlight the good stories and are not above fabricating them if they are thin on the ground. If you poke around biking blogs, there are many running battles about which city has the busiest cycling lanes: Amsterdam or Copenhagen. (This is because Denmark claims Copenhagen does and because some bloggers have looked into it and the figures are fishy. I am not taking sides on this one because I don’t know)

When the highly educated luksus immigrants make it here, they typically love it to start. If they are lucky, they will remain happy. They post lovely little craft blogs about their new hobbies (this is usually the spouses, who are often unable to find work). They don’t blog the bad days because they don’t want to worry the folks back home. If the bad days become a bad patch, they stop blogging entirely. Sometimes (becoming more and more often), they ask to leave early.

Some people come here to be with a Danish partner. They have a similar trajectory of being very happy and then being just ok and then having bad days. Some will have bad patches. Some will want to leave due to those bad experiences.

Unfortunately for them, there is a well-rehearsed response to their concerns. The two-step of “If you don’t like it, then move”/”It would be the same anywhere else”.

New immigrants (whatever brings them here), know they want to have a good time in their new country. They know they don’t want to have bad days. They certainly do not want to have bad patches. So, they read as much as they can about the good stuff and try to avoid reading about the bad stuff altogether. I believe first-time pregnant women do the same when reading about childbirth and child rearing. It is normal to romanticise the future. Though, the difference is when a new mother has cracked, oozing nipples and is delirious from a lack of sleep; her mother might say “I fucking told you.”

Still, there must be a benefit in knowing on some level that mothering will be gross, exhausting and painful even if you do not believe it until it is happening.

For those who are considering a move to Denmark; there is hardly anything about the bad stuff out there to try to avoid. Not in English. There is me and “this Indonesian“. Everyone else is trying to see the good or maintaining a more neutral tone or staying out of the political discussions. (That is totally fine, vive la difference).

But what readers need to understand  is: they are my balance. Their positive and negative experiences are MY positive and negative experiences. They have the same joy and the same despair. For the most part. They choose to blog one aspect of living here, I choose to blog another.

My fear is, if I blog about how great work-life balance is here; people fresh from watching  Borgen will use that statement to justify moving here. I wouldn’t feel right about that. People need to come here with their eyes open. There are good things and bad things. You typically only get to read about the good things and by the time you find out about the bad things; it’s too late because you live here now and people are going to tell you to be grateful that it isn’t North Korea you live in. TO YOUR FACE.

Denmark is okay, I really believe that. Being a foreigner is freaking hard though and especially so in a country like this. (Fun fact: There are other countries in which being a foreigner is problematic.)

Denmark is not the Holy Land. It’s not what you think. The hype you keep wanting to be true? It really really isn’t. It’s probably about as good as any developed nation, depending on how you measure it. But it’s nothing special. Sometimes the authorities make great whopping mistakes. Sometimes horrible things happen and no one gets in trouble. Sometimes you get treated like shit because of where you are from and not what you are like. They are flailing around in the financial crisis as much as anywhere else. The taxes are high. The services are crap. The selection in the shops is poor.

Denmark is okay. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad. I will probably just blog the bad stuff, if that is okay with you? No offense, Denmark. But you have SOOOOO many blogs singing your praises, I know one or two like mine won’t hurt.

13 thoughts on “On Cognitive Bias

  1. I guess I wouldn’t be as pissed off as I am now if they weren’t such arrogant saying “Everything Danish is world’s best” or “World’s best this or world’s best that” “This is how we always do it, the Danish way… (and your way isn’t welcomed).

    If the Danes (the pompous ones) weren’t such assholes and instead being ordinary people who claimed their country had faulty, problems just like anywhere else and that they didn’t always picture DK as the best place on earth (hence the immigrants want to move here – which they don’t want anyway – paradox alert), probably I would embrace things easier.

    Ya know. Just like everywhere else on earth. Good guys, bad guys. Good place, bad place. Minus arrogant fools.


    1. I think I am kind of ‘lucky’, that I found your blog, and thisindonesian blog, long before I made the decision to move. I would like to think that I came here with my eyes wide open, and very little expectation that Denmark will be superior to my own country.

      It is not. My Danish husband has long accepted the fact that I don’t like some stuff about Denmark, and has experienced few minor ‘luxurious service’ that Denmark has in the closet for daring to bring a foreign partner and had lots of guts to married her. He also learned to listens to my rant and bitchy comments when I am really upset reading the news about Denmark.

      My incidents are minor compare to the scary stuff Denmark has for foreigners or even it’s own citizen (the ‘call first before even dare to go to ER’, the custody battle, and all other stuff you read and watch in the newspaper and TV).

      Of course, there are some good things about Denmark, if I compare it with my country. I love the view of much older generation walking and doing their activities, cycling and shopping, views that I do not see very often in my home country. Eventhough in the rural area you would still see some old ladies striving to make a living still.

      I have to admit that even when I came with eyes wide open, some stuff still amazed me, like the incident when a Danish man wanted to punch me just because I did not stop my bike when he wanted to pass. Some news keep me awake at night, like this on going custody battle and read so many other stories about it.

      anyway, I can say that you both helped me. And I would rather to know the whole truth about one thing rather than be crushed of my own expectation. Thank you tacky and thisindonesian, for giving me a balance of other blogs about how wonderful Denmark is. Please don’t stop writing, both of your blog would be a wonderful resources for people thinking of moving to Denmark either to work or to be a trailing spouses :)


      1. You’re welcome! What an asshole that guy was. Sorry that you had such bad experience while you were in Cph.


    1. Yeah, those guys are weird. Like, they have no idea what kind of person I am and yet they can infer so much about me by the occasional post to a text based medium. Interesting.


  2. Please please don’t stop! I am so glad I arrived in Denmark with my eyes wide open (or as open as they could be) to the situation here. Your blogs also helped me understand Danes and Denmark during visits before I moved here, rather than simply thinking I was a neurotic foreigner who just couldn’t get things here. Coming here with as low an expectation as possible (while having a Danish partner who was actually scared of how Danes would treat me here-he had worked with foreigners previously so knew about a lot of issues) has meant that I can deal with the negative as that is what I expect (and typically get), and anything nice is a revelation (rather than expected). Low expectations work you know, but newcomers need to know to have them.


Comments are closed.