You will not be the exception

Or maybe you will. But I am so sick of telling everyone what goes on in Denmark, only for it to be repeated by a newbie as in “Now I see what all the negative blogs were talking about!” Yes, motherfucker, NOW you see it.

When I stopped this blog that time, a friend asked me to make the resource about “Should I Move to Denmark?” available so I put it on tumblr for everyone.

One important thing that all “expat” immigrant workers need to realise is

“Whatever you are told in the interview about English being the language of your workplace and that how all your colleagues speak English, bear this in mind, informal meetings around coffee and water coolers are in Danish. These meetings are massively important and you will not take part in them. Also, there will be gossip and team strengthening chats around coffee. You will not be part of this.”

And I know you very well, now you are thinking “This is their country, Danish is their language. I don’t expect them to change for me!” and when it actually happens to you at your new workplace and you realise how socially isolating it is to literally not know what your colleagues are chatting about. And when you feel tired because your brain will try to learn Danish (even without your permission), because you are surrounded by it. And when you have situations at work where you are on the backfoot because no one thought to tell you because you were sat right there when they were talking about it. And when  you realise you have effectively been left out of the decision making/problem solving process. And when you get the impression that people around you are better friends with each other than with you. And when you start to notice you only are spoken to when it is time to tell you what to do.  You will say “I don’t mind that they do this but it sort of bums me out all the same.”

Great. Now we are on the same page. So, you see. It wasn’t “negativity”, it was “giving you a heads-up”. It’s natural that your psychological immune system tricked you into thinking you would be an exception or your colleagues would be different from mine. But newbies (and people planning to be newbies), need to get things in place right from the start.

You will start out being all “nice” and thinking charitable thoughts about your colleagues. You will try to see the good. You will try to persuade yourself it is your shitty attitude that is at fault. This does not work. They will not suddenly begin to treat you better because you were super nice and professional the whole time.

You need to be an English language imperialist.  You need to act like one of those 80 year old women on buses who no longer give a fuck and just call it as they see it. You need to wipe the “It’s okay that they speak Danish, this workplace is in Denmark after all” thoughts. Those bastards TOLD you at the interview “Everyone speaks English.” They TOLD you “The official language is English here”. You need to start enforcing it, guerilla style. Obviously your colleagues are just normal people and so they are probably quite nice (except for vinegar dicks all workplaces seem to pick up), and would be mortified that they have put you in this position. If you are serious about wanting to be the exception, you need to start acting like it. You need to say things like “WHAT?” and “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” and “I DON’T SPEAK DANISH” all the frigging time. You need to say it when they’re having a joke over coffee. You need to say it when they are having a discussion about holiday plans.

You can even say “HAHAHAH YOU ARE LEAVING ME OUT OF THE CONVERSATION.”

and “AM I INVISIBLE?”

or “I GUESS I AM GLAD I CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING BECAUSE I BET IT IS REALLY FUCKING BORING AND JUST ABOUT MEAT BALLS OR SOMETHING, RIGHT?”

It’s okay, because remember, you are not really going to stay in Denmark longer than about three to seven years, so if they think “What an English language imperialistic DICK” you’re never going to see them again when you move home. Also, it’s not as if they were ever going to invite you to a dinner party for real. They were just saying that to be polite that one time.

These techniques work, by the way. I have been trialling them at my workplace, saying things like that actually gets you a level of grudging respect because you’re at dangerously Danish levels of directness and they like that. (Obvs I don’t say “I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE SAYING!” because I do know what they are saying, I am calling them out on other bullshit they do)

Best of luck, “expats”, no need to thank me/apologise when you have your road to Damascus conversion and you realise that I was not being “negative” but just not sugar coating the turd for you. You are welcome but I would have done it for anyone.

25 thoughts on “You will not be the exception

  1. Excellent advice. People do need to be confronted sometimes.

    In certain situations, the “you can only change yourself, so deal with it emotionally” philosophy simply DOESN’T work, and DOESN’T apply.

    It might be a good rule of thumb at the initial stage of a conflict, when you think it’s fair to give someone the benefits of the doubt, but that stage does get passed eventually, and some people need to be put in their place/called on what they are doing.

    Those old ladies on the buses do know what they are doing. :-)

    Vinegar dicks. LOL God, I know someone like that.

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    1. There is something to be said for introspection but I have the experience of dozens of people at my fingertips and they all say the same, so it can’t be “shitty attitudes”, right?

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      1. Exactly. Sometimes, it really is other people who have a shitty attitude. It’s about exercising judgment and knowing when it’s time to say something, and when it’s time to let it go.

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  2. this one made me laugh out loud…. esp. the part about being an English Imperialist on the bus, thanks for that line. When I was back in the US this spring, I decided that I was through thinking that I HAD to simply try to speak in Danish to fit in… and realized that I am never going to fit in, I will always be an American ex-pat here, and that I will no longer worry about speaking English around Danes… esp. if I want to be understood and to understand anything meaningful. I tried this out recently at a small dinner party with my husband’s friends… the first twenty minutes I was pretty much silent, feeling crappy all over again… then began speaking in English, and they listened to me, and responded in English… these people never really speak anything but Danish, but they used English for my account. True it was a dinner party, not a workday, but in the end I felt somehow vindicated and really glad that I had pushed their envelope, it was a much more enjoyable evening all around and they could see who I was because I could communicate in my language. I will try this strategy from now on, and see how it goes. Since they claim to so love all things American, this must include our native tongue….

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  3. It’s not limited on the language only. It’s the attitude. I speak fairly good Danish, but still left out of conversation, like I was an invisible person. Never knew that I actually had the superpower among the Danes #sarcasm

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  4. This reminded me of the infamous MIL visit where after a week she got completely upset and cried because I wasn’t participating in the conversations and didn’t laugh at her jokes, so she was convinced I hate her, and my husband reminded her that I didn’t actually understand Danish, having only been taking it for a few months, and therefore I couldn’t understand a damn word that came out of her mouth.

    I’ve learned that another good sentence to whip out is “I’m sorry, you were speaking in Danish so I just ignored it.”

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    1. Ooh, I love that one. I say it about emails and letters at work, or I did a lot more at the start. “I threw that out because it was in Danish. If it wasn’t important enough for you to translate it, it wasn’t important enough to read.” They LOVED that.

      Bless your MiL, that’s so … (dare I say it?), dim. My Mum initially spoke very loudly and clearly for my boyfriend and he’s shithot at English. (But then she explains words he doesn’t know with the same word and says I’m patronising him when I break a word down into concepts he does know. She reads this, sometimes. *waves* Oh she also said “I expect you two get on really well because he can’t always understand what you’re saying” which was a great vote of confidence!)

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      1. Yeah, “dim” pretty much sums up my MIL. Or as I often say to my husband, “I know she *means* well and that being mad at her is like getting upset with a puppy that pees on the floor… but Oh My God, I’m a gonna stab that woman someday, so-help-me-god!”

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  5. Gosh.. thanks for the heads up ahead of the annual visit.. I usually tune out my in-laws unless they’re speaking to me because:
    1. Their conversations are ridiculously mundane, repetitive, or revolve around money… or cancer.
    2. I no longer live in Denmark, so why stress myself out.. Do you know that even when they visit MY home they sprout out the, “Nåh Verliz, så skal du øver dit dansk lidt”.. or some shit like that.. To be fair, I have nice-ish in-laws, but it gets twilight zonish,.. and I don’t waste my brain cells processing ALL the dejligs, hyggeligs and spændendes.. who CAN???
    3. My son is mega-ly language delayed, so we dropped the Danish in favour of a language that actually makes sense.
    Hmm.. 10 days of 100% Danish might be the death of me!

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    1. Oh god. Oh god. That sounds nightmarish. I hate all that “du skal” shit, I translate it straight into “I don’t want to bother trying to communicate in your language so, I’m going to guilt trip you into learning mine.”

      Yeah, if conversations I overheard were more captivating, I’m sure I’d tune in a lot more. Who CARES about a stupid holiday home?

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      1. My folks don’t have a holiday home, but round-the-table-discussions revolve too much around money for my liking… A whole lot of “betale”, “spar”, “kan ikke betale sig”, “billig”, “billigER” (cuz.. the ONly thing better than billig is billigER), “hvor mange giver du for..?” etc etc.. I guess the official Dansplanation would be, ” Vi er lige”, so it’s not uncomfortable to talk about money.. But where I come from there’s a lot more disparity, and we somehow manage to find OTHER stuff to fill conversation hours… Just saying..

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  6. Thing is, I thought I was the exception when I came face to face in real time with the contents of your post, I really thought I’d hashed being able to communicate, that is until I’d heard it repeated for the 80th time from other dirty foreigners. The ‘in your face’ method is the best, they are so rough around the edges (most at least) that it’s the only thing that registers with them, politeness, diplomacy, subtlety, n’ stuff is a positive waste of time. It does sort of irritate having to get to that level though, just to make them realise that you are a real person, and not some punch bag that they can verbally wallop intermittently.

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    1. Yeah, and the best thing is they don’t really mind being told. They might look a bit miffed but it never bruises them, they won’t brood over it.

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  7. I agree with most of the thingss you write here, abt. people’s attitudes to new people, foreign workers etc.

    I don’t agree entirely with the first paragraphs about language, though. As in


    … bear this in mind, informal meetings around coffee and water coolers are in Danish.

    and when you write about the tiring of the brain when it’s trying to learn a foreign language. I think if you don’t positively want this, you should not go work in a country where your own language isn’t the main language. I mean, if I went to France to work for a company with English as its main language, I’d expect and hope that people would speak French around the water cooler. Similarly, if I went to England to work for a French company with French as its official language, I’d expect people to speak English ’round the water cooler even if I’d actually prefer them to speak French (the reason being that my French isn’t so good and could use som practise).

    But then, I love learning languages. But whereas the rest of your post is sadly true, I don’t see how the language issue can be avoided, and that it’s even undesirable. Now if people were friendly OTOH …

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  8. PD: “I think if you don’t positively want this, you should not go work in a country where your own language isn’t the main language ….”

    Assuming, of course, that you have a choice. And of course this can turn out to be more stressful than anticipated, not least because of the other issues you mention.

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    1. I did expect (and hope), that Danes would speak Danish to each other. I didn’t expect what that would MEAN for me.

      I didn’t realise it would mean I didn’t get to make friends like back home, I didn’t realise it would mean that I was left out of the decision making process, I didn’t realise it would mean I would not be told about things. I didn’t count on how rejected it would make me feel every lunch time. I didn’t think I would only be spoken to when told what to do.

      I also didn’t count on how shit my Danish lessons would be, but that’s another story.

      As for the tiring of the brain, it’s something I (also naively), didn’t think would be such a big deal. I didn’t appreciate how exhausting it is not to understand anything. I thought it might be exciting, frustrating and strange. I didn’t count on “tiring”.

      It’s different if you have a certain mastery of the language. If you are a complete beginner and the recruiter told you “We all speak English in Denmark”, it’s a completely different story. And they guilt trip themselves when they suffer and then they leave.

      I hear in Sweden, they speak English even if there’s only one anglophone present to make them feel welcome. That’s nice, isn’t it? (It might not be true)

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      1. There’s something about the not being able to find friends thing that I need to ask you about next time I see you … but I’m enough of a misfit in this country myself to see exactly where you’re coming from.

        But it’s true: Yes, most people speak a relatively good level of English and yes, at social occasions they will exchange a few sentences in English and then very quickly relapse into Danish. Some people don’t speak English that well and so are a bit uncomfortable speaking English, but very often it’s simply lack of consideration. And we should start telling people that before they come here.

        The abysmal quality of the language schools is another thing. Something really ought to be done about that.

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      2. I mean, sure, people should feel comfortable speaking whatever language they want on their own time, BUT, if the job was sold a certain way, the workplace needs to make sure it’s the way described and make sure anything related to the actual job is communicated in the corporate language.

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  9. Permission to speak, when you’ve finished your water! …I understand the bits about ‘As for the tiring of the brain, it’s something I (also naively), didn’t think would be such a big deal’ It is a big deal, much different if you are learning a lingo for the hell of it, but, when it’s about survival, and the emphasis is on being able to understand is related to a job, and 5 paragraphs away you found out that there was ostracism in the air, then it starts to take on a life of its own, reverberating around one’s cranium, part of you wants to learn and the other half rebels, because why should it be just you who is being accommodating, when you are shunted into the sidings by people who could assist your passage of learning the lingo by speaking yours to you for a while, like until you got to grips with theirs. The whole cacophony of ø’s and å’s, and the rest that have taken up residence in your head is tiring, even more tiring when attempts to regurgitate it after careful practice are met with demands to repeat yourself, because no effort was made from the recipients of your efforts to deduce, nah! It had to be served to them without the erroneous inflections that they apparently find so abrasive, it has to be ‘propahdanish’ whatever that is, and which part of the country you happen to find yourself. Unfortunately all this has the effect of rejecting the language and not embracing it, as the original intention was.
    I found Swedes quite different, somehow they don’t seems to subscribe to the idea that if you do something un-Swedish, (speaking another lingo to a dirty foreigner for example) that they will be participating in the gradual demolition, and decimation of their culture, wery refreshing!

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