A question of perception

I got into a discussion at work about what I would like to do next year. I do not really know what I will do next year. I would like to move to a big city and have a nice teaching job. Though which city, which teaching job… that is all up in the air.

I made the point that I would need to find a really good job to justify staying in Denmark and went on to elaborate that I “hate it here”*, so having a horrible job on top of that would be too much.

Obviously, this led us down the alley of “Why do you hate it here?” but before this was established, he said
“If you hate it, you should leave.”

I replied that I would like to, in fact, I made plans to do so two years ago but getting with a Danish boyfriend spoiled it. He asked me what had kept me in the country if I did not like it. And I said that I really liked my job and I wanted to be with my boyfriend.

Then he wanted some concrete examples of what I did not like about Denmark but I must point out, that he was looking defensive and angry *at this stage*.

I gave him a quick précis, Disgruntled Foreigner 101. Discourtesy in shops/the street, rudeness from Danes in one-to-one situations, racism, being “invisible” in social situations and my social life effectively ending when I got here. I stressed it was not all Danes but these bad interactions are random and unpredictable which makes it difficult to relax.

First he asked me “what do YOU do when Danes are not speaking to you?” I told him that I do speak to them but they go on ignoring me and reminded him of the Knitting Club Incident of 2009. “Have you got any Danish friends?” I told him that I have three. (I actually have four if you count my boyfriend.) I told him that I went on holiday for a month and made that many friends, in other foreign countries.

Secondly, he tried to tell me that the rudeness and racism I was experiencing was not rudeness or racism. He tried to tell me I had interpreted it all wrong. I told him that I gave the rude Danish people the benefit of the doubt for 18 months and then realised that the rude ones are in fact rude. I told him that I refused to dismiss The Danes as savages and say that they cannot help it, that being racist/rude is somehow cultural and excusable. Plus, even in the case where racism affects me but it was not meant as an attack, it was just a clumsy ignorant person acting on their base instincts:- it still affects me! I guess I forgive them their trespasses but it still impinges on my quality of life, even if I find some way to rationalise how they behaved.

I said that that sort of “doubt your own perception of events” was another part of the problem, that foreigners are often told they are wrong, they have seen rudeness where none exists. And that this was not very helpful. I know what is going on. I admitted that more than occasionally, it is hard to confirm:- was that person a dick generally (and to everyone), or did I get “special” treatment. But against that backdrop, if you are getting treated like shit semi-regularly, does it matter if it was “personal” or not? It still feels shitty, right?

I reminded him of the mercury spill at work that is only now, two years later, being dealt with. I told him how that made me feel like I was not safe. That since work and my doctor had not been concerned with a major chemical spill, that my physical safety was in jeopardy.

He told me that I should leave if I felt that way, again. I said that I wanted to but I have a boyfriend here who would like to finish his education.

He asked in a very frustrated manner “Is there ANYTHING you like about Denmark?”

I answered, “I suppose the beaches are nice?” Shit man, like, sure there are good things about Denmark but they are not *specific* to Denmark. I could find many of the advantages of Denmark in Sweden, France, Germany, the UK (etc etc) and a completely different set of disadvantages.

He said “I think you are generalising.”

And I drew closer and I said really softly.

“Listen to me. I am not. I am really really not. I am saying a minority of Danes are like that and it is ENOUGH to make me want to leave. A minority are like that. The majority are probably ok. But of course, I notice the bad ones more because they are up in my business.”

“You are generalising about that minority.”

“Uh. Ok. I am quite happy to generalise about the minority that I have met who have treated me badly… I am categorically not saying all Danes. Some Danes. Enough Danes.”

Then he said “I think you are being very direct and very honest about your feelings.”

“Yeah, I’ve really integrated.”

He did not laugh even though I did. And then he said,

“I think you need to persuade your boyfriend to leave, if you hate here and go. You shouldn’t stay here if you do not like it.”

I replied that he should take it up with my boyfriend.

I told a couple of Danish colleagues about the conversation. One said “WHO THE FUCK DOES HE THINK HE IS? How DARE he tell you what to do!” Another said “How can he say YOUR EXPERIENCE is wrong? I mean, shit, I might move to the UK and think ‘What a terrible country!’ for exactly the same reasons and it doesn’t make the UK a *bad place*, it’s just my experience of it. It’s YOUR experience! He can’t tell you that you are wrong about something like that.” I said that I know foreigners who like it here, so obviously it is not all Danes. “Yeah, of course it isn’t. But that doesn’t invalidate your experience.”

If you needed more “they’re not all like that” proof, I went to my doctor and he said

“You know there are loads of English speakers in this town, right? I don’t suppose it’s easy to make friends if you speak Danish as a second language. Would you like me to give them your number?” so giving “foreign in Denmark” as a symptom really paid off!

And, of course, there are my three Danish friends who are awesome, kind and friendly. On top of that, there are a few Danish acquaintances who are the same. So, I do get that they are not all like that. I do understand they are diverse. (Not only do I understand it but I said it repeatedly.)

However, that does not improve my feelings about meeting bad-danes who interfere with my natural good cheer. Knowing a few dozen nice Danes personally, it doesn’t help when someone is rude or tries racism on me.

I told my boyfriend over the phone about the conversation and he laughed. It is funny. Sort of. No, actually, it is all the way funny. That a general conversation about how a culture is not a good match for my temperament was taken so personally, that is laughable. That a conversation about how people in parties treat me could make someone (who has never treated me badly), feel angry at me for having my feelings hurt, that is funny.

A man tried to jump the queue in Føtex (maybe he didn’t see there was a queue but he sure as hell didn’t turn his head the 45˚ necessary to check) and I patted his arm and said, there’s a queue, I’m in it. And he said “Oh, it’s like THAT is it?” and I said “Yes. That’s right,” and smiled and that was the end of the discussion.

Which only goes to show how much I have levelled up in four years.


*I probably don’t “hate it here”, I probably mostly “dislike it here”. But yeah.  It varies from hate to very-mild-dissatisfaction.

17 thoughts on “A question of perception

  1. Christ on a pogo-stick! Welcome to my world, except it’s my Danish boyfriend telling my I’m a “guest” here and if I don’t like it to leave. Well, excuse the hell out of me, but I’m paying top dollar here in taxes and if I’m getting shitty service from the Kommune, I’m damn well going to point it out!

    Just last week, I dared to mention that I found Denmark in general to be racist, and I practically started a war. I even prefaced that statement with the fact that I’ve met many of lovely Danes and I thought things were improving a bit and that by next Sankt Hans I wouldn’t be shocked to see them running Pia Kjærsgaard out of the country or at least burning her in effigy. Anyway, I almost found myself single again.

    I don’t understand this mentality of discrediting people’s experiences. If you’re part of the Dane Club, congratulations, but those of us who aren’t have a different experience here, and who the hell is anyone to discredit that? Less time dismissing and more time listening might lead to some positive change and the open minded atmosphere that they supposedly value here so much.

    I get that my country is not perfect, and I can take criticism about it and even agree with it. The Danes seem to lack that empathy ability to self-criticise. So yes, I will leave, eventually. Why didn’t I think of that myself? Oh, right, it’s not as easy to move country as these geniuses tend to think.


    1. Wow, I wouldn’t be able to romantically entangle with a Dane like that. Well, maybe to get material for this blog… but otherwise…
      Yes, it’s empathy. It’s also a religious fervour. They’re “practising Danes”. I had a similar conversation with the same guy about how I didn’t get confirmed at 11 because I was atheist. Same level of anger/defensiveness. Same sort of “arguments” about being wrong about that position.
      Danishness is a religion, and some of them are REALLY evangelical about it!


  2. I am actually tired of having to explain my reason for not liking Denmark. First of all, when they ask me this question, I think they don’t expect a negative answer, so I start by saying: Well, it’s not easy to be a foreigner here… ( I try to start taking it easy), then when the conversation goes deeper and I honestly say all the things I think, most of them take it personally. So I just say: A person’s opinion on something is based on experiences, and mine experiences so far were like that, so if you tell me that there is a different world out there, then I guess that this world you are mentioning is restricted to danish people… Ohh boy… it’s such a hassle and energy consuming to explain why I don’t think that here is heaven on earth that I decided to play like a Dane, and just give short evasive answers… Do you like it here Camila? – Yes, it’s ok. Then I change the subject to the weather forecast, which is one of their favorite subject! :-)


    1. I say “it has its ups and downs”. Usually I find people who can take the criticism. I start out super gentle with “people in shops jumping in queues” and if they take that well, I can move on to “my social life ended”.
      But yes, they really want us to say “My life didn’t start until I got here, thank you so much for saving me from my life of eating mud when the crops fail and having to sacrifice children when there is a thunderstorm.”


      1. Exactly!

        They want me to exclaim about how wondrous their free healthcare system is, as if it’s the only place on earth that has such a thing. The reality is I had free healthcare in MA when I needed it, and it was a hell of a lot better.


      2. Christ. I can think of some great doctors here but I can also think of some seriously shitty doctors. But we’re not allowed to complain or suggest improvements because… it’s FREE!
        No, I have a tax statement that says otherwise.


    2. The one I hate the most is when they not only get defensive, but blame it on ME and imply I am not putting enough effort into it. This, from the least proactive country on earth.

      I’ve even gotten it about restaurants, for crying out loud. Back in 2004 I criticized the awful Chinese food here, and a Dane asked me “Well, have you been to all of them?” Never ending.


  3. It’s a tiring game, because every time I meet a new Dane, they wouldn’t bother to ask about where I come from and my background. No no…the first thing they asked would be : How do you like Denmark?

    Since I’ve lost my faith in the Danish race, I’d just say it’s “special country” and walk away. Not worth fighting about. People who know my reasons and my “hate” *rolls eyes* here and won’t discredit me for that are the only people that I keep in my circle of friends. Anyone else, I scratch them off my address book. Life’s simpler that way.


      1. LOL! I think I’m going to start with the “special country” line… mange tak for det!


  4. One can always answer with something totally not related to the question, which is what they do when ‘confronted’. The Danoid interrogative patois when attempting a conversation with someone other than danoid is so repetitive, and frequently insulting, as in when they learn where one comes from, and exclaiming, ‘Aren’t you glad you’re here’…holy shit, it leaves me speechless sometimes, which is probably a good thing – for their sakes!


Comments are closed.