New Years Project

I have been trying something a bit new on the internet for a while.

I think the inspiration was when I read about a woman with the name Rebecca Black who got a twitter outpouring of rage because a teen with the same name accidentally became famous for having a naff video. They were all going “Rebecca Black! You are the worst! Because you made a naff video!” and this lady happened to be an etiquette coach. So, instead of going “OH FUCK YOU, YOU TOAD” or “YEAH BIG MAN, threatening a 12 year old!” she responded with “grace” and “class”.

Also, the real Rebecca Black also responded with similar levels of grace and she was a kid and had no idea her video would be so popular with anyone, let alone haterz. Plus, they meant HER and they were saying personal stuff about HER. Etiquette Rebecca might have found it easier to stay calm because it wasn’t about her at all.

I found it in my heart to see the good in her video (which is actually ok, the lyrics are silly but that’s pop music, right?), because she was resolutely not a prick in those firestorm days of being hated by haterz.

Now, before I read about these Rebeccas Blacks being all friendly and gentle up in everyone’s grilles, I had given as good as I got on the internet.

If people were cocks, I would respond more or less in kind. Unless, you know, I could tell I was being trolled, in which case a non-response is usually the best.

I thought about this incident a lot and wondered what the best reaction to online provocation really could be. Sometimes people are incredibly rude and it’s not because they are a troll but because they are stupid or mean generally. But more usually, they are temporarily displaying stupidity or meanness which they find easier to express online because the usual social pressures are suspended on this channel of communication.

With online “men’s right’s activists” (who are roaming packs of men who go to feminist sites and try to derail the discussion somehow), I enjoy (like REALLY enjoy), preempting their derailment tactics and using them first. I probably shouldn’t reveal this here because, you know, they might get mad. But that’s what I do. I accuse them of being “emotional” and “spoiling their cause by their tone” (when they haven’t), and all the classics used to shut down discussion of the issues they do not like being discussed.

I really enjoy it! But it is not graceful.

With Danes and Dane-enthusiasts, I was often not very graceful. This is “because” they started it. Often if I would make an observation, instead of dealing with the content of my argument or discussing what I said, they would say things that translate roughly into “The reason you think that is because you are a bitch” or “You have no right to free speech”. And these people, were often not even trolling me. They were just THAT poor at discussion with another living, breathing, sensitive human being.

After years of dealing with the same arguments, I have become better at coping with it. Though, it does get to me. I’m not a professional troll, I’m not trying to upset people. I’m speaking my brains and I don’t mind people saying “ahh, bollocks, dude, that’s so wrong” or “Why do you think that?” I DO VERY MUCH mind it when people are mean or stupid. Shit man, can you imagine if I’d gone to a country where people were better at critical thinking and they attacked me in a different way every time? Christ upon a penny farthing.

So, despite my itty bitty fweelings getting hurt by people who are not being very sensitive to my needs as a overly-sensitive self-facilitating media node, I have been trying not to go on the offensive when I reply to unfair or unkind criticism.

(The most recent exception was to someone who claimed what I really needed was “a dick in a box” and I said that his gay mom said I could borrow hers. I am still proud of this. Inordinately so.)

Also, and maybe the Rebecca Black thing is a coincidence. I am not anonymous anymore. I blew my cover and people I know professionally get to see me in action if they google me. So, I need to be a good role model because I work with young people and people who think I should be a good role model. I’m cool with that, though, the reason people are getting lairy in the first place is because they know there is no consequence to their real reputation. If they had the idea that their poor behaviour would lead to people thinking less of them in the real world, they would also probably knock it the shit off.

Next year, then, I am going to work really really hard on being graceful on the internet. Really really hard on it. And I hesitated to write it in public. Not because I don’t want the accountability, because I do, but because it might arouse troll-penises and then I would have to fend off troll-boners all year. NO ONE WANTS THAT.

I was thinking of doing it like a book-deal project without a book-deal. You know, like when someone does something wacky for 12 months and releases a book? Like that but the wacky thing is “behave well”. So I might set myself mini gracefulness projects if I can think of them. I saw a programme on DR2 about this called “Politeness in 100 days” where a Danish guy tries to bring back courtesy with mini-projects. Like that. Or like what Lars AP is doing with Fucking Flink. Or Rachel Held Evans when she went for a month without expressing opinions, but put herself in situations where people had opposing views and she had to talk to them. I am copying other people, is what I am trying to say.

And in the spirit of that, I have started a brand new discussion forum where people can talk about Denmark if they feel like it. And I hope to encourage respectful and compassionate dialogue. Because remember, “dialogue is very important!”

Happy New Year everybody!

Casual Inhumanity

Civilisation, we got a problem.

This holiday time off has given me a lot of time to read and reflect. And catch up on Christmas tv. My mum is staying with me and I watched “Call the Midwife” for the first time.

I understand it is a fictionalisation of a memoir but all the same the stories about how the newly started National Health Service took care of people are wonderful. If they are half true, they are still magnificent. Another thing I am watching, is a comedy called “Getting On” which is about two nurses and doctor in a hospital geriatrics ward. These are comedy situations but not in the absurdist or surreal vein like in Green Wing but rather a black comedy about things that actually happen to people. Some of the humour is derived from cringing at how essentially crap care can be when management-speak and targets take over.

People working in hospitals probably wanted to make a difference in the mould of “Call the Midwife”, when they started. Call The Midwife is pretty much Compassion Porn. People who go into caring professions are totally into that. And yet, they are forced into situations and scenarios where they cannot do their best by their patients and it makes them callous and hard. It makes them bad at what they do. It, sorry guys, makes them bad people.

Now, you know me, I am not usually a “boo capitalism!” kinda gal. But I am going to go ahead and blame capitalism for this. J’ACCUSE capitalism. Though it’s complicated. When they came up with the National Health Service initially, they thought “Well, if we give people really good preventative care, they won’t get sick so much and we will save money in the long run! HURRAH!” and then people lived longer and then got much much more expensive illnesses. That’s gratitude for you(!)

A fully comprehensive and functioning health service takes a lot of money. And I believe it is the duty of any functioning developed nation to pony up and spend that money, already. I hate the idea of someone deciding they cannot get a lump checked out because that costs money and then they get badly ill and no one can help them. Or they walk around with TB. Or they have depression. Or an emergency completely bankrupts them.

No, developed nations, no! These people deserve so so much better.

Where it is capitalism’s fault is that capitalism has said “When I do my stuff for shoe factories and tea shops, I make things cheaper through the magic of economics!” and so people think, let’s apply capitalism to the health service and make it affordable to the state. Let’s outsource shit, let’s drive down wages, let’s track spending properly, let’s have the same sort of systems you might find in an investment bank.

And what happens is that capitalism says “hahah, only joking, what I do is try to make as much money as possible for my shareholders and now I am going to do just that with your tax that you kindly gave to me. I am now going to do everything in my power to rip you off.” and then cleaners get paid less to clean more (result: horrific death for vulnerable people), medicine and tests get rationed on cost grounds, medical care professionals are given less time but given an ENORMOUS amount of shit if they don’t do admin tasks. Which means, they prioritise this paperwork over for their patient care role.

All this weighs heavy on a psyche and even people who were pretty ok can get scarred by it and become callous. Cruelty emerges. And power plays. Corners are cut. Inappropriate savings are made.

These savings are not always logical. To give a personal example, I had cell changes as a result of a virus. There are many strains of this virus. A handful of these strains cause cancer, the rest cause skin conditions. I was not tested to see which strain it was, which meant I was operated on as if it were the dreaded cancer-virus. It wasn’t (I found out later when they DID test me, the second time around). They wasted a lot more money because they wanted to save a bit of money.

Danish healthcare is undergoing the same crisis as in the UK. If you call an ambulance in the capital, they will try to fob you off. If you are terminally ill, they ration the morphine and try to make you die of dehydration. If you need a diagnosis, they run a couple of tests rather than a full workup. Everyone is stressed out and so dickishness can occur.

Capitalism whispers “Hey, I can fix this! If everyone pays me to do good medicine on them, I totally will. I will do all the tests, I will give out all the morphine, I will have the nicest staff! Just stop this state-run madness and I will fix all your problems, I PROMISE”

To which the answer is:- Yeah, right(!) and WHAT ABOUT THE VULNERABLE?

Capitalism can suck my non-existent dick if it thinks it can exchange the amount I pay in tax for health care to a contribution to a company. A company will try to maximise its profits which could mean denying me certain treatments or refusing to help me at all because I get sick so much. The state would have to tell the companies that these dick-moves were off limits and this means anticipating it could happen and having the cojones to try to stop it. And that’s just my own mean self-interest talking here.

Meanwhile, people who cannot afford to pay a contribution are totally boned. Without going into who deserves a new hip, to be able to see, and to be cured of malaria.  I am NOT going to live in a country where people can find themselves in the position where sickness means certain death, permanent disability or financial ruin just because they had fallen on hard times somehow.

And even in the cases of “ha! you stupid grasshopper, playing violin the whole time, now your kid has measles and is quite badly ill, you should have paid for an immunisation, like I did”, there are knock on effects of having infectious people running around in the same community as both the “deserving” poor and the righteous health insurance holders.

The point isn’t that capitalism doesn’t work because it does. It works. Look at it work! If you want a system that streamlines the process of making a gidget and getting it into the hands of people who desire gidgets, or allowing people who would like a certain service to obtain it from people who offer it… Capitalism is a pretty neat idea.

In the case of health care, it is completely inappropriate. The ideas and processes are non-applicable.

What frustrates me is that we think we cannot think of a better way of driving down costs. Apparently, we can either have an inefficient monster where suffering through a lack of care or resources is practically unheard of but we cannot afford to run it, OR we can have a just-as-expensive-to-the-public machine where suffering is commonplace and caused by people not being paid enough to care.

OF COURSE we can think of a better way of doing this! The idea that introducing a bit of capitalism will save money is ridiculous. Why would a capitalist want to save YOU money? The entire point of capitalism is “make as much money as poss without stealing”. And of course, it’s silly to squander money and resources as if they were unlimited.

The idea that you couldn’t sit some experts and professionals and thinkers down in a room with a coffee machine and flipchart, and expect them to come up with something that saves money without being essentially crap, is laughable.

I am not saying their idea wouldn’t need work when they emerged jittery and teacher-tattoo*’d  from the room but I am saying that IT COULD NOT BE ANY WORSE.

Greedy people have tricked other greedy people and everyone is suffering. And what is worse, these greedy people pretend it wasn’t their political philosophy that screwed the pooch, they claim it is the opposite political spectrum that screwed the pooch. Socialism, communism, liberals, reds. Whatever. I think they are only half right. It is totally a joint bipartisan effort that gets systems this far out of whack. But, yeah, capitalism is the problem in Denmark and the UK at the moment. Capitalism is the reason that casual inhumanity is occurring on an industrial scale in developed nations (whether they have universal healthcare or not).

We are better than this, come on! Think of us as the monkeys at the start of 2001, scrabbling around in the dust. One look at a rectangle and we evolve right the fuck out and get up to interplanetary shenanigans with insane computers WE INVENTED only a hundred thousand years later.

Imagine what we could do if we actually wanted everyone to have decent, affordable medical care?

If you thought washing machines are good, just wait and see how good you can have it! Human ingenuity is pretty much the bomb and if we want, we can solve this. What is tripping us up is this idea that pure ideologies (such as “Let’s just throw money at this problem until it goes away!” or “Get rich or die trying!”), could give us any new answers to this particular problem.

And this is just me. This is just how I feel about it with my feelings. It is an opinion that I am having. And I expect others have perspectives that I will find delightful and compelling, if only they express them with grace and patience.

*The technical term for when someone gets dry whiteboard marker ink on their little finger.

Sundays are Bullshit

Having a significant other deployed overseas in a war zone is a steep learning curve.

What I did was go on holiday the DAY he went. So, I had a little cry and even though I did not feel like it, I had to get on a plane and go to the UK. I spent a week or so in the company of friends and family; and also got in some self indulgent shopping/travel time.

So, the first week didn’t count, it was like being on holiday while he was still back at home. The second week. OMG. Now, I planned a lot of stuff to keep me busy, made sure I had social arrangements but I was still a mess. Worrying about something terrible happening is like a full time job.

Now, if you are worried that, say, you might leave the iron on and burn down your house, you can go to therapy and the therapist can say “Well, it seems unlikely, right?” and that’s that. It’s your own imagination which is messing you up.

If you are worried that your boyfriend might get shot by a sniper/lucky shot, a disgruntled ANA soldier or blown up up by an IED, the therapist can only do so much in the way of reassuring you. You just have to make your peace with the horrific things that can happen.

Before he left, there were a lot of training exercises. He was on a training exercise when he told me he might have to go to war. I had been having a major anxiety attack about something else and the left hand side of my face was numb and tingly. The lead up to the deployment was horrible. We got on fine, no major fights which can be common. But he was hardly around. There was a briefing for the relatives but I refused to go. It was an entire Saturday, not long before he left and resented the army taking our time with each other away AGAIN. Also, I have a low tolerance for bullshit and I had an idea there might be a bullshit “women’s rights/important role for stability/Afghanistan is nearly ready for us to leave” narrative. Also, you know, it was in Danish.

Once he got there, the opportunities to communicate are pretty poor. In these days of video calls and instant text messaging, what is considered “good” is a satellite phone that only distorts 5-10% of speech and the delay is only 1 second. Most phones are much worse than this. I cannot call him, he has to call me. We can’t agree on a regular time for a few reasons. First, he never knows when the phones are free and he prefers to avoid lining up. Second, sometimes people die or are badly injured and they have to shut down communication with the outside world in case someone lets the news out before the relatives have been contacted. Third, he does not always know when he has a mission and even if he does, he is not allowed to tell me about it. He has interpreted this on the “safe” side. A lot of soldiers are able to say to their partners, “I won’t be ringing tomorrow” without feeling that great military secrets have been spilled to the enemy.

As I never know when he will ring this has knock on effects on my behaviour. I sometimes do not feel like going anywhere or doing anything, in case I miss his call. Being called for a long time and regularly, means that I feel a lot better about missing the occasional call. At the start, he would ring around once a week for twenty minutes and that was hell.

In a lot of ways, I am pretty lucky. Apparently, soldiers in other armies have only 15 mins a week or something ridiculous. When my boyfriend rings, he can stay on the line for as long as he wants. This is great because it’s not like I get to speak to many people. But there are people who have it better than me. Some are able to text their partners “Are you free?” and some have good skype connections.

I send him a lot of post. He is not very good at empathising with his future self. So, he tells me not to send so many sweets or send packages less often or send fewer magazines. I follow his instructions and a week later, he is disappointed! Ha! The Danish army does not provide free postage like the British army. I have to pay for the package to get to a base in Sjælland and this can be pretty expensive. The rest of the trip is free, though! There is email and he can check that occasionally. He almost never emails back. He never posts me anything.

I made some friends with people going through the same thing and they are really good people. It is nice to talk to others and find out what is universal and what is just me. (Most of it is universal)

There are resources for American army wives and they are much better than the Danish ones. American deployments are hardcore, they are longer and there is much reduced contact home. The effect on the partner and family is documented and presented “warts and all”. The Danish information is a little redacted. They acknowledge it might be hard but do not set out a timeline or advise exactly which emotions come and when. I was right on schedule according to the American information. The Danish stuff also tries to make you think of the POSitive. (For fuck’s sake.)

Eventually, I got used to being alone and all that. I felt “single” but without the need to find a new partner. I was nervous that when he came back, there would be trouble because I was so used to being by myself. His leave period was a bit fraught at times. He wanted to chill out playing computer games and while I welcomed a little alone time and understood his need to decompress, I felt terribly rejected after the third or fourth consecutive hour of gaming. But we reconnected and had a good time, though it was clear the leave period was “for” him and nothing to do with me or my emotional state.

When he left after R&R, I felt much better than when he left the first time. The only time that consistently sucks is Sunday. Monday through Friday, I am busy at work and I usually can find something to do on Saturday. But Sundays are bullshit! There is nothing to do and what would be great is to spend time with him and have fun.

Christmas is weird, it’s like one long Sunday. I am not a fan of Christmas and we don’t have children so it is okay. My mum is here, so we are having a nice time together. He is not a big fan of Christmas either, so he is fine with being away from home at this time. New Years is going to suck. It’s my favourite festival. We met on New Years, we got together officially around New Years. It is going to be weird without him. I don’t feel that strongly about it, though. Six months apart is six months apart. I am not sure him missing both our birthdays, our “anniversary”, Christmas and New Years is actually worse than if he had deployed in the six months where there was nothing to celebrate.

He gets back in late February. He wants to stay there as long as possible so he can make as much money as possible. This pisses me off, I am not ashamed to admit. There is now a dollar sign attached to our time together and it’s not worth more than a week’s deployment wages.

I am counting down Sundays. I think there are seven left, though it is subject to change.

So, seven “real” Sundays left. Somehow, it does not feel any better than when it was double that. It is still too long.

I wish the governments in charge would come to their senses and pull the troops out, though it will come too late for us. I hope those who lost loved ones in the war on terror can come to a place of peace with their loss.

Whatever you say I am, that’s what I’m not.

Funny how people react to criticism of Danish culture. If you start a blog in which you tackle the day-to-day situations involved in integrating into another culture and then you mention some of the not-so-good things then you open yourself up to abuse. This, I think, is ridiculous.

Now, obviously, there are foreigners who live in Denmark who are having a whale of a time. They are a good match for the culture, they don’t get any hassle from the borough, they find a nice job, their colleagues and people they meet socially are nice. These people have lovely times in Denmark. YAY! Good for them!

So, why then, do people who say they are having a great time feel the need to attack me if I say I have had problematic experiences or if I take the experiences of others and average these out and talk generally about the culture of Denmark?

The personal attacks I have had most recently are:-

  • You hate Denmark
  • You imagine Danes hate you
  • You treat “the Danes” like animals
  • You deserve to be treated like a twat
  • You treat people aggressively
  • You are unhappy
  • You are lonely
  • Any bad experiences you have are YOUR fault
  • You are negative
  • You are unhappy
  • You cannot speak the language

Apart from being untrue, these are not arguments and they do not address my points. They are “ad hominem” and “tu quoque” arguments. They are caused by the human brain distorting reality.

  • Someone else’s problems are always more simple than our own.
  • Someone else’s misfortune is more likely to be their fault, where our own is seen to be in the lap of the gods.
  • Our own success is seen as deserved, other’s success was pure luck.

So. If you have two people. One person has spent the last four and a half years in Fredericia and has very few Danish friends and most of her friends are from other countries, another person has spent the last year in Copenhagen and has many Danish friends.

The Copenhagen one is going to think “That Frederician girl has no friends because she’s a negative bitch.” The Frederician one is going to think “That Copenhagener has got more friends through blind luck!”

And neither would be right.

I have very few Danish friends because

  1. I live in Fredericia. (Famous only for its drug addicts, prostitutes and petty criminals.)
  2. Most of the people I work with have families and are therefore very busy
  3. I didn’t speak Danish when I first came

Someone in Copenhagen might have more Danish friends because

  1. People move to Copenhagen from their shitty Jysk villages, they are desperate to make new friends
  2. People in certain industries are better travelled and cosmopolitan
  3. Certain industries have a younger workforce, who are up for more socialisation

You could call it luck or circumstances but you most certainly could not start to blame the individuals.

How on earth could a stranger hope to make an accurate assessment of the situation based on 600 words on the internet? Even if I got someone to follow me around with a clipboard for a week/month/year, I think they would find it hard to tell me exactly what it was I was “doing wrong” because I’m not doing anything wrong. Plus, they would be more careful because a real life human being would be in front of them.

It is so easy for these so-called “positive” people to judge me and find me wanting. It is so easy to invent faults and attack me.

If they were truly positive, they would treat me graciously and with compassion. Instead, they rely on cheap attacks.

Let me tell you something, “positive” people. I have been here for nearly five years. For every one of “I am having a great time!”, there are at least three people who tell me “I am having a shit time,”. I met a woman who almost cried when she whispered “I thought it was just me.”

This shit HURTS, this shit is mentally damaging. Every time I go abroad or back home, I make new friends.

I am rather personable. If I had to stay here all year around, and I had to listen to “you get out what you put in”, I would quickly go mad.

Obviously, no one wants to be friends with Eeyore. No one wants to hear wall-to-wall whinging and whining. Fine. But that is not what I am like. I’m lovely! I go to parties where I don’t know *anyone* and chat all night. I am EXTREMELY friendly. I have a lot of friends, I make them easily, I like to have a laugh, I attend a lot of social events (I try not to say “no”), I like to listen to new people, I volunteer, I blah blah bloody blah.

I just don’t have that many Danish friends. So, it can’t be me. If I can make friends with Swedes, the Dutch, Germans and Danes; then why can’t I make friends with LOTS of Danes?

The answer is complicated and I don’t have the energy. The answer starts with they are busy enough with the friends they already have, diverges into day care has not prepared them adequately for befriending new people and ends up with they do not have the theory of mind to realise that excluding others is a dick move.

And OF COURSE it doesn’t apply to all Danes. Some of my best friends etc etc parp. It applies to SOME Danes. The Danes I am talking about.

Anyone that is tempted to talk smack about me (or others finding it hard to make a social circle here), go find a Dane that moved from one town to another. Ask them about their network of Danish friends. Are they in the new town or the old one?

I suggest you do not tell them that the reason their friends are concentrated in their home town is because they are a bad person who deserves no less. Don’t be a jerk, eh?

Saying Goodbye and New Beginnings

I have been so stressed out. There’s the boyfriend in Afghanistan. There is my school closing down. There is the stress of being foreign. I am ill all the time. Plus all the normal stresses on a person. It has been too much.

When they announced the school closure hearing process about this time last year, I worked out that their plans were completely unworkable and not fully costed. When I asked for clarification, I was subjected to “I cannot understand your Danish” by Peder Hvejsel. Then the politicians in Fredericia all lined up to say that the plans did work and no one else really challenged them even though they were lying. Maybe a dozen people stood up and fought?

And so, we were closed.

My choice was: work in a school which has not been properly thought through OR find a new job.

As much as I love my classes, I love my mental health soooo much more. Which meant I submitted my C.V. to schools around the country.

I got a call from a school, asking if I could teach maths from “ASAP” and I said “No, I couldn’t do that to them.”

Then I lost a baby and needed some days off to recover. And my bosses went into overdrive, trying to “control” the situation and be able to say they “did” something about me. I had four or five meetings with them about my absences. One of which, my boss told me to go back to my own country “if you hate it” four times. Another of which, a stranger was invited and told my medical issues without my permission. Another of which, an “expert” in internal climate, invited to investigate the indoor pollution in my workplace, had written “PSYKISK?” on her notes about me before she met me.

I almost had a nervous breakdown. I was so close to losing it. And something snapped inside of me.

The next time the same school contacted me, it was to teach science and maths. From January. And I said “I am torn but I would love to.”

And I am torn. I love my classes, my children are so adorable and I cannot imagine not getting to see them develop. But I have to get out. If I do not get a job for next summer, I have to leave the country. This new job is permanent.

My classes have taken it well and with great maturity and grace. I love them so much and I will miss them loads. And I happen to know the teachers taking over are great and will do a wonderful job. That is a major relief. I would hate for my students to lose out.

So, I do not have to worry about my job anymore. I have a job. I will have a new job next summer. I will not be unemployed. And my job is pretty exciting and rad and I will get to move to Aarhus in about six to nine months.

Meanwhile, finally I have a doctor who knows what he is doing and I have been to the endocrinologist and I am suffering from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hence: all the illness, tiredness, aches, anxiety, night terrors, swollen neck glands, weight gain, infertility. I have had this for two years at least. I have medicine now and hopefully it will kick in soon and I will have normal health again.

When my boyfriend comes back in February, I will only have a few things to worry about. A normal amount of concerns. A reasonable amount of irritation and worry.

I am so excited, I cannot wait.

Oh! How the mighty have fallen

Let me tell you about my town’s mayor Thomas Banke. The first time I met Thomas Banke was at a Sankt Hans bonfire. I was out with my friend, her (a bit dodgy) ex and their child. Thomas came over to say hello to the (a bit dodgy) ex. The ex made the introductions and Thomas did not look at me once. I thought ‘that’s a bit off’. He was some big shot politician with an election coming up and they tend to schmooze with new people. For some reason, he did not feel he needed to schmooze me. Or even show basic human courtesy.

He was elected onto the borough council and for really crazy, stupid but overall BORING reasons, was given the position of mayor by the committee. He was the youngest mayor ever. He is younger than I am. The press would interview him and say “Oh wow, you’re young for a mayor” and he would snap “I HARDLY SEE WHAT RELEVANCE THAT HAS” sort of retorts.

Evidence of narcissism came early. There was a project to get us to turn off our lights and equipment when we were not using it. Instead of illustrating this initiative with a light bulb or the earth, his face was chosen. A photo with the cold dead eyes of a killer. (He is not a killer, I presume but if he wanted to branch out, he has the eyes already)His face illustrated the borough’s website. In the first few months, his face was everywhere. He was like ceiling cat in 2006.

The second time I met him, he was visiting the school with a youth politician. I made a point of greeting the youth politician very warmly and praising him for a recent television debate performance I happened to have seen. I blanked Banke, except for to make brief eye contact to acknowledge he was there. Also, so I could see how pissed off he was to be blanked whilst some punk kid was praised. Thomas likes being on tv, I have seen him a few times.

A student of mine told me that a while back there had been a scandal because he had admitted that he had used illegal drugs whilst he was the leader of Venstre Youth. This admission, it must be noted, contained no apology for this behaviour. Just the statement that he had tried speed, cocaine, cannabis and that “everyone is doing it”.

He mayor’d and moonlighted writing a (unfortunately titled in retrospect) blog called “Away from Reality” about centre-right economic policies in Jyllands Posten. He made statements about how we needed to make huge cuts because there was no money and then statements about how the town had turned a profit. And also made no attempt to limit his expenses. (on the contrary)

Rumours started flying about how he was using again. I am not the most well connected person in this town, if it was reaching my ears then these rumours were going crazy.

The controversy was a slow burner. His colleagues complained about how he did not turn up to represent our town in committees. Committees, remember, he is paid to attend. He was supposed to come to a meeting at our school about shutting it down and he did not. He was supposed to meet the children when they delivered their petition and he didn’t. He was supposed to go to a lot of events but he seemed only to have time for glamorous ones.

His argumentation was becoming increasingly erratic. One reason given for closing my school was “We did not commission an expensive consultation exercise only to close one school.” One answer given to “If you close that school, there won’t be anywhere local for the children in town.” was “There are private schools in that area, though.” (Let them eat cake, much?) The budget was rejected in the first round. Unheard of in the history of history.

Eventually, one of the council members made it come to a head. Part political wrangling, part genuine concern.

The question, why does Thomas Banke look drugged at meetings sometimes? and why does he miss so many meetings? was raised and the answer was

“After some dental surgery a year ago, I needed morphine and I am currently addicted.”

Remember, this is Denmark. If you borrow a library book*, it is recorded on the same file as your medical notes, as your mobile phone subscription, as your tax details. How on earth could that have gone on so long without a dentist or pharmacist getting in trouble? My guess was his supply was a little “under the counter” or “informal”. But god knows.

His skin is really bad and it used to be really good. He must be using a lot. A lot a lot.

A month after this revelation, it turns out he has not been doing a good job of providing evidence for his expenses. Indeed, a civil servant at the borough had to recommend that Thomas Banke should buy stuff with his own money and claim it back if he had proof of purchase. (Interestingly, when he has to stay overnight somewhere, he stays 4 star. So much for needing to make savings.) His expenses forms are a mess. A real mess. The sort of mess you might expect an addict to make of expenses forms. He is being investigated to see if it was a dishonest mess or more chaotic.

He has now gone on sick leave, citing the pressure on his family. He has two months to get his shit together or he must be replaced.

I have a few conflicting emotions. I feel sad for him. Drug addiction is the worst and it looks like it has fucked his political ambitions. He may even face criminal charges, if dishonesty can be proven. He is unwell, this is a mental health issue. But. I also feel like his personal problems were causing issues for the town and so I am pleased he is not in charge anymore. I also do not like him as a person and while I would not rejoice in his downfall, I am pleased with myself for being so RIGHT about him all this time.

 

EDIT: Apparently library book borrowing habits are NOT recorded. Everything else in this is true!

Dear Amy

A single review of my blog on expatsblogs.com

“This blogger seems very angry, and incredibly unhappy to live in Denmark. I really wanted to ask her what her reasons for staying are, but it seems like she has disabled comments. I can’t imagine which part of this blog would be useful to someone interested in being an expat in this particular country.”

The comment policy on expatsblogs.com is “Please note: only positive or constructive comments will be published. Unnecessary, negative comments won’t be published.”

**EDIT** They removed it! Anyway, I spent ages writing this, so here we go**END EDIT**

Apparently, calling a stranger “very angry” and “incredibly unhappy” is constructive somehow? This comment is not seen as either unnecessary nor negative. What a world.

Let’s take it from the top.

“This blogger seems very angry”

My last few “angry” posts have been about forced terminations for underprivileged women, a lack of support in intercultural adoptions leading to emotional neglect of vulnerable children and the nature of racism in this country.

If that sort of thing does not make you angry, Amy, what would? What on earth could?

“and incredibly unhappy to live in Denmark”

This confuses me because, hell, the rest of my “non-angry” “this is an outrage!” “political” posts have been pretty light hearted and gentle. The non-mouth breathing peasant Dane has nothing to fear from me. (In fact, some of my best friends are non-mouth breathing non-peasant Danes. And anyone who says any different is a fucking LIAR.)

“LOL,” I exclaim, “Danes, eh? With their foibles? Hmm? How about them, eh? Nah, they’re alright… Everybody, let’s give it up for the Danes! They sure have given up on themselves. Only joking. Remember to tip your waitress. Here all week.”

Incredibly unhappy. Wow. Amy, I see I am going to have to introduce you to my good friend Mr. Projection and his common-law wife Ms. Defensiveness.

“I really wanted to ask her what her reasons for staying are”

Did you? Did you in-fucking-deed? You “really” wanted to ask me? What my reasons? For staying are?

Who do you think you are? Louis Theroux? Going around wanting to ask people to justify themselves to you.

If you read back through my archives, you can see that I have gone through cycles as I have integrated into Denmark and am currently in quite a positive, accepting phase. Indeed, in my last post, I wrote “Denmark is probably ok”. Do you have to LOVE where you live to not have to justify why you live there?

“but it seems like she has disabled comments.”

I haven’t disabled comments. I just have them open only for a short time after a new post. This is to reduce my comment moderating workload. And your comment would have been moderated because it breaks my “no attributing emotions” rule. Twice.

“I can’t imagine which part of this blog would be useful to someone interested in being an expat in this particular country.”

Perhaps it is your lack of imagination which hampers you? Maybe it causes problems in your wider life, too?

I think expats considering Denmark are exposed to an extraordinary amount of hype. A little pre-emptive bubble bursting is meant as a kindness. Being an immigrant in Denmark is incredibly hard and just being told “everything is lovely, you’ll have a great time, here’s how to deal with practical problems, here’s a picture of something quaint” is not enough.

My regular readership is around 100, not counting readers who check out one or two posts and decide I am not their cup of tea. No doubt a few of my 100 or so regulars hate-read me but I would not put their numbers above a dozen. So, there are scores of people who keep coming back to read this site. I am humbled (and a little unnerved), by that knowledge. (Sorry I have not been writing more, Regular Readers!)

I assume what they are finding useful is:-

  1. The idea that they are not alone in finding Denmark difficult
  2. News stories translated into English
  3. An archive of posts showing one person’s integration process
  4. Another voice on issues that affect them and are of interest
  5. The concept that you can think “wow, mouthbreathing peasant scumbags are the WORST” and still go on to have a happy and successful life in a country which enables mouthbreathing peasant scumbags to go about their business of being a scumbag entirely unhindered.

Furthermore, Amy, I expect they find it refreshing that someone can have a laugh and enjoy life outside of the narrow constraints of “THOU SHALT NOT BE NEGATIVE”. The cult of positivity is cruel, it is unrealistic and it is unnecessary. It is possible to look at the culture you are living in, identify its faults and continue to live a contented life.

I am living proof.

Is Denmark as bad as everyone makes it seem?

Denmark. Denmark. Denmark.

My country (the UK), is currently having an internet love affair with Denmark. The UK is excited by the very flattering photos Denmark keeps sending, with the camera angle oddly chosen to point down all the time with really quite bright lights. They have also read its dating profile over and over. Some of the lovely things Denmark says it does are really quite lovely! And exciting!

Imaging living there! The journalists who are invited to Copenhagen by the Danish tourist industry which in this analogy is probably a first date, right? Yeah, let’s go with that. The journalists from the UK have only nice things to say! The venue chosen by Denmark for the first date was really nice and Denmark was totally on Denmark’s best behaviour all evening. They totally took the UK back to its place and showed it some hygge. IN ALL THE POSSIBLE WAYS.

Naturally, after such a courtship, one’s thoughts turn to co-habitation. A quick once-over with the old google internet search engine and … Christ… well, if I wanted to doggedly continue with this over stretched analogy… would be a bit like coming across someone’s myspace blog about a breakup with the person you were courting. Or their Tumblr, if we want to be all twenty-teens about it.

A lot of people living in Denmark have written on the internet “OMG WHAT THE FUCK?” whilst in the midst of a culture shock driven breakdown. Others have written “No seriously, what the fuck?” when the culture shock has worn off and they are still not impressed.

There are plenty of foreigners who never write anything because they feel reasonably content (for a given range of contentedness) and there are a few foreigners who only write up the good stuff. These foreigners and their blogs are aggressively pushed to would-be “expats” by the government and that is when my metaphor is no longer of use because I guess it would be like when an internet dating prospect sends you to their wedding photos flickr album to show you their first marriage to prove they are capable of giving and receiving love. And as far as I know, this is not a trend on internet dating sites. Even OKCupid.

But yeah. There is a remarkable amount of shit-listing of Denmark going on.

Is it fair?

I am going to go ahead and say “yes” but with some caveats.

Denmark is probably ok. It is a reasonably well off country with mediocre services, medium-to-high taxes, medium-to-very good standard of living, currently quite cushy terms of employment. No one starves. No one gets cholera. No one is tortured for their beliefs*. But as I have said before. This is setting the bar waaaaaaaay too low.

Compared to similar countries, let’s go ahead and say France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands (let’s leave the other Scandies to one side for now), it’s not really anything to shout about. Remember, expats can move anywhere. That’s their thing. Compared to similar countries, Denmark does not come out very well.

The schools are a bit in need of an overhaul. Health care is variable. The borough councils are unhinged. Crime is high. The terms of employment are being made progressively more shitty.

But for the expat, the main concern is “will I experience happiness and enjoyment?” and the answer is “Unless you put an extraordinary level of effort into entertaining yourself: no”

The language barrier is a serious impediment to happiness which is not really improved by saying “Well, obvs it’s Denmark. You should speak Danish.” That does not, with the best will in the world, get your pipes fixed when you are fresh of the boat and need a plumber.

Then there is the thorny question of social interactions. If you are coming to Denmark to marry a Dane or for study, you might be ok. It can be a lottery. Even very outgoing, friendly people who have had no problem making friends anywhere else, can find it hard to make friends in the Danish community. This is partly because they often do not speak Danish well enough to develop a friendship but mostly because Danes are just not that into us.

Not that Danes make a lot of new friends of any background after they finish their educations. If you go to a party with two groups of Danes who know the host from two different places (say: badminton club and sailing club), it is unlikely these groups will blend. Everyone at the party is the type you get might back home where the guest is just too shy to go talk to others and must wait for other guests to come to them. If everyone is like that, no one is coming to anyone.

Throw having a guest with a different culture into the mix and you might as well forget about them socialising beyond the old “Immigration Interview” conversation (When did you come? Why did you come? How is your language coming on? When are you leaving? )

And that is only if they even get invited to a party.

If you come to Denmark, your social life is over. All your friends will be foreign or mates of your Danish spouse. (Unless you happen to like doing sport)

If you like having friends, then yes, Denmark IS as bad as everyone is saying.

Meanwhile, even though they are most definitely not “all like that”, the only Danes you are really going to get any interaction with are the ones who are like that. They shove you in the street, they treat you like a twat when you try to speak their language, they push in front of you in shops, they leave their dog shit on your doorstep, they tell you off for talking to your kids. It can get quite fraught because although you do not want to become racist, you are facing a reality where you are effectively having to take it on trust that they are not all like that.

And if you have to interact with the authorities, it’s time to flip a coin. Heads: they will treat you like a human being. Tails: they won’t.

So. Yes. It is as bad as everyone is saying. It’s not paradise and it’s not hell. And you just need to be ready for that if you are serious about moving here.

*Denmark has been implicated in torture a few times since the war on “terror” began. But frankly, who the fuck hasn’t? It’s a shitty state of affairs that my team turned out to be the Storm Troopers when I thought they were the Rebels but I am literally powerless to do anything about it. I’m not a fucking ewok, am I? I’m not even Lando pigging Calrissian. You know the school teacher in the storm trooper clone factory they never made an adventure about? I’m that one.