Zealotry and Real Life

Mary Elizabeth Williams said that there is a saying

Zealotry springs from doubt, not faith.

But I could not find that saying anywhere else so I am going to go ahead and say she coined it. Good old, Mary Elizabeth Williams!

When I came to Denmark, I would not say I was a zealot but I was certainly an enthusiast. It seems completely incredible (if not batshit crazy), to me now but I did not even try to look at the experiences of others living here. I read a book called Culture Shock, started learning Danish (but half heartedly because I reckoned 3 months immersion would get me fluent), and that is as far as I went with preparation.

I was not ready to hear what people actually living in Denmark had to say, in any case. I had no illusions: moving countries was going to be hard, culture shock was going to be hard, a new language was going to be hard. So, if I read anything about how hard things were going to be, well, I already knew that. None so blind as those who will not see.

My first exposure to other foreigners (apart from a handful of Brits in my town), was online. There was an excellent blog called “It seemed like a good idea at the time” and the title itself was what I needed. There were a group of foreign bloggers at the time, this also seems incredible to me, who talked about what life in Denmark was like. Some of them talked about the nice things, some talked about their day-to-day lives and some talked about frustrations. As I got to know these people, I became disillusioned with the hype about Denmark and had to adapt dramatically to make a life here (and not in the place, I hoped I was moving to).

Of course, winter came, as it is wont to do, and there was a massive falling out.

This was my first winter in Denmark so I had no idea that falling out with foreigners is a seasonal sport here. Most of the blogs went private or closed completely.

As people follow the most common advice given to foreigners, and leave, the blogs shut down. There are only two from that time that remain. The rest of the blogs are by “newbies” (some of the newbies have been here three years).

I saw a question posed, in that way questions are posed when you do not give a shit about the answer but do not want to make a statement, why aren’t there publications and blogs devoted to a “balanced” and “non-confrontational” treatment of integration into Denmark?

One of the practical considerations of writing one of those sort of websites is that when you are dealing with getting a CPR number or getting a place, you are too busy actually doing that to write about it for an audience. And once you have done it, the rules change. You would have to find out from someone else how to do it and they cannot tell you because they are too busy doing it.

Thing is, despite all this, there are. There are loads. No one reads them for the same reason that the Daily Mail Online is doing so well.

Besides, I would not write about integration anymore, would I? I am integrated. I am six months off permanent residence. I pay tax on three jobs. (My boyfriend says I have ONE job, one freelance gig and one part time thing. What does he know? He has one job.) I volunteer. I speak Danish, I was helping kids with their Danish at work the other day and thinking “Oh wow, I really do speak Danish”.

Good luck with your integration journey but I cannot help you, just as a Dane cannot help you. Your experiences are completely alien to me!

What I can talk about is what it is like to live in Denmark and this is where disagreements with zealots comes in.

I know plenty of people who have made new lives in Denmark and are perfectly happy (within normal tolerance ranges for happiness). They are also very personable people. They have their stuff going on, they find joy and frustration, they can talk to me about what is going on with me. There is no need for zealotry because they have worked out how to live in this country. There is no need for self righteousness, telling people off or unkind words. They just get on with it.

Zealots come in two flavours. One, is the person who intends to move to Denmark and needs Scandinavia to be better than home. Their own country has its problems and they need a place to exist where those problems are not an issue. They know that there are drawbacks to Denmark but they are making a deal with themselves that those things WILL NOT BOTHER THEM when they move.

The second, is the person who has moved to Denmark, cannot move back and has problems. They have no choice about where they live (for whatever reason), but they can choose how they react to their problems. Either they react to things that upset them or they shut that shit down.

Shutting down that sort of shit, requires that you make a decision never to process the feelings brought up when you have a bad day. If you have a bad day, you must make a decision to call yourself a bad person for feeling bad about it. That is what “choosing happiness” entails, if you feel a “negative” emotion, you must squash it down and keep it in check. If you are going to these lengths, you do not hear about it from anyone else. If you persuade yourself that you need to believe you are a bad person if you feel sad when someone is rude to you, then it is a short jump to calling everyone bad people for expressing that emotion.

The NUMBER of people who get in my face and tell me that I am not balanced because I do not talk about the good stuff! That I must have half my posts devoted to the good things about life in Denmark. I am sorry, but it’s not 50:50 here.

Racial discrimination, borough councils forcing people to have ECT against medical advice, children being deported, medical incompetence… these things are not reset by a decent bicycle infrastructure. With the best will in the world.

And with the personal: being belittled for trying to speak Danish, being shoved regularly, being ignored in social situations… this is more interesting to write about because it differs from my life in the UK. Back home, I had good friends, I had romantic interests, I had a nice place to live, I had a good job. I have that here too. What is different now is that I am an outsider and am subject to random unpleasantness because of that, from time to time.  There are hundreds of blogs about what it is like to work as a teacher and have a boyfriend. There are dozens of blogs about the interesting and quaint things of living in Denmark. There is one blog about working as a teacher in Denmark and having a Danish boyfriend. Difference is interesting to write and read about.

To those considering a move: Denmark is ok but it is not a place you should enter into lightly. You are going to find it hard to integrate here. You are going to have difficulties. The good news is, you are not alone. We are all finding it difficult. With luck, your difficulties will be minor and trivial but you must prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. We all find nice things in our lives that keep us going and moving to Denmark could be the best decision you ever make.

To the zealots: you need to lose your self righteousness and stop trying to pull me down for saying what you dare not. You are only a zealot because you are having the same doubts and problems as I am, you are just dealing with it in a hypocritical and disingenuous way. You do have a choice and its not to “choose happiness”, your options are

  • be in the moment you are in with patience, simplicity and compassion
  • carry on hating on me in your proxy war for self loathing.

17 thoughts on “Zealotry and Real Life

  1. ” You are only a zealot because you are having the same doubts and problems as I am, you are just dealing with it in a hypocritical and disingenuous way. ” — So, so true. I’ve even met one who admitted it, only to follow with a “but”… They choose a belief system, and they don’t even to hear or read any thought that challenges that belief system. Otherwise, it might just crumble, right?

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  2. By zealots, you mean people who are extremely happy about their expat life in dk? There are people like that? :O
    Then they must have serious problems back home, or nothing left to go back to, or nothing to look forward to elsewhere. That is sad.

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    1. No. There are people who are happy here but they are not zealots by any means. They just get on with being happy. Dk suits a lot of people. Zealots are deeply unhappy but prefer to keep a facade of positivity to save face.

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      1. Ok, I see. Well, it’s again sad that they have to do that.
        They say Aarhus is a friendly place, how are you liking it? I read about some differences you noticed in your work place, but what about the neighborhood? Is there a difference? (Sorry, if this is off topic. I am curious because I don’t meet people, I would like to know if there is really a different atmosphere in Aarhus, as they say there is)

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  3. There are those who are just thick skinned and roller coast over everything and everyone, and it wouldn’t matter where they were, but if you are just a little alert, it doesn’t take long to realise that there is an aura of rejection radiating in your direction, it took me 3 days to find that out.
    Those over enthusiastic persons who are unable to tolerate hearing/reading the other side of the mental picture they have constructed for themselves are afraid of facing something, and very apprehensive about having to endure a shattered dream, and I do ask myself after all the years I have been here, why their experiences should be any different from those of us who see quite a few pitfalls, it is an illusion if you think you are accepted here, you are not, but that is not automatically commensurate with the fact that you can make a life here, you can, – but not a deluded one, in the long term that bubble will burst.

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  4. It’s a psychology problem I believe. They need to convince others in order to convince themselves that everything is alright, fine and dandy despite otherwise.

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  5. As a future Denmarkian, I would like to say thanks for giving a balanced (because even when upset or angry, it seems like you want to be fair) view of what it’s like. I feel like, through reading your blog, I am better prepared for the reality rather than the fairytale. And even though I’m not there yet, I also feel like I’ve gone on a journey with regard to how I feel about moving there: from thinking it will be wonderful and cool, to being swayed by the negative stuff I’ve read into thinking it will be hell, and now I think I’ve reached a point where it will just be life, but both harder and more exciting than at home.

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  6. sounds like you’ve got a pretty well-rounded grasp of what it could/will be like, Hoptimist.

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  7. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who is regularly shoved! Actually, I try to balance my feelings with positive things if only to spare the Danish husband from listening to me bitch all day long. He already feels like an asshat for having me move here. I think if you don’t end up punctuating with some positivity you just spiral down into a dark pit of depression. I think to myself, I seriously just filed an expedite request with American immigration on the grounds of what my life is like in Denmark and people seem to think I have a fair chance of having it approved, how surreal is that? I certainly couldn’t have imagined myself saying that before I moved here.

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    1. “I think if you don’t end up punctuating with some positivity you just spiral down into a dark pit of depression.” Very true. Our primitive brains are wired to focus more on negative things than positive things, because it may have survival benefits. But if we let our primitive brains run the show, it doesn’t do any good either. Even if it’s just for the sake of our mood.

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  8. Thanks for the reply, I have run out of the reply thread, so am adding a new comment. It seems to me that many socially inclined people (I am autistic) are happy here if they are here for a very short while, or if they are here for a really long long time, and “integrate” well, and their own cultural tendencies/ inclinations (regardless of which culture they grew up in) are not vastly different from the culture here.
    Regardless of the cultural basis of the concepts of what constitutes rudeness and what does not, the isolation and dejectedness that I see expats feeling are due to the utter indifference (I don’t know if it is the right word, but I cannot find anything closer) they face. It is not just that people do not understand them, dislike them and all that, it is that almost none of them is willing to even try to know you or about you. Not even willing to try to check out if you are just as human as them, when the sound of language is silenced and the mantle of the skin and appearance stripped away.
    Even though many people I have met here are aware of the perception of the expats, and seem anxious to know what is my opinion, and are keen to try to come across as friendly and welcoming, they don’t actually even know how to go about it. They have grown up very differently, and are unaware of many small subtle gestures (I don’t mean macro gestures like holding the door) of daily life that we grew up watching and doing to show our amiability and sociability, and the lack of which comes across to us subconsciously as rudeness / rejection.
    I have seen unhappy expats everywhere, but I have never seen so many non-native spouses of native people completely unable to live here any more and leaving the country because they tried and tried but could not find happiness or acceptance, even in big cities. I think small places are insular everywhere, even if in different ways.
    Sorry, long comment. But having always been a fringe observer, I must say I am totally intrigued by this country.

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