Rules is rules is rules (Except when they are not)

A little bit of cultural comparison, for your reading delight, on this drizzly Saturday.

 

Lady Justice
(Photo credit: Scott*)

 

In the UK legal system there are old laws and new ones. The old laws were written back in the day, usually by nobles. Some of these laws make a lot of sense like “Don’t kill people, ok?” and these are kept on the books. Laws like “Unless it’s a Welshman on a Sunday,” make a lot less sense and so have been “taken off the books”. New laws are also enacted (this time by politicians, instead of nobles or royalty), to reflect the new ways people can damage and injure each other.

The politicians of the UK work double time to make sure laws are interpreted in the way they intended. They write them in thick legalese so that there are no loopholes, the letter and the spirit of the law match and so that judges have no grounds for saying “This law is TOTAL BULLSHIT!” in that way judges often do.

Having exact legal definitions is very important, even though it is a pain because you need to pay someone to interpret the law for you, because it means everyone gets the same treatment. If the law says “You must not xyz” then no one gets to xyz. No one.

The judicial process in the UK involves “testing” laws. If someone breaks an unfair law, it is possible for a judge to say “No, that law is bollocks, I’m taking that off the books”. Some people break laws just so they can test them in court for being unfair. Some people take the UK government to court for breaking other international laws (most usually the human rights acts that the UK has signed up to) and laws get changed or taken off the books completely.

Having a process like this is very important. It protects the people against things like fascism and incompetence. Sometimes rules are unfair and need to be changed.

We the people choose the rules we live under. Even though the process is arcane and not always that efficient or perfect.

This may be the same in your country. Who knows?

In Denmark, as far as I can make out, it does not work like this. Laws are written in much more of a fluid prose style. This is so that people can interpret them as they wish. The legal system assumes people can be trusted and so leaves the interpretation of the rules up to the people in charge. When laws are demonstrated to be unfair or wrong, they never change. What happens is that the department involved finds a get out of jail free card.

Imagine you are getting deported because one interpretation of the rules say you should be. You say you shouldn’t be because you have done nothing wrong, the interpretation is wrong. You get in the newspapers. The department looks at your case. If the gods are smiling on you, you will get to stay because the department “finds” a piece of paperwork they misplaced and now you can stay.

The rules do not change.

Except the “rules” change all the time. Ring the state for an interpretation of the rules, you will get a different answer from a different member of staff.

Some people will be given a stay of execution because the law allows for it, some people will be deported using the exact same laws.

It all depends on the person in charge and how they feel about your skin colour, gender, earning potential, ability to communicate in Danish.

I am always disappointed when Danes say something like “You have to follow the rules,” or “The law clearly states,” because this is not usually true. The caseworker or police officer of Denmark is granted enormous power to interpret the rules. The law rarely states anything clearly. The system trusts the caseworker or police officer to make the right call. And of course, not everyone deserves that trust. What you will find is that people can be persecuted and told “this is just the way things are” when they do not have to be that way. And you also find the converse, very lucky people who get a free pass with the authorities.

Usually, as caseworkers and police officers do not have a lot of time to get to know the person they are dealing with, these decisions are made on a snap judgement.

This leads to very unfair decisions. Sometimes people are told one thing one day and then another the next. Sometimes people in the exact same position are treated completely differently.

There seems to be little awareness of this. People in Denmark trust that the people in power always make the right calls. But this trust is not only misplaced, it is cowardly.

You do not have to accept unfair laws just because they are laws. Plenty of unfair laws are enacted all over the world and throughout history. It is your duty to fight, it is your duty to resist.

The rules are for benefit of the people, not people for the benefit of the rules.

 

Freedom of Speech (unless we don’t want to hear it)

Tendai Tagarira, a poet who was granted political asylum in Denmark after criticising Robert Mugabe, settled in Aarhus. Before leaving Zimbabwe, he had a bad collision on his motorcycle, after the brakes were tampered with. He was made a sort of poet in residence as part of being a refugee and then the money ran out and then he became a refugee under the usual rules. His case has been mishandled a lot, mistakes have been made A LOT. He has suffered because of these mistakes, like the month where he had no money at all because his caseworker made a mistake.

He writes bits for the Copenhagen Post, gives talks and so on. This is, in the Danish system, a “B income”. He also runs an excellent website called “Aarhus Culture“, which he started as a reaction to being refused entry to a bar because he is black.

This website has all sorts of different articles about Aarhus and has a wide readership. It is growing but it is in a very early stage of development. The Integration Department for Aarhus said that he could run this website as part of his integration contract, after support from the mayor.

He writes one article critical of the Integration Department and THE NEXT DAY, they contact him to say that he can no longer run the website while he is on kontanthjælp. They say it is because kontanthjælp is for getting people to be self sufficient as soon as possible and that he cannot support himself with the income from the website right now.

He had an hour long meeting with Lene Brink of the Integration Department. She interrupts him a lot, she repeats herself and never lets him finish his points. She takes advantage of technical difficulties at the start to push the agenda from a presentation about his project to an attack. She responds to him before the interpreter is finished, almost as if she does not need an interpreter. She speaks in English at some points before she remembers herself, she works through an interpreter the rest of the time. She speaks in long paragraphs, so the interpreter must simultaneously translate, the effect is very confusing. It is supposed to be. She uses the Danish language as a weapon, in this way. She can interrupt in stereo. She often says “You should be listening to what I say,” and “Can I finish,” and “If I can just say,” as if he is interrupting her. She talks to him like a child about “respect” when he interrupts her towards the end.

She feels superior to him. You simply do not interrupt people you feel equal (or inferior), to. Why on earth does she feel superior to a famous poet, published author with a background in law and finance who is running a much more successful website about integration than her department is able to make?

She accuses him of making threats when he makes the reasonable point that the way Denmark treats African refugees will come back to haunt them, when they want to do trade with African countries. Denmark needs people like Tendai, not just because he contributes to Denmark’s culture but because Denmark will need help understanding how to do business in African nations. Interpreting “if you treat me with disrespect, I will not stay in your country and you need people like me,” as a threat, is indicative of her attitude towards Tendai in particular (and African men in general, probably, since she cannot know Tendai individually all that well).

His choice, as she tells it, is that he can either run the website without kontanthjælp (which will make him homeless) or he can stop running the website and receive kontanthjælp. He makes it clear that her threats to cut him off do not scare him. She tries to make out that it is “his” decision not to receive kontanthjælp by continuing to work on the the website.

His reading of the law is that as part of his integration contract, Aarhus should be helping him run this website.

Her reading of the law is that he should not be running websites for integration into Danish society when he could be applying for jobs in supermarkets.

He would do manual labour if he could. He can’t. He was badly injured when his brakes were cut in Zimbabwe. He is trying to create a business that will support him financially, using the skill set he has developed over many years. He is close to being self-sustaining, working on this projects. The Integration Department of Aarhus would prefer he be close to being self-sustaining, by doing nothing but apply for jobs.

This is the reality of “integration” of refugees in Denmark. You can come for political asylum for criticising your own country, as long as you don’t get uppity and use free speech to criticise Denmark. You can live here, as long as you work stacking shelves and not as a professional or equal. You must exist as supplicant. Grateful. Humble. But above all. Silent.

There is a petition you can sign, if you feel the same as I do.

Lockout: It’s on.

Teacher working time agreement negotiations started 27th February.

Corydon, the finance minister, who is neither a teaching union representative or a borough council group representative, said on February 28th:-

“I am sorry to say that negotiations are at a deadlock. Therefore, I have taken the serious decision to warn of a lockout for some state-employed teachers. But my hope is that an agreement will soon be found, which I think is still possible if all parties are determined to find it.”

I am not “state employed” and yet, I am getting locked out. He is neither negotiator nor mediator and yet he calls it a deadlock. Half a day’s negotiations were all that were necessary before he threatened the ultimate sanction. What a strange country I live in.

This is what Baffled Anders Bondo had to say at the time:-

“I am completely perplexed by KL declaring a deadlock. We have offered:- to teach 25 hours a week, to discuss staying in school during office hours, to look at certain types of lessons without preparation, to have the same working conditions as special needs teachers. We have used the last debate to discuss KL’s proposal and after agreement have formulated some questions to which we would like some answers. They were a question of how we could get fairly standard provisions into KL’s initiative. Instead of getting the desired response, Michael Ziegler rang at 1am and said the negotiations had broken down. I am bewildered by this call. We have not denied any demand and we certainly haven’t even given any ultimatums. For the teaching side of negotiations, the debate has in no way broken down. We are ready if KL want to talk.

And the talks went on. The teaching unions went on to make many suggestions.

Union FB share-around

What the parties have brought to the table

The teacher’s union has offered:-

  • To teach 25 hours a week, in a continuous course, which is 25% more teaching than now
  • Increased presence in school during office hours
  • Taking charge of new “activity lessons”
  • The Finnish model
  • That working hours are negotiated after school reforms are decided (as KL has agreed with BUPL, the “pedagogue” union)
  • New working agreement with the same rules as for school “pedagogues” with BUPL (that the KL did not wish to change)
  • New working agreement with full leadership discretion, where the head is free to award preparation time according to the school’s requirements, full-time presence at school during office hours, in line with other public employment. Furthermore, freedom of choice for boroughs between this and the existing working time agreement and the possibility for regions to reach their own working time agreements.

What the KL has offered:-

  • A working time agreement similar to teachers at high schools, without the right to know when you have to be at work or are free, without fixed limits on teaching hours, without rules on length of notice periods or maximum numbers of working hours. No possibility of making regional/local working time agreements.

And yet, since the government/KL were prepared for these talks, all the propaganda about lazy Danish teachers, Danish teachers with tiny contact hours, Danish students doing poorly because of lazy teachers has been doing the rounds.

You can rely on the fact that only VERY interested parties have been looking into the detail of the negotiations. Everyone else is relying on spin. The union’s “forced whole day school” schtick. The administration/KL’s “not working MORE, working DIFFERENTLY” patter.

Looking into the detail, it’s clear to see that the administration had no intention of negotiating at all. They are relying on dirty tricks to win this one. Spin, negative stories, mud slinging and the lockout as a coup de main.

The parents are not going to see that the teachers have offered to worsen their working time agreements, have put benefits on the line, have offered to work more for the same money, have offered to be in the classroom more, have offered to stay in school from 8am to 4pm, have offered to change working patterns according to the new school reforms yet to be decided.

All the parents are going to see is what is being presented to them by the state and the media: The teachers are refusing to *negotiate*, the teachers are refusing to teach more lessons, the teachers are refusing to stay on the school premises during the school day.

As the lockout drags on and on, patience will wear thin and the stance will become unpopular. But I think pressure on the union to cave will come from the teachers themselves.

I do not want to be locked out. I do not want to be unable to set cover work. The guilt is going to build, the longer I am away. If I am anything like other teachers, it is likely we will cry uncle way before the parents do.

This is a new chapter for schools in Denmark. The suggestion is awful. Working conditions for teachers are going to seriously suck from now on. The Danish populace have been set against the teachers. We are going to find that working in Danish schools is exhausting and overly difficult. We are going to find that respect for teachers and the work we do is eroded. A lot of teachers will leave. Many teachers will be demoralised.

I cannot imagine this will make Denmark’s education system world class.

What the shit is going on with the lockout?

This is more for me to get my head straight over the ins and outs of the teachers’ working time dispute.

Main Characters:-

  • Antorini (Christine Antorini) Curly haired extra from Borgen. Antorini is the Education Minister of Denmark, also in the Social Democratic party. Teaching experience: none.
  • Bondo (Anders Bondo Christensen): Harry Potter: the elbow patch years. Bondo represents the Danish Teacher’s Union. Teaching experience: lots.
  • Corydon (Bjarne Corydon): A shaven headed extra from Breaking Bad. Corydon is the Finance Minister of Denmark. He is from the Social Democratic party (‘Moderaterne’ on Borgen, ‘Labour’ in the UK). He has a tumblr dedicated to him looking sceptical. Teaching experience: none.
  • Ziegler (Michael Ziegler) Leader of the “Borough Council Union”, a nationwide group representing the interests of the borough councils in Denmark. Teaching experience: none.

Minor Characters

  • Jelved (Marianne Jelved): Member of the Radikale Venstre party. Used to be a teacher. Is married to a teacher. Looks a bit like Sandi Toksvig’s aunt. I have met her. She has observed two of my lessons. She is okay by me. And for a politician she does not say a lot. Teaching experience: lots.
  • Vestager (Margrethe Vestager): Leader of the Radikale Venstre party (think Old Labour/Liberal mashup) and Minister for Economics. Teaching experience: none.

Chorus

  • The children: Attend schools in Denmark
  • The parents: Send their children to schools in Denmark
  • The teachers: Work at schools in Denmark
  • The taxpayers: Live in Denmark and pay for this show

Synopsis

In 2008, the world experienced a financial crisis. By 2013, the left-wing/centrist government of Denmark has woken up to the realisation that not enough tax is coming in to afford the outgoings of the nation.

Denmark has a lot of outgoings due to its large nationalised services. The government got together to devise a way of saving money on education. This deal involves longer school days and asking teachers to work more hours for the same pay.

But! In Denmark! The politicians do not negotiate with the unions. The “employers” negotiate. And the “employers” are the Kommunenenenens Landsforening, a crack team of mayors.

PROLOGUE

Odd little news articles appear in the media about how teachers do not “teach” for very many hours a week. No attempt to disambiguate “teach” from “work”. Talk of “normalising” teachers’ hours pops up as if teachers do not work the normal amount of hours. Comparisons with other countries are made in the press, the number of hours of lessons, PISA results. Though, interestingly, only separately.  A politician misinterprets results from a study that showed that teacher preparation/quality raises achievement and says that it shows greater contact hours raise achievement. China, South Korea and Finland have pretty good results and pretty low contact hours (around 16 hours teaching).

A news story emerges that children in Denmark are getting better at reading. And pop goes the “Children in DK cannot read good” narrative.

A report into how the 2008 working time agreement has improved Danish schools is suppressed by KL.

Because the “negotiations” (and I use the term loosely), have not taken place yet, politicians get stuck in. Antorini says that teachers are only going to be teaching a little bit more and besides they are just going to re-prioritise their tasks a bit, not work any more than before, just differently. Corydon, though, Corydon is like a whirlwind going on about stuff. His department puts it about that teachers are totally lazy. The teachers really do not like him.

ACT ONE

KL and the teaching unions meet. The KL suggest some things that they would like to change about the working time agreements for teachers. The teachers’ unions have some questions about the new plans.

KL flip over all the tables and say “WELL THEN YOU DICKS, if you don’t agree right now, we’re going to lock you out of your schools and not pay you. See how you like that, you twats.”

INTERMISSION

Politicians who are NOT SUPPOSED TO get involved, get right the fuck involved. Vestager says that teachers are making up stuff about how the new plans will affect children/teachers. Jelved says “I hope Bondo wins, everyone’s against him” and then later “IT WAS JUST A JOKE!”

When interested parties point out that politicians should stay out of it, they all slap their foreheads and go “oh yeah, I forgot. It’s the ‘negotiation’ phase, right? Thought it was the propaganda phase still.”

ACT TWO

FLASHBACK!

The KL and some politicians met in secret (which is totally not cool), and work out the new teacher workload agreements. From which they must not budge when it is time to “negotiate” with the teaching unions.

The Unions beg to be allowed to attend and then beg to be allowed to know what happened. The process of being ignored is described as “kafkaesque”.

The politicians work out that once the “negotiations” are finished, the projected savings through increasing working hours will pay for a bunch of improvements. They write up these plans as if the working time agreements have already been rubber stamped.

PRESENT TIME

The negotiations continue and more and more threats about lockouts are made by the KL. Parents, teachers and children get more and more anxious. The KL say that the current agreements are like something out of the last century. To which the teachers reply “You green-lighted them THREE YEARS ago! And besides what’s more last century than clocking in at 8 and clocking out at 4?”

Who knows what will happen in the next act!

What pisses me off is not so much that my working time agreements might fundamentally change next year. I am used to that. What pisses me off is how much strong arming has gone on.

The teaching unions have suggested running studies, suspending the current arrangements and trialling the new suggestions. You know, to see if teaching and learning improves. This has been dismissed out of hand.

There are studies of other successful countries. Their successes could be replicated and start-up issues avoided. No one is even bothering to find out about them.

The KL had no intention of working with the teaching unions, the strategy has been to turn the public against teachers for being lazy and then making demands and a threat to withdraw the opportunity to work.

The teaching unions have been caught on the hop, I do not think they expected so much foul play would be going on. So many dirty tricks.

This was an opportunity. There are so many ways that Danish schools can improve. I could probably write a book about what works and what could be better and everything. This is not about improvements. This is not about changing Danish schools for the new challenges ahead or increasing quality or anything like that. It is about saving money on wages.

And the unions will fail. The lock-outs will “work”, taking away education from children for weeks at a time is THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO, and the mood will turn against the teachers.

Teachers will have to accept these proposals, even though they do not take into account how teachers actually work and certainly have no link to best practice studies from abroad. This will lead to a massive deterioration of quality. Add to that the vote of no confidence the politicians are cooking up, I do not see how Danish schools are going anywhere other than the toilet from here on out. And all for a bit of money.

How I’m Doing

My boyfriend is back from Afghanistan and it is going okay. We had our 72 hour storm on my birthday but after that, we have fallen into the comfortable pattern of co-habiting pretty much as we left off. YAY!

Work is going ok. Like, as if I am going to talk about that here! But it is exciting to be working as part of the international community, providing something that other foreigners have said they need and value, in a city which has a lot going for it. They are working me very hard and my evenings are spent in an exhausted heap. But I guess I already knew that was going to be the case.

I am excited about moving to Aarhus but no news on when the Big Move will happen. We really really like our apartment (he speaks American English, so now, *I* speak American English), and we would only really want to move if the new place had as much going for it as this one. Another hitch is that he has changed his mind about future plans. No more “leaving the army and going to school in Aarhus”, so if we move, he will have to commute. Understandably, he is not that into the idea.

Not that I am exactly pleased to be spending four hours a day in transit. Two of them, I can work and the rest I can listen to music or audiobooks, so it is not a total bust. But getting the internet going is difficult and a lot of my work requires the internet.

But yes, plans are up in the air.

Aarhus seems to be the place for me. The new crop of “expat” temporary immigrant have been forewarned about the social isolation of Scandinavia, so they have started clubs and meetings and are making things very cozy for themselves. I could be a part of that. Meanwhile, my Danish is pretty acceptable, so I can access all the entertainment options of the city. Sure, I would like to give another country a try. My feet are itchy, now I have forgotten what it is like banging your head repeatedly against a language barrier.

I also have three jobs now. My main one: at the international school. A part time one: at a gymnasium. A freelance one: at Copenhagen Post. If you are an immigrant wondering why you do not have a job, it is probably because I got yours. Sorry about that.

What is great is that I am 32 and I can see several forks in the road ahead of me. Work in an international school in a new country, work in an international school in my old country, work in an international school here. Have kids, don’t have kids, adopt. Work in a gymnasium, work freelance. So, it is pretty exciting right now. I know that options narrow sharply at a certain age, after certain decisions.

Changing Bank

Let me tell you about getting a bank in the UK!

When I was 16, I got my first job as an office cleaner. In order to be paid, I needed a bank account. I went to Lloyd’s Bank and I got set up with a child’s account. I do not remember it being difficult but I think I had to bring some paperwork with me.

Just before I moved away for university, I wanted an account with HSBC. This was because HSBC had the best student account offer: a four year rail discount card. My local branch gave me a hard time, something about proving my income (which I couldn’t do because you cannot sign for your student loan until you are registered at university) and my residence (which I couldn’t do because I did not live there yet).

As soon as I was at university, it was very easy. I just signed something in the Student Union and BINGO: bank account.

As an adult, I wanted to move bank account because HSBC were being a bit unethical or something. I looked into it a few times. It would have been very easy. I could have done most of it online, just signed a few papers and made sure all my automatic payments were with the right bank. I hear it is very hard to get a bank account as an adult without a bank account, for example you are foreign. You have to prove your residence with three separate letters (for example: bills) and go to great lengths to prove you are who you say you are.

When I moved to Denmark, I was told by my foreign colleague that only one bank allowed him to be a customer. Apparently, some banks were all “foreign, eh?” and didn’t want his custom. I went to Danske Bank and got signed up. It was actually quite easy. All I had to do was tell them my “cpr” number (Identity card number) and because everything is on the same database, they set me up. They also sent me lots of stuff which the options were already ticked and needed me to sign. Half the stuff they sent me was in Danish and half was in English. As if they wanted to make the effort but could not be bothered to do it more than half arsedly.

They did not give me a Dankort, so I had to withdraw cash every time I wanted to use a supermarket because they did not take credit cards at the time. (They do now, for a “small extra fee”)

Getting a Dankort was a trial by fire. I needed an interview which they conducted by telephone, so they called me at a specific time “Have you got a job?” “Yes.” “Ok, so we will be sending you a Dankort immediately.” Only to find out, they were sending me a card that could only be used in Danish shops. Not usable outside of Denmark at all. What? I got a Visa Dankort and it has been okay, I guess.

Then they did this thing where they stopped having tills in more than a hundred branches, including my local branch. And they have started a new thing where they charge money on a sliding rate, depending on how much “business” you have with them (so savings count the same as debts). And I do not have that much in savings and I have nothing in debt. So, it does not make financial sense to stay with them.

My boyfriend was sick of the low interest rates so he shopped around and we changed bank. For this, we needed AN INTERVIEW. Now, my bank is pretty groovy and has a coffee bar (in which, they boast, is the best coffee in town), and a major social media presence. You get your own bank manager and you see him or her exclusively. So, I guess an interview follows. But what the what? Surely the print out of my last six months of accounts and my passport suffice. Though, I had the impression it was less a screening exercise and more a way of seeing which financial products we were in the market for. I took my boyfriend with me because I have never done any financial Danish but it was actually fine. There was a bit where she made a joke about driving on the left hand side that went over my head but then I was massively tuned into financial Danish, so no shock.

The transfer has been going ok, so far. I have had to make sure the right money is in the right account at the right time but nothing tragic or irritating has happened.

If you are with Danske Bank, I would recommend getting your money out of there because what they are doing does not make good business sense and the only way they will see that is if the Market (you), informs them. But as to where you can go, I do not know. My new bank’s phone line is bilingual, so maybe they do value foreign custom.

Maybe try all the banks and put your experiences in the comments?

How to Learn Danish

I have lived in Denmark for nearly five years now. (Five years in August). My Danish is pretty okay. Though, it is hard to tell because the people who give you the most honest feedback are usually the ones who do not understand that complete native-sounding fluency is an unreasonable expectation.

I will give you a for-instance. The Queen of Denmark married a French guy and even though he speaks excellent Danish, he still gets shit because his accent is French. A lot of people judge him as having not learned Danish because of his foreign accent. His daughters-in-law are also foreigners and they have perfect Danish. It does not stop some people from remarking on their “charming” accents. These guys all had private tutors and all the stops pulled out for them to learn as completely and perfectly as possible. They still have accents and they still make occasional errors.

Hey, guys! Native-sounding fluency is an unreasonable expectation!

My receptive Danish is way better than my productive. This is because I do not get a lot of opportunity to use Danish. Not because “Oh Danes speak such excellent English, I never get the chance” I live in Fredericia and often Danish is the only option. But rather because the people who I would trust to listen to my Danish where-it-is and communicate with me without ego are also the people I want to communicate with freely and comfortably. I just don’t want to put them through it!

Children are fair game. They do not speak English and they have enough energy to listen to me and meet me where I am. So, this is why I sound like a child when I speak Danish. That’s my vocabulary set. STAKKELS MIG!

If you are fresh off the boat and trying to learn Danish, you need to bear in mind that some of the sounds you will need to make are not possible yet with your current tongue. You need to develop your mouth muscles before you can vocalise these sounds. It takes about a year. Sorry. I am not even sure if there is a short cut. Possibly a regular Danish mouth gym might get you there sooner?

You will also need to develop your ear and this may be the hardest thing of all. There are some vowels that sound identical to me but are very distinct in Danish ears. If you mess up, usually context is enough to carry you but there is always one douchebag who will gleefully inform you that you said “pussy” and not “kiss” or “whore” and not “listen”. The other night, my otherwise delightful boyfriend laughed when I said that cats give birth to baby chicks. IN MY FACE.

What helped me in the beginning was Copenhagen Cast, Louise is a goddamned hero. Whatever the topic, whatever the vocab set, just repeat what she says. This will help your tongue no end.

As for passive fluency, this can be achieved more easily. I found early on that the resources provided at Danish school were making things worse. The unpolished political agenda was repulsive. As were the stories about foreign bus drivers getting beaten up or women getting raped or men getting stabbed. Jesus.

What I realised was you need to make this shit brainfriendly. What sort of thing did you like to read when you were in your own country? Fitness magazines? Trashy novels? Craft instructions?

Seek this stuff out in Danish. This is where your library comes in. What will happen is that you will have a Danish-surge and get all the resources. Then you will let them pile up and not go through them. And they will gather dust in a sullen pile. Get them out of the library. It is cheaper and the next time you visit, you are more likely to pick out one or two interesting things to ignore… I mean… read through.

Audiobooks are also your friend. If you can find a trashy novel (pulp fiction tends to have simple structure, very few metaphors and allusions and vocab repeats), in print and on tape, you can have it read to you just like when you were a kid.

This is how I learned the word “Adr”

Boxed sets of Danish tv often have Danish subtitles. English subtitles are fine in the first few years too. I learned “Helt ærlig!” from Klovn. These are worth seeking out. Again. Go for the sort of stuff you liked in THE TIME BEFORE.

Look through newspapers, they are mostly online (although there are paywalls) and commuter newspapers have the double whammy of being free and simply written. Although, bear in mind, most people in Denmark lose that Honeymoon Feeling when they know what is going on around them. I hate hate hate watching Danish news because they regularly have a story about how immigrants are ruining everything. It is not quite brainwashing if EVERYONE is brainwashed but it is still pretty grim. But newspapers, you can skim and bubble-protect yourself from their bullshit.

You will also need someone to practise on. I do not know where you can get this from. Children are good but where do you get children from if you are not part of a family or work in a school? I do not know.

If you are only here for a short time, then do not buy the “GET FLUENT OR YOU ARE A DICK” message. Learn how to order coffee and you will be a king amongst men. Learn how to order dinner and you will be a rockstar. You actually do not need to know the difference between sin and hendes, even though your language teacher put in the first few modules at language school. You certainly will struggle with understanding what is going on around you from what they teach at sprogskole. You might as well just tell yourself you are a lazy bastard for three hours after work instead, for all the good it will do.

If you are here for a medium to long time, then learning the language beyond “En kaffe latte, tak” is probably not a bad idea. However, the language schools are shit (some are good). Get a personal tutor for the LOVE OF GOD. Some people can even teach themselves. I pretty much did but I regret not having the Princess Mary Polish. Or you could try the Irish Polyglot way.

What not to do, under any circumstances, is to beat yourself up for a lack of progress. It is freaking hard, what you are attempting. And it takes time. It is like an obstacle course with a series of walls.

You hit the wall and you climb it and you run! Run like the wind! Everything is easy! You learned Danish! And then you hit another wall. But this time it is taller. And you climb it but it is harder this time. And then when you clear it, you can run again… Until the next wall.

The only foolproof way of making it impossible to scale the wall, is to decide you are a bad, lazy person who cannot learn languages. So, just take a breath. Take a break. And then try again the next day. Because what you are doing is extraordinary. And you will get there.

Should I Move to Denmark: Racism Special Report

Maybe you saw some Borgen. Maybe you read a gushing left wing newspaper write up. You are right-on. Liberal. Lefty. Pinko. You want to try this tolerant, socialist paradise they call Denmark.

You need to know about the racism here.

In 2013, I don’t expect to have to deal with crude racial stereotyping. I won’t mention the products by name because the way social media works, this is “edge” and “buzz” and going “viral”. I’ll talk about why in a sec.
There was an energy drink in January, a tv program on the state owned broadcaster in March and there’s about five snack brands utilising blackface or “ahhh so” coolieface.

Now, I remember gollywogs. Being a child, a white child, a white child with no black friends, I thought they were ok. I was cross when a jam brand, removed the gollywog from the jar.
I will have been about seven, so this is over 20 years ago.
I had known some black people but years ago. I had a black baby doll. So I knew that “they” don’t look like that.

Rag dolls necessarily are caricatures of the human form, I reasoned with my seven year old brain, what’s the big deal?

My journey to understanding would take about a decade, a lot of reading, a lot of listening.

Crude racial caricatures are not ok for the following reasons:-
They dehumanise and ‘other’ groups who are already dehumanised by the mainstream
They tell children that certain humans are not human. If you are from those groups, good luck having a life where you have the same ambitions and dreams as the privileged kids
It is a power grab. An arm lock. A punch in the nose. “See how much power I have!”

I have had to discuss this issue with adult Danes who Do Not Get It.
None of them take pride in being racist. In fact, they think they are not racist. I have yet to debate with a Dane who says “but black people are/look like monkeys” like prominent sock vendor and friend of the blog Mads Christensen has said.

This is what they say:-
It is harmless
It is funny
It is equivalent to cartoons of Vikings
Opposing it is American and politically correct
It’s free speech

This is what they say when I offer them the stereotype my people have of their group as pig ignorant, lazy, childish wastes of skin:-
That’s cruel
That’s not funny
That’s unfair to stereotype me
You should be more careful about how you talk about others. Rudeness is rudeness
You’re not allowed to say that

So, it’s not like they don’t get it. They just have issues applying it to others because they assume (without malice) that other groups are sub human and do not experience the full rich range of emotional space as real people like them.

I promised I’d explain why protesting doesn’t work and is counter active.

In Denmark, complaining isn’t a thing.
Get run over and killed by malfunctioning municipal equipment: too bad. Be turned away from an emergency room because the triage nurse didn’t bother to try to understand you and die: whatever. Kommune commits fraud and plans to discriminate racially: who gives a fuck? Police and courts hand your children to their abusive parent: it’s just the way it is.

Nothing happens. There’s no complaints procedure. Making a fuss is regarded with tired contempt.

Hate speech is protected speech.

So, imagine bringing up something where no one dies or is physically injured and the hate is subtle.
No chance.

But marketers and pr men, they see the value in publicity. It wouldn’t occur to them to search their consciences. All they can see is that trolling gets them higher “interaction” and “engagement”.

So if you have fantasies of getting here and holding DKs hand while it transitions from an ignorant backwater into the groovy pinko paradise of your dreams: forget it.

The only way it can happen is if the Danes who get what I’m saying make the others understand. My contribution as a foreigner is not wanted or valued. Because I’m not all the way human.

Teaching Thing

The teaching debate in Denmark has gone very wrong. I am not really sure what is going on. I am keeping up with the news but there are mysterious cultural unwritten-rule things going on and I cannot keep up.

Whatever. As if people in Denmark are enfranchised to the extent that they can make a difference by understanding what is going on around them(!)

One thing I have been understanding very clearly is that the teachers think that fighting the “Whole Day School” plan will gain traction with the rest of the community. How wrong can a group of people be? The Gov would like wrap-around childcare provision but provided by schools. They would also like more lessons for students. And so (and the details are not clear), they plan to keep children in school until their parents knock off from work. Whether this would be in a daycare club, with finger painting and clapping games or in double maths, remains to be seen.

My take is that the children on Denmark could do with a few more hours in school. And these hours should be used on learning stuff (social, academic, creative, whatever). But this requires more teachers. For example, they could say that children need to be in school until 4pm, so that means they could have art and music for the older kids. Or maths and Danish for the little ones. But just to say “Hey, teachers, we think you are lazy as fuck, stay at work until 4pm,” how is that useful to anyone?

And if I were a parent with a job until 4pm, I would probably like the plan too. I wish battles would be picked with care.

One thing I am not understanding completely is the threat of a lock-out. The employers and unions have been trying to work out terms of employment. The employers (the gov), have apparently driven the talks off the road on purpose, for tactical reasons. Then because there is no agreement, they have threatened to say that all union employees must stay home on a particular day, with no pay. But they have to make up the time in the summer.

What?

In my culture, if talks deadlock then the UNION threatens to withdraw labour, no mention of making up the time.

How is it that the Gov can insist that we “strike”, so that we learn our lesson about arguing and meekly agree to work more for the same pay?

And even though it’s an anti-strike, where the Gov insists we do not teach children all day, the people are interpreting it as an actual strike where lazy teachers make poor parents miss a day of work to care for their children. Hence the tactics. It’s like Aikido: if you strike you lose.

Now I have no idea why I am in a union. They are powerless against this juggernaut and their hamfisted attempts to keep our pay and conditions the same, are turning the population against us. It seems like a monumental waste of money. But then maybe I am falling for the same trick as the rest of the people.

Check in

I have a long post in me about good things in dk and another one about how I’m getting on but I’ve been ill this week.
I am commuting around 4 hours a day (including waiting around for the next leg) and I’m not 22 anymore so I’m pretty exhausted, not to mention incredibly busy.

Anyway, I wrote an article for the CPHPost because they give me deadlines so you can read that if you like. It’s about the Immigration Service.