Do you recognise your body language?

A little background. DR, the national tv network of Denmark, has a mini-site to solve the problem of high unemployment amongst a group they call “nydanskere”

What is the definition of a “nydanskere”? My dictionary has

“An immigrant or a second-generation immigrant in Denmark”

“A second-generation immigrant is a person who is the child of an immigrant and was born, or spent most of their childhood, in the new country.”

What do nydanskere look like? According to dr, this is representative:-

New Danes
New Danes

Many of my friends are unemployed (or underemployed) foreigners. They would look out of place in that photo because they are south-east Asian or white or black or any other variety of human that is not middle-eastern or sub-continental Asian.

If you ask my friends why they cannot get a job that reflects their skills or training or experience, they often say that jobs are awarded through networking. Someone knows someone, they have contacts and then they get the job. They also tell me of interviews for English speaking jobs where they are told their Danish is an issue. Or they go for interviews for Danish speaking jobs, whilst being fluent in Danish and are told their accent will be a problem.

It is great that DR seeks to help people like my friends and those in the photograph become meaningfully employed.

On the site, there are some interview tips and information for how to find jobs.

There is also a “Learn Danish” page, they have three games.

“How to go supermarket shopping in Danish”, “Karaoke Danish” (a very basic pronunciation game) and a memory game that doesn’t work. All of these pages are in Danish, the people who are able to access them are not the people who need to work on pronouncing “e” at the end of verbs. Not to mention, where is the “job interview Danish” game? It’s almost like they had access to six nydanskere to interview about getting a job and they didn’t think to ask them what sort of Danish learning games would be useful.

Then there are some quizzes.

One is about writing a C.V. and application. One is about the Danish work market with such questions as “Where are most jobs advertised?” and “What percentage of Danes work with nydanskere?” and no questions about most jobs not being advertised at all.

I will reproduce the “Recognise your own body language” questions and answers in full. I will not spoil the quiz for you, you have to work out the answers yourself.

1) How do you enter a room?

a) I stick my head in first, wait and then enter completely.
b) I open the door wide and tell a joke, while I raise my arms up above my head.
c) I come in calmly and greet everyone in a clear voice.

2) You wear hijab for religious reasons, what do you do at the interview?

a) I take it off because otherwise I’d  be afraid of not getting the job.
b) I keep it on, it’s my signature look.

c) I put a more noticeable hijab on and mention immediately that they will never get me to take it off.

3) You have sat in yourself down in the interview, how are you sitting?

a) I lean back, with crossed arms.
b) I sit, wringing my hands together and picking fluff of my clothes.
c) I sit calmly, leaning slightly forward with my hands open.
4) You need to get dressed for a job interview. What do you wear?
a) I put my best party clothes on.
b) I dress in clothes I look good in but are appropriate to the place’s dresscode.
c) I won’t get the job because of my clothes, I’ll wear whatever.

5) The interview is underway and you are asked about your bad sides, what do you do?

a) I say I don’t have any bad sides.
b) I have prepared and mention a couple of things that could be considered bad sides. You are only human after all.
c) I recite everything I cannot do.

6) You come into the job interview, what do you do?

a) I nod politely and get myself ready.
b) I shake hands, say my name and get eye contact.
c) I smile and give a hug and say my name.

Now, okay, quizzes can be a bit fatuous and silly. But do DR really have such a low opinion of nydanskere that they think that this information would be useful in any way?

Not to mention, (spoilers!) wearing a hijab in an interview with some companies does mean you do not get a job because it is their written policy.

Not to mention, only two of these questions was really about body language.

Anyway. Imagine you follow all that advice. And you get the job. And then you work there for at least four and a half years. And you pass the Danish language exam with more than a passing grade. And you pass the citizenship exam. And you sign this. And you renounce your previous nationality. And you make a solemn declaration to become a Danish citizen.

You can still find your name and town in the newspaper, associated with being a “danger” to Denmark. (Given that many nydanskere have names which are unique in Denmark, let alone their small town and it is possible to find home addresses with only that information, this is quite the irresponsible dick-move.)

Yes, DR, it’s obviously the fact that nydanskere cross their arms at interviews and pronounce “e” like “er” at the end of verbs that is preventing the employment of them(!)

9z versus China

The Danish national broadcaster had a show about how Danish teenagers compared with Chinese teenagers after 9 years of school. It came out around about the time of the lockout. I have only watched one episode.

Comparing school systems is a great interest of mine and there is much to be said about the differences/similarities between the Danish and the Chinese system. I am not going to touch those issues here though.

What I found overpowering about the show itself was how Danish the people behind it were. I can imagine if a French team had made the show, or Brazilian, or Japanese:- Comparing Denmark and China still but coming without the cultural baggage of being Danish. That would be a show I would love to watch. The show did not have the self-awareness to address this weakness of a lack of self-awareness.

If I had been in control, I would have changed a lot of the presentation.

For example, the show starts with the first school day in both schools. The Danish school is shown, with singing and flag waving and dancing. Then the stark lines of Chinese children standing in the playground chanting “We are proud to be Chinese”.

If I had been in control of the editing, I would have put it together to show the similarities and not the differences. Flag goes up in Denmark, flag goes up in China, teacher chants slogans in China, teacher sings slogans in Denmark, children standing outside in Denmark, children standing outside in China, children look happy in Denmark, children look happy in China, children look bored in China, children look bored in Denmark.

Another thing I would have changed was the panel of “experts” called on to answer questions about both the Danish and the Chinese system. They had the head of the teachers’ union and some guy from a Danish university. Not one Chinese educational system expert was called on. (Neither in the sense of someone in Denmark who has made it their life’s work to study the Chinese system nor in the sense of a Chinese person involved in running the Chinese educational system.) The questions about the Chinese system were addressed to 12 year old Chinese girls and Danish men.

Not to mention, the Danish university “expert” did not even have a very good handle on what goes on in the Danish system. In one part, he claimed that children from all levels and backgrounds are together in their class, resulting in them having a better understanding of the breadth of Danish society.

Except. Denmark has private schools. And Denmark has special schools. So, apart from the children who go to private school and the children who are in special school, the Danish classroom is a cross section of Danish society.

He just repeated cultural myths about Denmark without being aware of how poorly he understood his own country. So, I took his pronouncements on the Chinese system with more than a pinch of salt.

How can a tv programme claim that the Danish system sets Danish teenagers up as being better critical thinkers than Chinese teenagers when it cannot demonstrate critical thinking in the actual show?

The teenagers were asked some “general knowledge” questions, to show how ignorant the Chinese children are. The questions were

“Who were The Beatles?”

“What is a teenager?”

“What happened on September 11th 2001?”

The children were not asked

“Who is Teresa Teng?”

“What do we mean by adolescence?”

“What was the Cultural Revolution?”

Also, the icons to show the children’s performance have little cartoon figures with flags as t-shirts. The Chinese ones are bright yellow faced and the Danish ones are pink faced. (This is despite the programme going to extraordinary hamfisted lengths to establish that the Danish class in question has a lot of brown people, to pre-explain why the results will be so bad… because of diversity of “social” groups)

What the actual fuck, though? Both have slitty eyes, so I guess that’s progress of a sort, though the Chinese eyes are the slittiest.

Cartoon depiction of Chinese and Danish child
I facepalmed so hard, my hand got bruised

In conclusion, an interesting concept for a show, ruined by the lack of cultural understanding and critical thinking by the programme makers. Prejudices go unchallenged and are presented as self-evident truth, when a little digging would have found reality to be a lot more nuanced.

Cultural Imperialism

I have lived in Denmark for nearly five years now. This is quite a long time and is almost the longest I have lived anywhere. (Record to beat: six years in Cardiff). When people ask me where I am from, I say “London” which is bollocks because I lived there for three years. I am almost “from” Denmark, statistically speaking.

Home is where the heart is
(Photo credit: countrykitty)

What is awkward about being a critical thinker abroad, is that I think critical thoughts but not many people think I should be allowed to express them. Back in the UK, I could criticise racism and boorishness to my heart’s content. Over here, even though this place is my home, I am seen as a terrible cultural imperialist if I say anything other than “how quaint!”

Here is a little story for you: I was walking down the street with a friend in Copenhagen and two very drunk older gentlemen stopped us so they could flirt. They spoke excellent English and we had a good chat. One of them asked if I liked Denmark and I looked sad and said no.

He said (and I didn’t make notes so this isn’t a direct quote, it’s a paraphrase)

“Good girl! It’s a terrible place. Terrible. Do you know what the three worst things about Denmark are?”

And he let rip. I will summarise: inferiority complex, superiority complex and Jantelov. Then he said:-

“Happiest country in the world my ARSE. They are all depressed. Everyone is mentally ill. Happiest country! And people refuse to take jobs they think are beneath them, so they end up on benefits and then they cannot get a job that is not beneath them because they have been unemployed and they stay on benefits for the rest of their lives. And the alcoholics, they stay sick because no one helps them,”

And I just listened in stunned silence. People are oh-so eager to tell me how the source of all small-mindedness in Denmark is “the old people”. This has never been the case.

If I say anything on these themes then I am shut down for being a cultural imperialist. I do not want Denmark to be like the UK. Very not. I just do not want to live in a country where it is seen as so routine and normal to call certain cultures ‘barbaric’ that it only makes the news if the cultures in question find out and hit the roof.

This is an awkward stage to be in: to feel at home in a culture but being expected to keep quiet about my opinions because I am not seen as really belonging to it.

Notes on Dialogue

Poor Helle. She got up to make a couple of speeches praising the solidarity of the labour movement, only to be booed off and hit with a water pistol and a tomato. Not her day.

Her response to the noise made by the crowd to drown out her speech was surprised, pedagogical hurt. A stock in trade for most teachers. ‘It’s your own time you’re wasting! You’re only cheating yourself!’

“Today is about dialogue.”

The thing about dialogue, though, is that if you are having a dialogue one-on-one and the other person appears not to be listening, eventually you stop listening. And if what they are saying offends you or hurts you or irritates you, you interrupt them. You shout at them. You stop them from talking.

For a crowd of a couple of hundred people in easy-going ligeglad Denmark to turn so mean so quickly, has major implications for Helle’s administration.

The teachers had planned a peaceful protest which took place: where they turned their backs on her. I don’t know who was booing and whistling. Maybe teachers too but not part of the main group.

I chose not to attend because even that: turning your back on someone speaking, seemed a little too edgy for me. A little too offensive.

You see, I have been there. So many times.

School classes turn mean if they do not feel respected or listened to. And they too will prevent you from being heard. In my first term of each UK school I have taught in, I have had to deal with students ignoring me and making it impossible for me to continue with the lesson. After a few weeks of demonstrating that I do care about them and I am a good teacher, things settle down and it is only the mentally ill students who cause trouble after that.

What you need to remember about the UK is this: the teaching unions were very strong and teaching practise was led by practitioners. Then the government decided they needed to denigrate teachers for political points between the 80s and the 90s and massive campaigns to reduce respect for teachers were launched. These are ongoing to date. No one respects teachers in the UK, which means their kids don’t. Which means classes can be really difficult to reach.

I learned in my teaching in London schools that ‘respect’ is earned and that the children would need to be taught to respect me. I gave them activities that were not boring or didn’t waste their time, I talked to them like adults, I was fair when I had to decide things about them. I took their views into account. I gave them responsibility in the classroom.

And eventually, the class realise it is a dialogue and they stop drowning you out. Because they trust you to listen.

I guess Danish politicians are finding out that they do not deserve respect just because they have the podium. Maybe it is not too late to win trust back.

News Translation: No one’s Listening Anymore

From Politiken: Thorning booed off on the first of May

By Søren Astrup

Anger about the Social Democrats’ leader was clear during State Minister Helle Thornin-Schmidt’s 1st May speech in Aarhus.

She was met with protest whistles and boos from the audience at the event in Tangkrogen.

It was only a couple of minute’s speech where she tried to get the audience to listen before she left the podium. At the same time, a large number of the audience turned their backs on her.

The protest against the State Minister is based on the government’s criticised reforms and intervention against the teachers.

“Everyone is entitled to think what they want about me but it’s a bit of a shame. It’s a strange paradox when the first of May is about dialogue and listening to each other,” was how Helle Thorning-Schmidt reacted.

“I don’t think we tells each other anything when we try to drown each other out. There were some Social Democratic Youth down there who would have liked to have heard the speech,” she said after the speech.

Also, in Fælled Park in Copenhagen, a leading Social Democrat had to fight to drown out protesters. That was the city’s mayor Frank Jensen who was met with jeering protesters who also used his speech to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s cuts and intervention. He stood across from a banner with the text “Helle is Blue” (Translator’s note: Helle is supposed to be left-wing and therefore “red”.)

While fingers were pointed towards the stage, the Social Democratic premier in the capital gave up trying to make himself heard.

“GO HOME!” was the cry to the mayor while the organisers tried to get the audience to get the large audience to adjust their angry outbursts.

This was not successful, even though the mayor was going to talk about the town’s schools, school meals and better help for the poor.

The answer from the crowd in Fælled Park was the fighting cry “GO HOME” which was shouted over and over through a megaphone.

Frank Jensen also had to duck an item that was chucked up on stage by a First of May participant, just as the speech was carried out in the smoke from fireworks or similar.

“May I wish you a good First of May in Fælled Park in Copenhagen,” was how he signed off his speech, which he carried out despite massive protest from the lawn in front of the stage.

The person after him at the podium in the capital was SF’s leader Anette Wilhelmsen. She also had to raise her voice to try to drown out the protesters.

“I stand by the compromises, even if not all of them have grassroots support,” she explained in competition with the megaphone shouts.

Finance Minister Bjarne Corydon (S) talked to a wall of backs when he spoke in Vojens, where teachers protested against the government’s intervention in the union conflict that started when they were locked out by the association of municipalities.

News Translation: The Worm Turns

From Ekstra Bladet: Helle Attacked

It’s all going on right now on the first of May.

A man was just arrested for shooting water at the States Minister Helle Thorning in Aarhus with a water pistol. And in Copenhagen, the mayor Frank Jensen just interrupted his speech because the protesters were so loud that he had to give up. Chair of the Unions in greater Copenhagen tried to moderate the masses but was not nearby to try to get people to listen to Frank Jensen.

And in Aarhus they were simply not there to listen to what States Minister Helle Thorning said from the podium in Tangkrogen in Aarhus.

She was drowned in boos and a massive whistling concert from a large group of the “audience” who had brought whistles to sabotage Helle Thorning’s speech.

She had chosen not to speak at Fælled Park in Copenhagen but she didn’t avoid massive criticism.

The crowd in front of her blew whistles they brought with them and held up placards with sad faces “:(” on them.

The State Minister was not surprised by her heated reception because the protest was announced beforehand.

“I don’t have much time for people who drown out others. It’s a bit weird on the first of May which is about talking and discussion,” she said just after her speech.