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.
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.