I used to have a job in one of Fredericia Kommune’s schools. When I left to go work at my new job, they sent me a bumper pay cheque with ‘holiday pay’ in it. I banked the holiday pay because I knew I wouldn’t be getting much (anything?) from new job.
This is because the Danish holiday period goes from April to April but you accrue from January to December. If you start in August (as is the wont of teachers), you can’t accrue enough before the holiday even though you’ve worked a full year. Whatevers. The first job I had in Denmark had not explained this fully to their first cohort and one of them nearly starved in the summer or something, so with me, they made me do loads of cover lessons in the first year so that I had a summer paycheque. I miss those guys!
Current school hasn’t got that system in place, so even though I started work in January, I’d only accrued something like 300 kroner.
Anyway, I got a letter from Fredericia Kommune saying “hey girl, you earned holiday pay” and I went “dude, I know, it’s in the bank, thanks” and put the letter in a shoe box.
They sent it again and so I read it much more carefully. There are about fifteen 10 dollar (54 kroner) words in one sentence, so I got google translate to have a look. Google translate said “well, um, not sure? Like either YOU owe them some money or they owe YOU some money but… Um?” USELESS.
My Danish boyfriend rang me from his serious business on exercise and I read the letter to him. He said
“They owe YOU money.”
“How do I get it?”
“You… Um… I think you fill in a form?”
“Dude, I don’t know.”
“Have I already paid tax on it?”
So I waited for him to come home. In the meantime, I cleverly and cunningly found the holiday pay website and wrote to them. I wrote something like
“I got this letter. Don’t know what to do. Can’t find on webpage. How money in bank?” and scanned the letter in for good measure.
The letter they wrote back on a scale of 1 to shitty was “a bit shitty”.
I knew there was going to be trouble when they started out with
“As you can see on the letter…”
Well, I obviously couldn’t, could I? But appreciating that important fact would take what we know in the business as ‘a theory of mind’.
The message of the day was “Fredericia Kommune don’t even USE us for holiday pay, they have a different system.”
But they did go on to say that I needed to fill in the boxes at the bottom if I wanted my bloody money.
I waited for my boyfriend to return from pretend war. He came back, looked at the letter and said
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“Where’s the letter that explains what to do?”
“That’s all there was. Now tell me O Dane, what now?”
“Not a clue.”
So, I resolved to visit Fredericia Kommune in person. They would know! They would answer me! They would help me fill the form out! The boxes that bothered me were “working day holiday”, “hours” and “certification” in reverse order of botheration.
Last time I went to the front desk, they were spectacularly shitty to me. I was fresh off the boat, apologetic about not speaking Danish and they wiped the floor with me. I don’t like going there but trying to deal with it online had got me exactly nowhere.
I showed up and was confronted with a screen that dispenses queue numbers. There were two options, neither of which applied to me. I looked around. Another screen!
I approached it and although there were more than two options, none of them exactly applied. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to take a photo. It reminded me of the Asterix where he has to get a form stamped.
I selected ‘Holiday card and burial’ because it had the word ‘holiday’ in it. Then I sat down and missed my turn because they yelled out the number but didn’t display it on the screen. Good LUCK blinds, deafs and foreigns! (considering the main three groups who need to go to the kommune in person are foreigners, older people and the disabled, this is spectacularly bad customer service)
While I waited, I noticed people had to fetch staff from behind the desk to show them which button to press. Some older people stood staring at the screen for more than five minutes. Which is exactly the purpose of them. They don’t want to pay people to help, they want people to help themselves for free.
What if they can’t help themselves? What’s the contingency plan?
I got up again and this time I selected “Pay out and Pay in”
My number was called and I ran for the desk.
“Hello! I don’t understand the system at all. I got this letter and I don’t know how to get the money.”
“Are you still in work?”
“Yes but not here.”
“Where are you working?”
“So, you are still in work.”
“When did you have holiday?”
I wanted to ask if holiday in the past was acceptable but I decided to let the dates speak for themselves.
I produced a scrap of paper where I’d written it down.
“Write them here. I’ll get you a pen.”
She had a pen in her hand but she was fucked if she was going to let me touch it. She got me a pen. I started writing.
“1. Juli 2013-”
“You need to write the DATE!”
“This is a date…”
She took the form away from me and started writing
“That’s the same thing….”
“It won’t FIT otherwise, you were going to fill up the whole sheet! How many days holiday?”
I paused for a moment to think how to calculate it.
This is when she spoke English to me
“‘Ow meneee daiz ‘olidee?”
I blinked and took a moment to think about what to do next. I considered pretending I didn’t speak English to see what she did. Then I considered pretending I didn’t understand HER English. Then I did what I always do. I just Judi Dench’d it right the fuck up.
“I. Do. Speak. Danish.” (said in English)
“Oh. Ok. I thought… So, how many days holiday?”
“Ummm. Shall we say 25 just to make it easier?”
So she wrote 25 herself. In case I wrote twenty-five and needed an extra sheet, presumably.
“Now sign here.”
The word they use, as you can see on the letter, is ‘attestation’
FEEDBACK TO FORM WRITERS:
if you want a signature USE THE WORD SIGNATURE not ‘certification’ or ‘documentation’.
So I signed. And she goes
“Is THAT your signature?”
(It sort of looks like an ‘x’ and I get a lot of shit from allcomers, I’m used to it.)
“Yes. Yes it is.”
“Ok, so the money will be paid into your account.”
“Cool. Wait. Do you need my account details?”
She stared at me. I wasn’t making myself understood. I repeated it really slowly and showed her my bank card.
“Do you need for me to write my bank account number? I can see you don’t have it on your form?”
“Do you have an EasyAccount?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then, no, it’s automatic.” (‘duh’ implied)
I thanked her for the help and left.
My observations about all of this are:-
My Danish boyfriend has no clue about this system. It’s not common knowledge. I’m at an even bigger disadvantage because 54 kroner words can throw me and so do cultural-shock things like “we know your bank account details without you telling us but the company called Holiday Account doesn’t deal with your holiday pay”.
Then there’s how I’m treated like an idiot because I’m not a native speaker. Just because someone has a strong accent and buggers up word order doesn’t mean they don’t know what a ‘date’ is or if they don’t answer a question immediately they haven’t understood it.
The issue I bumped up against was they assumed that because THEY knew something, everyone knows it. And that anyone that doesn’t know it is a dick.
What would have been useful would have been a copy of the form with the possible ways of filling it in. Then I could see I didn’t need to fill in all the boxes or I could see they really wanted a signature not a certificate. Also, an addressed envelope would have been useful, so I knew where to send the thing. But to be able to write a document like that, you need to put yourself in the shoes of another person.
There’s not a lot of that around here.
Seems like the women’s movement is still in need of shoulders to the wheel.
Here’s are some ways you can take action in the local community:-
Do some background reading at KVINFO
Support Reden International with money or time
Find out about human trafficking in Denmark
Volunteer for a Girls’ Club
Support Danish Women’s Society with time or money
Protest lower wages for women
Share your story and read the stories of others of Everyday Sexism
A commenter suggests that because her Danish husband vouches for all Danish men, the study that shows that Danish women are sexually assaulted is exaggerated.
Pretty much: no, that’s bullshit. The majority never tell the police.
Also, look at the EU average of reporting. The dansplanation de jour is that Danish women know they don’t have to put up with that shit hence greater figures in the report compared with other EU countries, where women’s rights haven’t won yet.
But look, women in other EU countries feel slightly more able to go to the police. The overwhelming reason for not reporting to the police in Denmark is ‘it seemed too minor’
Can we deal with the issue now or should we try to defend the feelings of Danish men who aren’t violent and somehow feel that finding out that other Danish men are is UNFAIR to them?
Do we need to look for more hand waving reasons to prove these women are over reacting lying bitches who don’t know how good they have it? Or can we accept there is a problem and look for a way forward?
The European Agency for Fundamental Rights has run a survey about sexual violence in European countries.
Denmark is top of the poll with 52% of women surveyed experiencing physical or sexual violence from a partner or a non-partner since the age of 15. The average in the EU is 33%.
If you look at the reports in the UK press, where the UK’s stats are also higher than the average at 44%, it is a straight report of the press release. They report: there is a major problem with violence against women and true figures may be much higher because women may not have considered some of their experiences to have been assault.
The Danish press spin this line in another way. There is no way that backwards bloody European countries treat their women better than Denmark, they say. The women in Denmark are empowered to report, so the figures are skewed.
Ok, let’s just say that is right. Then the European average proportion of women who have been attacked is much higher than 50%, surely? Because the average women being attacked in Denmark IS 52%. That is fucking shocking, even if another country has a bigger problem. This is the problem with ranking countries like this. If Denmark came at the bottom of the table at 52%, they would be able to be complacent about being better than Greece (or wherever) and if Denmark comes at the top of the table at 52%, they are able to be complacent because the survey did not get the real answer because women in other countries are so much more oppressed.
No action needed? Come on guys, we can’t just ‘other countries are worse’ our way out of everything!
The Equality Minister of Denmark and the author of the report have suggested that Danish women are experiencing these high levels of violence because Danish men are jealous of women’s success in the workplace.
My understanding is that greater independence of women leads to less violence, not more. Abusers like their victims isolated and dependent.
The issue with blaming the women’s movement on greater levels of violence against women is that the women’s movement was conceived as a method of reducing violence against women.
Without a women’s movement: women are attacked (with no recourse to help or justice) because they are vulnerable. With a women’s movement: women are attacked (with some recourse to help and justice), because they have recourse to help and justice.
Really? Sounds incredibly weak, sorry. What I am left with is that men feel like they can attack women. It is a structural problem not a problem with what women are or are not doing.
Men feel like they can do it. So they do it.*
Other countries with high levels of reported violence also have bigger drinking cultures. Maybe it could be that Danish men are getting more sexually aggressive because they are drunk? Except, a recent study has gone some way to debunking that.
The study is an interesting read. 90% of sexual violence in bars is male on female. This is worth repeating because I find that whenever someone talks about violence against women, someone will say that women attack men sexually too. They may even have a personal experience. And it is bad, I’m not denying it. It’s really bad. But we’re going to talk about the 90% of cases right now. This isn’t a case of ‘both as bad as each other’, it really is not. (Similarly, the FRA study suggests that in 80% of physical or sexual attacks on women by non-partners, men are involved.)
The rest of the report about behaviour in bars found no correlation between level of inebriation and level of instigation. Alcohol does not make men more sexually aggressive. What they found was that men are going to bars to target inebriated women because they are more vulnerable to attack. These men are predators. They are not confused or led on, they are deliberately going to places where their marks are less able to prevent them from attacking.
So, if greater alcohol culture is to blame for the high levels of sexual violence in Denmark, that says something quite disturbing about Danish men. They are not helpless victims of the demon drink, they are going after incapacitated women because they are easier to attack.
Only quite recently did the Danish government change the law that it was not ‘rape’ to rape your drunk wife. It was only sexual assault. With that sort of prevailing cultural attitude, you can see how that might translate into behaviour.
I looked in more detail at the figures from the FRA.
Physical and/or sexual violence at the hand of a partner or non-partner since age 15: 52%
Physical and/or sexual violence from a partner since age 15: 32%
Physical and/or sexual violence from a non-partner since age 15: 40%
Suggesting that it is not domestic violence at the heart of this matter (although, that is obviously a big problem).
Physical violence from a partner or non-partner since age 15: 48%
Physical violence from a partner since age 15: 29%
Physical violence from a non-partner since age 15: 36%
Women are being more often attacked by men who are not their partners. (Remember, the stats say that 80% of the non-partners involved in these attacks were male)
Sexual violence from a partner or non-partner since age 15: 19%
Sexual violence from a partner since age 15: 11%
Sexual violence from a non-partner since age 15: 11%
Suggesting Denmark has a much bigger problem with physical violence than sexual violence.
Looking at the stats of where these assaults are taking place:-
20% at school or workplace, 18% in someone else’s home, 18% in a cafe or bar, 17% outside in a public place and 15% in own home.
Those 20% of attacks at school or work will not have been alcohol fuelled, presumably. (Unless of course, they only interviewed women who work with drunks like police officers and emergency room doctors.)
My take on it is that our culture says that women should be and act a certain way and men should have certain privileges and violence is used to enforce this. No amount of saying women’s rights have won is going to change the essential truth that they really have not.
When Danes get up on their high horse about how Muslims treat ‘their’ women, it is irritating. These Danes do not have any Muslim friends, male or female. They are going on prejudice and ignorance. But when you realise that whatever the problems ‘The Other’ have, Danish women do not have it that much better, it makes the prejudice so much harder to bear.
Women in Denmark are attacked, mostly by men, in large numbers. It is mostly regular violence but sexual violence is also an issue. It is mostly non-partners but abuse from partners is also a major problem.
Complacency is rife, along with trying to find out what these women were doing that gets them into harm’s way.
Let’s look at it another way. What is making men think that they can attack others? What is making men feel like a woman is fair game for sexual violence? Why aren’t the courts full to bursting with these cases of violence?
* Obviously not all men. If it’s not about you, it’s not about you.