To preserve anonymity of the people I meet, I try not to tell stories that would give away individuals. I’ve had a few experiences in the last few weeks that I really wanted to talk about but there was no way to do so without invading the privacy of others.
I don’t know what happened but I suddenly had a flood of invitations to events where I would be an unaccompanied foreigner to a group of people that do not know me or each other. A wedding, a party, a training event, that sort of thing.
And I had to meet a LOT of stranger Danes.
Here is my Ideal Stranger Dane, of which I met maybe half a dozen at these events.
- Starts out with a question or a comment not about where I come from
- Talks to me about something interesting that we can both get stuck into
- Finds things in common
- Makes jokes/laughs at my jokes
- Is patient with my mistakes in pronunciation/word order/correct word usage
Here are the things that are (more or less), involuntary that Stranger Danes sometimes do (and it gets on my nerves)
- Shudders or pulls a face when they hear my accent
- Keeps that expression on their face whenever I speak to them
- Walks away/turns their back on me when I approach while they are on their own
- Repeats everything I say back to me with a singy-songy voice as if teaching an infant how to speak
- Does not return my smile (or if they do, it doesn’t touch their eyes)
- Only makes eye contact when talking about crime
- Looks pissed off when I say Danish is not actually that hard for an English speaker (the hard thing only being that it must be perfect or ELSE)
- Looks super pissed off when I say I have been in Denmark for 6 years
Here are the things that are just thoughtless but are somewhat of a choice
- Asks DURING Danish language conversations I am having with them, if I speak Danish
- Asks after I have replied in the affirmative “But do you UNDERSTAND Danish?”
- Tells me that I do not understand Danish, while I am listening
- Goes on about how hard Danish must be for me
- Only asks me about where I am from and why I came to Denmark
- Ignores me after this information has been shared
- Compares me pointedly with other people who are also learning Danish
- Insists that if I have a problem with an activity it must be because of my shitty language skills
- Tells me that I am not ‘integrating’ if I choose not to be ignored or patronised by choosing another activity or if everyone around me chooses to move away from me
- Underestimates my intelligence vocally
There are plenty of foreigners who can handle this or do not notice it. But it gets to me after a while. Especially since, if I bring this up, some people will jump on me to tell me all this stuff happens because I am a fucking bitch who deserved it.
Well, it never happened in the UK and it never happened in France and it never happened in Germany. In the UK, I make friends super easily. In France and Germany, people are used to hearing their language being mauled and they’re cool with it. They just let you communicate and are more or less Ideal Strangers.
In Denmark, people are not used to hearing their language mangled and they have been infected with the idea that foreigners are bad. Our badness stems from not wanting to be part of the group and not learning the language to perfection. Look at Prince Henri, he’s pretty much reviled and his Danish is perfect… he just has a French accent. That’s enough for Danish people to think that he is a stuck up prick. That’s all it took.
Of course, none of the people who were less than Ideal were bad people. They are nice, decent, otherwise smart people. They just lack empathy, curiosity and self-awareness. So, those people didn’t get to find out about the things that we have in common or some awesome or interesting point of view that only I can share. They didn’t get to find out that I am funny. They didn’t get to hear what it is actually like to be foreign in their country. So. I guess I won that one?