Micro Aggressions and Stranger Danes

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?


11 thoughts on “Micro Aggressions and Stranger Danes

  1. “Underestimates my intelligence vocally”

    It gets to me too. It happens to me a lot. I asked, and was told a couple of times that people assume I am stupid (or talk to me as if I were a child) because of my fluency level. Admittedly, I have been here for many years, so I *COULD* have learned it better. I just never bothered. :-) But honestly, being subjected to this treatment doesn’t make me feel like putting in the effort to learn perfect Danish. For whom should I put in all that work, right?

    “to tell me all this stuff happens because I am a fucking bitch who deserved it.”

    That’s also common. Being asked: “Are you sure you didn’t do anything to deserve it? Are you really sure?” (As if they think they already know the answer to that question.)

    “They just lack empathy, curiosity and self-awareness.”
    They very much lack self-awareness. They have no idea how obtuse that behavior makes **them** look.

    I have actually been the angry foreigner lately, and I have voiced my frustration several times. I am not even sure if people hate me or respect me for it because of that “tolerance” thing. The near absence of reaction that makes me wonder if Danes are fine with that opinion or if they are going to tell everyone they know that I am a crazy bitch. :-/


    1. I told someone I was a physics teacher (like they were). They went “Oh! You can teach physics!~” with that patronising cadence that you’d use for a child who said they wanted to be an astronaut when they grew up.

      At one point, I did tell someone what was happening. She actually took it really well but kept trying to reassure me on the point that “they don’t mean any harm”…. Well, yeah, I already knew that. It still really hurts.


  2. Appropos the accent thing, I mean, Danes speaking English, – perfectly, and accent free, I’ve never heard one, and as for Danes speaking French, it’s unadulerated cacophony. Their arrogance towards unDanes is so utterly clumsy, indiscreet, and lacks the glue that makes communication with strangers an illuminating experience, and their insularity is the noose that kills the conversation.


  3. It felt so good reading this because it gives me the feeling that I’m not paranoid. I recognised myself in so many of those situations! And seriously, you have material for a sitcom there :D
    I’m familiar with that ”singy-songy voice” repeating (but correcting) what I say. I usually repeat it myself, then make the face of a dog who got the trick and expects a treat.

    After the oral part in Studieprøven my Danish teacher said he never realised I could speak so much in Danish. Of course he didn’t because during courses, whenever I was opening my mouth his face looked like he was suffering, like he was forced into winter swimming 5 minutes after he woke up. Listening and speaking are equally important in a conversation.

    And I was asked by a person I just met if I speak Danish and I said I do, at least I try. Then I’m being told I should learn the language so I don’t end up like this guy who works for him as a gardener helper and who’s been here for over 20 years, yet he hardly speaks the language. Then he gives a speech about how DF is right about requiring foreigners to speak Danish. And all this time he didn’t ask anything about me, just kept preaching. I didn’t want to defend myself and say that I’ve been through those 6 Danish modules, passed Studieprøven, and I’m studying in Danish because I was a guest in that house and it was someone’s birthday dinner and I didn’t want to make it about me. When he left I was asked what I thought about him and I said that he’s a bigot. ”Nonsense, he’s a nice guy, you’re just a little bit to touchy!” Am I???


    1. OMG! You are SO not paranoid, Raluca! That happens all the time, or at least, way too often. And no, you are not too touchy. Danes are just culturally averse to self-examination, on top of being obtuse. :-/

      I like your “dog trick.” Even after 17 years, I seriously haven’t figured out what is the best way to deal with these assholes. I wish I could crack that nut.


    2. UGH!
      I frigging hate the “you should learn Danish better than this other guy I know” speech. Especially since you KNOW you’re going to be material for their next one.
      And it IS so awkward because no one else sees it and you can’t be the ‘angry’ foreigner, so you just have to sit there and take it.

      Your teacher sounds like mine. She’d just stand there with her mouth open and then when I’d finished “I didn’t understand any of that.” On a scale of 1 to professional, I’d place that pretty low.


  4. After reading your post and the comments, I can’t help but really feel terrible that this is the way you’re being treated by the Danes. That’s really not okay, and I don’t know how I would react in such a situation. Luckily, this hasn’t happened to me (yet?) in the two years that I’ve been living here. Quite the opposite, I actually get a lot of compliments for having learned Danish “so quickly”, as most Danes I talk to actually think that their language is quite hard to learn. Just last weekend I was at this huge family affair and received so many nice words from so many people, I just wish I could give some of those to you guys. The only slightly odd comments I have received were about someone’s tax money paying for my free language classes, but that was about it. Really sorry about your bad experiences, I hope there’s some nice ones to make up for it, too!!


    1. Yeah of course… but they’re just in the minority.

      When I go to family things, the dynamic changes for the better. They know I’m for keeps and off limits because I’m with a Dane. Family things tend to be ok… apart from the odd comment about the other foreigners, from second cousins in law maybe ;)

      If you can, try to go to something without a link to your partner. For example, a Danish friend’s wedding without a plus one. (Or something like that.) One of the factors is the equation in their head “will I see this person again?” if they come up with “no”, their behaviour can change for the worse.

      Also, I remember after 2 years, the compliments about learning Danish were quite nice and welcome. After 6 years, they’re less so and still keep coming.

      Unless of course they think that my Danish should have been much better after 6 years, in which case all they will do is talk about it being hard.

      That whole “Danish is so hard” thing really grinds my gears. It’s no frigging Chinese, it’s just a Germanic language. I already speak a language distantly related to German. It’s only as hard as the listener wants to make it.

      I feel like, for every person I meet that tells me that I MUST speak Danish PERFECTLY, there’s another one telling me it’s hopeless because Danish is so difficult. I wish they’d have a meeting and decide once and for all!


  5. The lack of flexibility in listening is also true.Today I was in the radiology waiting room with 4 other people, when the radiologist came and called for Marianne Jensen. She repeated a few times until a lady realised it was her but she didn’t react in the first (or 2nd, or 3rd) place because her name was Maryanne Jensen.
    Bless her, but having my name pronounced anything from Rucola to Dracula(true story) makes me react at anything which rimes or sounds like a clumsy anagram.
    This being said some of those poor listeners ended up being some of the nicest people ever once we broke the language barrier.


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