Play Parks and Dog Forests

Once, on a warm spring day, I suggested to my friend that I take her kid to the play park. It was lovely weather and my friend was sick. The kid had recently become very difficult, a reaction to the divorce.

Picture it: a childless woman in her late twenties with a 4 year old in a playpark. I kept her entertained with see-saws and swings and helping onto climbing frames. We played some hide and seek in the woods around the equipment. We had a good time. Until the little one was in the mood to push in the line for the climbing frame.

The kid she wanted to push in front of was about 2 years old. If she pushed him out of the way, it would hurt him. I tried using my words but she was not in a listening mood. I tried to explain how important looking out for each other is. I tried going over the concept of ‘turns’ again. Nothing. So, I held her back. She screamed bloody murder, cursed my name, cursed my family. And then once the boy had made it up to the top, I let her go and she forgot all about her anger and asked me sweetly to help her up.

I looked around for adult moral support. The park is lovely but not very busy even at peak times. The only other adult was the dad of the 2 year old and he avoided my eye contact like one avoids staring at the sun. I was doing something wrong. Was it my accent? Was it the way I was hands on? Should I have let them work it out for themselves, even if his kid inevitably came off the worse? There was no way of knowing because he refused to acknowledge my existence.

I put her on the swings and sat on a bench. Other kids came to play, their adults sat on benches too. Nowhere near me. Not making eye contact. Not looking my way at all. Not interacting with their kids either. Just letting them get on with it.

Ahh, the Danish way, making kids more independent. Allowing them to discover their own limits, negotiate their own boundaries. Not for me, but that is not really for me to judge for others. Not for me to judge either, this bubble around Danish adults making friendly informal temporary contact between others impossible.

Fast forward four years and I have a puppy now. She is 6 months old and in some ways has a better sense of propriety around turn taking and interacting with her dog peers than that small child back then. She knows when to back off and when to play and she respects the limits of smaller and younger dogs. This isn’t something we have taught her, particularly, she figured it out in her litter. We reinforce, of course, at home but dog body language is not even our second language and we mimic imperfectly. We take her to the dog forest so she can play with other dogs and run around in a stimulating environment.

Our dog is a scaredy pants and if a bigger dog, no matter how friendly, interacts with her, she squeals and lies on her back. She does this for about 15 minutes, gains confidence and then plays nicely with them. I can see the other dogs are playing nicely: body language, facial expressions, vocalisations all add up to “Hello little dog, let’s play fight, ok?” But she’s crying out like she is being killed until she gets used to them which is a little disconcerting for anyone that does not know her. The owners call their dogs off. “He’s not usually like this! Would you like me to tell him to stop? Messi GET DOWN”

They interact with their dogs and teach them right from wrong, not just about play fighting but all types of play. They ask how old our dog is, tell us about their dog and interpret the body language of all the participants. No one sits on a bench and ignores their dog at any point. Only once has my accent been interpreted as a cloak of invisibility. The dog park is intensely social for the humans as they trade dog tips and stories.

Dogs are not trusted to work out their limits for themselves and the humans feel no problem with telling them off when they step out of line.

What happened to Danish society that the adults feel like giving structure or boundaries to their children is inappropriate when they understand that their pets need gentle reinforcement of how to play nicely? Where do they imagine their children are learning these skills if not explicitly from adults? Why is chatting to other parents in the park verboten but to other dog owners de rigeur? It makes no sense to this outsider.

News Translation: Satire Edition

This is a very special translation of the news, being as it is translated from several almost identical opinion columns in Danish newspapers.

Muslims are not just folks

In recent weeks, it has been almost impossible to avoid the news that some clearly disturbed individuals had killed a group of unarmed civilians. Clearly, enough column inches have been expended on Boko Haram’s massacre of over 2000 people, we need to talk about the events in Paris.

Of course, we know that two out of 1.6 billion is a very small minority. Still, those 1.6 billion people are sort of responsible, if you think about it. If it wasn’t their responsibility, then whose would it be? Ours? What?

You can’t say that every Danish person is responsible for foreign policies that disenfranchise and enrage, contributing to disturbed people snapping and committing mass murder. That is preposterous. Some of those Danish people actually disagree with their politicians or haven’t given the policies much thought. Some of these Danish people would deny that there is any link between radicalisation and the way power is kept in the hands of the Western world, of which Denmark is a part. How can it be the fault of moderate Danish people that radicalisation happens in the modern world? We’re just folks.

No, it’s the Muslims that are the problem. While we agree they are not a homogenous bloc, that is because they have two sorts. The peaceful ones who we are pretty sure we’d like if we ever met any and the radical ones who cut your head off soon as look at you. The peaceful ones should prove to us, once and for all, that we definitely would get on with them, if only we met socially, by stopping all extremism and bad behaviour of the second group.

We know that the Muslims (both groups, so all Muslims ever), might now claim “Well, Danes, you have not succeeded in stopping murder, extremism, violence etc in your ranks”. The very simple answer to that is “That is impossible to do because we are all individuals and the reasons for violent conduct are as numerous as the violent individuals themselves and are usually very complicated, difficult to unpick and even harder to solve.” We are folks, remember, and the members of our group that behave badly can no way reflect on us and we are absolutely not responsible for their actions. Anyway, back to the main point, good Muslims should really make sure that bad Muslims never happen.

Who do they think they are, anyway, having a different religion and really caring about it? If a good Muslim comments on being provoked or disrespected, they are really saying that bad Muslims are acceptable. Bad Muslims do not like being disrespected either, so it makes it harder and harder to tell the difference. Why can’t Good Muslims just let massive provocation go? We certainly do whenever people provoke us about things we care about, like Danishness. Every time a foreigner says anything critical or in jest about Denmark, we just shrug and laugh. “Interesting point!” or “Hahah, foreigner, good one,” we always say.

This is not like it is a new policy, this one of telling entire groups what to do when a couple of exceptional individuals from a related group do something horrific.

Remember when Breivik killed all those people? We really held the Norwegian people’s feet to the fire. “Rein in your far right, you’re the only ones who can, moderate Norwegians,” we advised. We even got on to people who spoke languages similar to Norwegian, such as Swedish and Danish, and told them pretty much the same thing. We are only doing the same thing now by telling moderate Muslims that they need to do something about their fringe elements. Fair is fair. Remember all that child abuse in the Catholic Church? We told that group to get it sorted and fair do’s, child abuse by priests is completely at an end now. All the moderate Catholics took responsibility for their fringe elements and sorted the problem out easily by telling them to stop it in a clear, firm voice.

In conclusion, there is no point looking at the complex interplay of power distribution in foreign policy and immigration politics to figure out what exactly is driving a tiny minority to violence.

Let’s just tell the Muslims it’s their problem for being different.

Denmark’s Radio

When I taught English as an additional language, I advised my students to listen to podcasts, watch tv and see films in English. Anything to expose them to the language in an enjoyable way. The theory is, if you experience pleasure your brain will give you an extra boost to remember vocabulary or assimilate syntax.

Taking my own advice, I would listen to the radio while washing up or what have you and watch the news of an evening.

In the end, I had to stop because of the relentless xenophobia of the Danish media. I was not experiencing pleasure, I was not entering a flow-state. I was constantly irritated. I remember putting on a local radio channel in the early days and had to switch it off when they were asking the leader of the far right what she wanted to listen to.

The state of Danish news is probably a post in itself but I just wanted to focus on Danish radio.

Left to myself, I bought an internet radio and split my attention between Alouette, BBC 6 Music and occasionally NPR or Radio 4. I just stopped listening to the Danish radio because nothing good was coming of it. But then I got a boyfriend and he likes to listen to programmes on the radio, rather than music all the time when he is driving. So, I have had to listen to a lot of talk radio in my time here.

On ordinary FM, there are two talk radio channels that I know about. 24/syv and P1. P1 is more traditional and 24/syv is more modern. As much as I enjoy Radio 4 and NPR, P1 rubs me up the wrong way. If they talk about Denmark, it tends to be in terms of how Denmark is the best at something. There’s always something of the 9th grade geography project about their pronouncements on other countries and cultures. Of course there is some interesting, quality programming that does not irritate me. There are tech shows and shows about the Danish language which never get on my nerves. But if they talk about anything to do with current events or world news, the lack of self-awareness or introspection grates on me. 24/syv never gets to me in the same way, I advocate for this channel if music is not an option.

We recently got a dog and we leave the radio on when we go out so she does not feel so lonely. The kitchen radio is usually tuned to P1 so the boyfriend can listen to it while he cooks. In the past couple of months, and it may be coincidence, almost every day I walked into the kitchen, they were talking about Islam. They have a lot of repeats so maybe I was walking into the same show at different points but I don’t think I was. They never say anything offensive or ignorant but it’s remarkable how much they go on about Islam without involving Muslims. It’s just non-Muslim talking heads talking about The Other.

Anyway, it was getting to me and sometimes P1 has shows that involve animal noises or odd noises as illustrations, so I tuned the radio to a music channel. The commercial ones are alright, they just play music really. I managed to tune it to P4 one day, this is a local channel that plays middle of the road pop and rock. This works for dogs and humans. Until the other day, they were talking about the word ‘neger’ and whether it was socially acceptable to say anymore.

Again, it was just the perspective of white Danes. One white Dane went on about his ‘dark’ friends from Denmark and how some of his best friends (from his time in America) were black. His major point was ‘they’ don’t mind. The lack of awareness that his impression based on a self-selecting sample of people answering a socially awkward question might be subjective was striking.

Then they interviewed various white people who insisted that their intention was magical so anyone taking offence just did not understand the spirit in which their racial slur was intended. They pulled out their kindly old grandmothers who were simply not able to keep up with a changing political landscape and language as examples for why no one needs to keep up.

I had to stop listening because although they were coming down generally on the side of ‘well, it’s outdated now’, the premise for the most common arguments of why the word is not that bad grind my gears.

(When I turned the radio on again, they were discussing the word ‘åndssvag’ (moronic/retarded/daft), and how it had become taboo. Again, no one with special needs were asked how the word made them feel. It was just about how people with privilege feel about showing consideration with their choice of words)

What strikes me is that some of the radio channels funded by mandatory licence fees are keeping integration from happening. The immigration debate, issues surrounding multiculturalism, world religions 101, the changing face of politeness as a culture evolves; all these issues are discussed in such a way to drive a subtle ridge between the intended listener and The Other. Foreigners are rarely involved in discussions about integration (though I have heard it, they picked three good immigrants to talk about the adorable ways Danes are different). Islam is discussed almost non-stop which serves to make the divide seem more important and unbridgeable than in reality. Changes to Danish society are presented as being imposed on the Danish people, rather than adopted by them.

What would be better would be programming that includes us. Programming that talks with or to us rather than about us. Stories about how similar we are for every story about how we are different. It would be an improvement for programs to engage in critical thinking, rather than the bland regurgitation of a talking point.

Customer Service

So, here’s what happened.

I got a letter in the post saying that our mortgage provider’s computer had gone down and we needed to send a payment direct to a certain account. I was a little suspicious but the letter had the right name and when I typed the number into my bank, the right provider name auto-completed.

Then I got another letter in the post asking for my mortgage payment. I was composing an email to check that I had sent the money to the right account when I noticed that the telephone helpline numbers were different on the two letters. The customer support email was different. The CVR number was different. And I dropped a bollock.

I google’d the support email and the first link was “FALSE EMAILS, DO NOT RESPOND TO THEM” and I did not look at the link but the bottom dropped out of my stomach.

So, I scanned in the suspicious letter and emailed customer support at the bank. I told them the situation and asked what I should do.

They emailed back straight away: contact your bank. GOOD LUCK. Seriously. “Good luck”

I contacted my bank, told them the situation, attached the suspect letter.

They emailed back straight away: nothing we can do. Contact the police.

I contacted the police. Over email because I hate telephones and I could attach the letter.

Then I started to think about how sophisticated the scam was: right name, right company name, they knew we were customers of this bank, they specifically only ask for one month’s money. They got the amount almost exactly right.

So, I googled the support email thing again to take a look at the other scams, to see if they were as sophisticated… and realised that the ‘fake’ email was not fake.

This was about fifteen minutes into the crisis and the feelings of pathetic-ness and horror were starting to give way into feelings of disbelief. So. I emailed customer support again.

“Are you SURE this is a scam. Did I just report my mortgage to the police??”

And this is the response, in full, without further comment.

Hello again 

Im sorry i didnt’  see the lette the 1. time 

It’s not a fake letter – there has been an error with the payment service as home loan is not automatically paid by direct debit – this is only in June and July that itmust be paid manually 

I regret that I was not awake for the first time  

If you have further questions, I recommend you to contact us on xx xx xx which is open every day from 9 -21″

 

 

Protection from Corruption

Everyone, including experts, says that there is no corruption in Denmark. This is bollocks. It might not be the same sort of corruption you might find in the second world or in the places you’d expect in the third world or as ostentatiously sleazy as in the first world. But there is corruption in Denmark. There are shady deals, opaque dodgy decisions and cheating. Nepotism, dishonesty and outright thievery.

My ongoing saga is with the company that bought my old flat when it went on foreclosure auction. They are doing some seedy shit to avoid paying the deposit back. In order to combat them, I have needed to call on several friends.

1) to help me draft an email in decent Danish. Outcome: the company said we had longer than three days to find another painter and dropped the ridiculous insistence of being paid for painting two months before we have to stop paying rent.

2) to ring them and simply ask “is it legal to say they cannot have the keys back?” Outcome: we got the keys back

3) to introduce me to someone who knows a painter Outcome: I have a much more reasonable painting quote

None of this I could have done by myself. It’s great there are fantastic people who will defend their friends (and friends of friends) from robbery and unfairness.

But wouldn’t it be better if the Danish system prevented this shit automatically? Wouldn’t it be better if everyone was protected and not just those lucky enough to have a great network?

Plus, when this is over, I can’t ‘punish’ the company for their behaviour or warn others. The Danish system only kicks in when you have a dispute you can’t solve yourself. Not when a company makes up fake rules or puts undue pressure on you or tries to sting you for a lot of money.

These are the changes I would make to the Danish rental market.

No demand in rental contracts for the tenant to pay for redecorating at the end of the lease. Instead, reasonable wear and tear is to be expected. Of course if the walls are stained or damaged: redecorating might be in order.

The rental governing body can be contacted in cases of unreasonable or illegal behaviour. Not just a dispute.

All landlords need to be signed up to a code of conduct with real consequences if not adhered to.

There needs to be a clear guide for what to do in the case of problems. Most people I spoke to had some ideas about things to try but were also fatalistic about it. “It’s just a cost of moving out” This goes for the media as well!

Deposits of only one months rent and prepaid rent of max one month.

Maybe it wouldn’t be perfect but the only way is up.

Check in

I have a long post in me about good things in dk and another one about how I’m getting on but I’ve been ill this week.
I am commuting around 4 hours a day (including waiting around for the next leg) and I’m not 22 anymore so I’m pretty exhausted, not to mention incredibly busy.

Anyway, I wrote an article for the CPHPost because they give me deadlines so you can read that if you like. It’s about the Immigration Service.

Adoption

Being between two countries, I have access to two cultures and media. Coincidentally, in the UK and in Denmark, there is a debate about adoption.

The UK is coming from the direction that once parents are found to be suitable carers for children, there is too much time spent on matching. So, it can take half a year to be cleared for adoption and then another 9 months to be matched with a child but matching does not have an evidence base to suggest it works.

The UK authorities take great care to match children, even in fostering cases, with parents from the same sort of ethnic background. This can result in situations where a French speaking child from Congo ends up with an English speaking adult “from” the Caribbean which makes about as much as sense to me as an English speaking adult “from” India or China or England. Their skin tones match!  Is that really all that is important?

Anyway. They work really hard to match children and it’s not really “a thing” to see white parents with children from other ethnicities a la Mia Farrow or Brad Pitt. I don’t know how I feel about that. One of the kids in my class when I was 11 was a black girl adopted by white parents and she seemed okay with it.

So the debate in the UK is: what is really truly important, what does a child need, how can we support adoption, how can we get children in children’s homes off the lists and into loving families?

Denmark is having  the opposite debate. Denmark has almost no children up for adoption in the country. This is mostly because of the ease of getting a termination in the case of an unwanted pregnancy (and the way boroughs can force women to have terminations) but probably also in part to the way the Danish authorities often declare disturbed or neglected children “need” professional care without close, personal relationships in children’s homes. (WHAT THE FUCK? That’s so wrong I don’t even know where to start. Oh wait, I’ve covered it before.)

Most adoptions in Denmark are intercultural, that is to say, children are adopted from foreign countries. Only a few are truly orphans. If this were a mission of mercy, then it would probably be better to give support and education to people in those countries, rather than take their healthy and able bodied youngest members away. It is just an easy way of getting babies into the arms of the childless. There are very few controls and it appears not much in the way of preparation or support for the adoptive couples.

A documentary was recently shown on Danish tv about an adoption case gone wrong. The director had hoped to show a story of nice Danish people doing a great job helping the poor little Africans but what she ended up filming was something quite disturbing.

A couple with five children had been told they were going to die of AIDS in a few years. They decided that it would be best to give two of their children up for adoption and asked only that they have a telephone call once a year and a regular report about their children. They are told that their children will get educations and then be able to come back to Ethiopia and be scientists and doctors. They also seemed to think that they would be helped out financially by their new family members but as the adoption went through, they were told this was not possible.

The footage of the mother with her girl is very revealing compared to what happens later in Denmark: she sings to her, she does her hair, she tells her she is loved. The couple are kind and nice but in an impossible situation.

The Danish couple are in their late 40s and had not conceived in the seven years of trying. They do not speak Amharic beyond “Salaam”. They meet their children a couple of times at an orphanage but are not taught anything about their children’s needs or culture. They are not given any training on how to deal with emotional difficulties. They are not taught how to understand their children. Their children are not taught about what is happening or what will happen to them. The Danes meet the Ethiopian parents and are really fucking patronising. The Ethiopian couple ask the Danish couple if they can say goodbye at the airport. The Danish woman says “No, I don’t think it would be a good idea for the children. We have to be on a plane for 10 hours with them.” Which is about the most selfish thing I have ever heard. She is also very patronising. Which reveals that she thinks she is better than the Ethiopian couple, she does not talk down to any Dane in the film.

The children are naturally confused and upset but the Danish couple have no idea what the children are saying and so cannot comfort them. Their hotel room has absolutely no toys or things of interest for a small child. With predictable results.

Then in Denmark, the children are expected to be “perfect”. Everything is a showdown. Taking toys to the wrong place, eating the wrong amount, giving the wrong answer. Both children’s hair was allowed to become unkempt and matted. In London, if any of my students came to school like that I would ring social services. The couple had not done any basic research into how to care for a child from their background. This is symptomatic of everything wrong with this adoption.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopian couple are trying to get some answers. They are a lot healthier than they were told they would be six years ago, they are able to work, their life expectancy is going up. They have had no reports from the Danish family and are going out of their minds with grief. The Danish adoption agency just give them the runaround and send them from one office to another rather than give what they promised.

The Danish woman is incredibly cold towards her daughter and her daughter shows signs of depression. The couple use English as a “secret” language around the children. The Danish borough get her a “bonus family” for the weekends, which in a child who is suffering from attachment problems seems a little unkind. Then it gets much worse when the Danish woman calls the borough and has her taken to a children’s home because it is “too hard”. The Danish borough has no plans to place her with people who can love her while they deal with her emotional needs because “she needs professional help with people who are not closely emotionally involved with her.”

News Translation (from Ekstra Bladet)

My daughter treated like an animal

I believed our little girl was going to a humane and developed country. But her Danish adoptive family have treated her like an animal.

Nine year old Masho’s biological parents in Africa (sic) were on Wednesday shown the shocking footage from the girl’s life with the family in Holbæk.

This happened when the programme team from TV2’s News showed the pair clips from Monday’s tv-documentary “The Price of Adoption” which has created huge debate here in this country all week.

Home as soon as possible

Late on Wednesday evening, Ekstra Bladet came in telephone contact via an interpreter with Masho’s father Hussan Immishu in the family’s home in a small village 300km from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

He was still shocked about the programe where you can see Masho being coldly rejected by the adoptive mother Henriette Vedsegaard when the little girl wants to help carry a bag.

“I feel very let down by the Danish adoptive parents. I think only about how we can get Masho back as soon as possible. But someone must help us. We don’t have the funds to get ger home ourselves,” said Hussen Immishu.

The Ethiopian couple gave Masho and her little brother Roba up for adoption five years ago to the Danish couple Henriette and Gert Vedsegaard. The couple were HIV positive and did not think they were going to live very long.

Since then they have got medicine which keeps them alive.

Worried for the boy

“We would have never believed that our daughter would be treated like that. We hoped that she would get a good education and one day come back to Ethiopia. Instead, we can see now that she has been treated like an animal,” said the embittered father.

He told at the same time that the family is now very worried for the little brother Roba, who is still with the Vedsegaard family.

“We are afraid that he is getting the same treatment as Masho. We have not heard from his own mouth about how he is,” said Hussen Immishu.

All in all, the family has not heard from the children in a long time.

Hold your own Danish Party

Politiken newspaper breathlessly informs that British newspapers are giving tips on how to hold Danish style parties. Ahh, has Forbrydelsen made it to the UK already?

(Let’s all imagine the situation where a British newspaper informs its readers that another country has written articles praising a drama serial or explaining how to have a British-style celebration. Now relax. Your frown lines will become permanent otherwise.)

This is really how to host a Danish style party:-

Step one:- invite people. If you are going to do this more danico, you need to ask your guests about a month in advance. Since we are past the J-Day Event Horizon, you may need two months notice. Do not expect all your invitees to respond with “sorry, can’t make it,” which you may have expected to be basic courtesy.

Step two:- be ready for the time you said in the invitation. If you said 6pm, hoping your guests would arrive around half an hour after that, meaning you can faff around painting your nails or buggering up your prep at any point, prepare for a surprise! Make them take off their shoes so they are in party dresses and stockinged feet. Mwahahaha.

Step three:- Serve meat, potatoes, some veggies, beer and for god’s sake light some candles. Remain in the dining chairs until you and your guests are drunk. Turn the music up.

Step four:- Be ignored by one or more of your guests for at least a quarter of the evening if not the entire party. (They may ignore you because their phone is more interesting, they are shy or because they believe you will say nothing of interest whatsoever.)

Step five:- Turn the music up.

Step six:- Drink.

Step seven:- Start to shout. Now that people are looking up from their phones or their partners, suggested conversations:- summer houses, meat ball recipes, how crap other countries are during the “crisis”, how much you get paid, how much your rent is.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, avoid deep conversations. 

Step eight:- Serve chips/crisps. Pour alcohol into the glasses of those who are drinking soda or slowly.

Step nine:- Drink. Shout some more. Turn the music up.

Step ten:- Are you seeing double? Talking shit? Unsteady on your feet? Unable to think straight and keep track of your things? No? Repeat step nine. Yes? You are now ready to go to the bar.