One from the Vaults: Integrated

I am totally integrated now though this is probably not what the Danish authorities meant.
Søren “effing” Pind would probably shake his comedy head and say with his comedy voice “No, I did not mean like that… but… she’s white, right? Ahh, doesn’t matter then. She can do what she wants, ikke også?”

Reception Indvandrer Kvindecentret
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If integration is about paying tax and going to work, I have been integrated since my first paycheque 1006 days ago.
If integration is about speaking Danish, I have done that since the very beginning even when I bloody couldn’t. And now even on days when my Danish is crap, people still understand me. GO FIGURE.
If integration is about giving money and time to Danish charities, then tick me off.
If integration is about sitting on a hard dining table chair for eight hours, talking Danish. TICK.
If integration is about getting so drunk that your memories are in black and white the next day. CHECK.
If integration is about signing up to evening classes, been there done that.
If integration is about saying “Almonds… or tonsils” or “Pedestrian zone” without having to think, when a Dane flails in English. Then yeah, I do that.
If integration is about following a recipe in Danish, about Danish ingredients, to make some Danish delicacy. Yep. Done it. I even know the difference between oprør and omrør. Which is important when you make Bearnaise sauce.
If integration is about knowing your rights and fighting for them, I have totally made a fuss about stuff. I went through my union for heaven’s sake.
If integration is about reaching out to Danes in different scenarios like at knitting clubs or similar, I have done that and got the scars to prove it.
If integration is about speaking Danish to a nurse before you have an operation on your *whistles* even though you are bricking it and then being tolerant of their bad English before they put you under anaesthetic, I have totally done that.
If integration is about doing a Dane regularly, I have been doing that for *time* (A lady never runs that calculation through a calculator).

I will tell you, as an integrated citizen, what integration is not.

Integration is not making excuses for horrible Danes (on the grounds that our hosts can do no wrong/we misunderstood their intention).
Integration is not beating yourself up when you find adjustment difficult or unpleasant.
Integration is not beating others up when they say they find something difficult.
Integration is not ignoring your judgement or your feelings that something is not quite right.
Integration is not abandoning all critical thought and going along with the consensus.
Integration is not blindly trusting the authorities.
Integration is not an instruction to give up your cultural identity and embody the host culture entirely.
Integration is not having to do all the running to fit into a culture.
Integration is not eating Danish food.
Integration is not riding a bloody bicycle.
Integration is not calling yourself a “guest”.

Denmark. Denmark. Denmark.
You invited me here, Denmark. You wanted my expertise. You want the expertise of others like me.

You want them to come and study in your universities. You want them to do certain jobs. You want them to teach you English. You want them! So stop pretending that they want you. It is the other way around. We would have been happy working anywhere exotic. Belgium… Finland… Switzerland… We could have made our lives there equally easily so stop acting like you are doing us a bloody favour by giving us work permits.

You want the others to be integrated like me, believe it or not. This is what real integration looks like and this is definitely what you want. You want happy little soldiers who drive around places like Mols saying “OMG! It is so beautiful!” and “Haha, another cream based festival, eh?” and “Really? You are allowed to rape animals here?!”

You want people who snark and moan and clap with delight. You want the range of experiences. The depth. The breadth.

You do not want people who feel inhibited, who feel guilty for finding fault, who feel like they have to “Stepford Wives” their way through their Denmark Experience. You do not want to police their thoughts. You do not want to steer them into thinking a certain way. This is not PTSD they are experiencing, guys, they are just going through an adjustment period.
You will break them if you do them this way. They will reach a breaking point and snap.

Telling them to suck it up and think only good thoughts is what you say to people who just found out they have hepatitis, not to someone embarking on a new life in a foreign country.

You WANT people to feel at home here, to feel comfortable. You WANT people to stop feeling like guests.

We might even be able to help you out. Maybe you could learn something from us. We can suggest things like

“If your shops were open when people were not at work, they can buy more stuff.”
and
“If you write to us in Danish, we get overwhelmed and put all our correspondence in a shoebox. If you use English (or another widely spoken language, whatever), we will read it and respond.”

To make integration happen, you need to stop being so controlly and preachy. Stop giving them the “ONE TRUE WAY” of “HOW TO INTEGRATE” powerpoint presentations. You need to introduce them to each other, introduce them to some nice Danes and then step back and LEAVE THEM ALONE. Stop threatening to withdraw medical treatment, stop threatening them full stop. Stop with your dirty-foreigner national news agenda. Stop telling them that it is all their fault if they suffer. Stop telling them “it would be different if you met other Danes”. Stop telling them everything is candy floss and ponies as soon as you can speak fluent Danish. Stop telling them off when they say they find something cultural distasteful or immature. STOP bloody telling them to join a sports team, for heaven’s sake!

Integration looks different for everyone…. You know… Like being Danish looks different for everyone.

Calm down, take a deep breath and leave us alone. We want the best for Denmark… because Denmark is our home.

Here’s a bit from the Tao Te Ching.

Governing an expat community
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

He was ahead of his time, wasn’t he, that Lao Tzu?

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.

One from the Vaults: Free Speech

(From 8th October 2009)

In the beginning, it was all so simple. Little amoeba in a pond, wiggling around. Skip through history: the dinosaurs, the monkeys. Everything was so simple until human beings got here.

We like to communicate and we realise (but perhaps do not fully understand), that we have a different perception of the universe. We communicate that difference in perspective and we learn something about someone else.

Do this well enough and it means that we can alter who is the dominant monkey in our monkey troop. Some privileged people do not like the idea that they might lose power and status; so they say the others should keep their opinions to themselves. They might enforce the silence of dissent with force. Ridicule. Minimisation. If they are crafty, they might make the others self-censor. Out of fear or simple peer pressure.

And thusly, in the fires of oppression from a privileged minority, the concept of “free speech” was born. The tentative idea that is should be okay to express any opinion or view.

How lovely!

five_boxes_liberty_soap_box1

Then you get into hot water because sometimes people are oppressed because what they say and think is what scientists have termed “arse clenchingly stupid”.

And complications of layers of complications, with our different perspectives and takes on things, no one person is objective enough to decide who the bloody stupid “shut up shut up shut up” people are.

So, we try to move towards a system where you are allowed to express your opinion just as long as you do not threaten someone with violence, encourage someone else to resort to violence… checks and balances. Little kindnesses. Little markers of acceptability.

Occasionally, someone will say something which is perhaps a little mean or upsetting and then you have a discussion about if it is acceptable to say things that might be upsetting.
There are some who say that you should have an absolute right to offend.
There are some who say that you must never offend someone and this should be illegal.
There are some who say that should be allowed to offend as long as you have motives other than causing offence. Which is hell to prove. “I only intended to highlight the hypocrisy of the Church, officer”

Most people want to be respectful. They want to show they care about their fellow man. They do this by bearing in mind that people get upset by a lot of things and perhaps dealing with those hot-button issues sensitively… where possible…is the way forward.

In Denmark, it is often that an outsider is deliberately offended. They might have their religion mocked, they might have their accent mocked, they might have their culture held up for ridicule, the colour of their skin, the things they love and the places they call home.
Yes, I know the people that partake in this stupid-twattery are red necks and not “real people” in any meaningful way.
But, their absolute right to be an arse is defended by a culture that call such knobishness “freedom of expression” when perhaps it would be better described in terms of “freedom of fuckwittery”

The outsider may react in a number of ways.

homer-middle-finger-o
Some of them more eloquent and/or respectful than others.

This is where we get into the real complication. Yet another layer of it, like one of those fancy French desserts.

If an outsider dares speak critically in Denmark a number of things can happen.

  • They might find that they have to have an argument with a loved one
  • They might be told they are bad people
  • They might be told they should be grateful
  • They might be told to piss off back home
  • They might be told they are overreacting
  • They might lose their job
  • They might have a file compiled on them at the kommune
  • They might have their activities scrutinised

This might not happen every time. It may never happen to an outsider who speaks critically.  But it happens often enough for the other outsiders to take note and heed.
Without anyone even having to lift a finger to force the populace to act a certain way, the threat is implied. A bully testing the weight of a weapon without needing to lunge to get their victim to flinch.

People who would like to speak critically about Denmark find that they cannot find a balance between saying what they want to say and getting into trouble. Either people are anonymous voices or else they limit their conversations to private mutterings.

And we see the problem.

The free speech, such as it is, exists only for people with privilege. It is only for a certain sect here. It is not FOR the likes of us. This oppression exists for the same reason as any oppression exists, to keep that sect in power. Keeps them with the privileges, the status, the rights.

And I would like to invoke my Free Speech to say that I think that this is disgusting.

Dehumanisation in Danish Marketing

Denmark hides behind two national myths to excuse itself from poor behaviour.

1: We are a homogenous nation without a history of having to get along with others

2: We have a unique sense of humour which magically stops anything from being in poor taste

Denmark is now part of a global community and however homogenous they mistakenly imagine their history, they have to get along with others.

Even though this has been true for a long time, it has not stopped them from being outrageously idiotic on their promotional material. Come with me now through the Hall of Shame:-

Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Let me know in comments what I forgot.

Now I have handled why this shit is wrong before. I’m not going over it again.

I only bring it up because the Swedes complained about the masks in Haribo sweets and so Haribo won’t make them anymore. That means they won’t be available in Denmark.

Sweets stop being available all the time, Haribo don’t owe Denmark crude racial stereotype licquorice. You’d think Haribo not only stopped supplying sweets to Denmark but blocked other brands too, from the over reaction here.

The Metroxpress covered the story with good-natured bafflement about those ‘crazy politically correct Swedes‘ and rabble-rousing pieces about how ‘angry‘ Danes are at the Swedes for ruining their enjoyment of dehumanising sweets.

TV2 interviewed Professor of Philosophy Vincent F. Hendricks, who is half-American half-Danish. I won’t lie, when I saw him, I thought that tv2 had just found a black person to speak for all black people a la The Brass Eye.

The interviewer was bizarre and said that it was a slippery slope, that if you can’t have masks of crude racial stereotypes then you won’t be allowed to have ‘Jødekage’ any more (so-called ‘Jew cakes’ because they were sold in Jewish bakeries in the 1700s not because they are crude racial stereotypes of Jewish faces in biscuit form)

Hendricks was AMAZING. He started out with the homogenous national myth, as a gateway for the heavier criticism that he made. But he made it with love! It was great.

He said that Denmark has been able to get away with being provincial for a long time but now this shit is being noticed and the world will think that Danes are backwards peasants. He also asked why it is just black faces that get this treatment (though south-east Asian faces get it too), and what is it even for? I wish I could find a copy because I’d just put it up on here and not paraphrase wildly.

Anyway. It didn’t work, the Danes are still really into having not to think about de-humanising groups.

That last sentence was a sort of a test. If you were a Dane who got really agitated because I de-humanised you by saying you are all into not having to think about de-humanising groups whilst simultaneously not being all that bothered about the masks, you are a fucking hypocrite.

Homogenous or not, Denmark has to wake up and stop being so childish. This stuff is hurtful. This stuff makes lives harder. Your children don’t come into the world being mouthbreathing peasant scum, YOU make them that way. You do it by having sweets that encourage your children to think that certain groups are only caricatures. You are the reason that when ever I teach Danish kids about Japan or China and I ask what they know already, they reach for their eye corners to stretch them back. You are the reason that white Danish children attack black Danish children with crude racial abuse. You are encouraging it. By saying ‘these groups are not human really’, you are setting your children up to attack them.

And it affects the adults in your country, contributing to micro aggressions (and macro aggressions, face it), which affect the lives of people with facial features being caricatured in these products.

The problem isn’t that crazy Swedes cannot take a joke or Haribo have set themselves up as moral arbiters or black people should realise that intent is magic (“I don’t mean it to be offensive: it isn’t!”) The problem is that Danish people still think that black and Asian people are not all the way human.

So it shows up in Danish culture a lot. It shows up and reinforces the idea over and over. You are all so used to it, you do not see how toxic and off putting it is.

The Swedes want to stop reinforcing it, Haribo don’t want to make a brand of confectionary just for one country especially after conceding it was racist.

Denmark has to evolve or die. It’s not good enough to continue being a hick country with hay in your mouth. It’s not good enough to say you didn’t realise it was racist so it isn’t racist. It’s not good enough to say that since it amuses you, it is acceptable. It’s not good enough to say that since you believe that black people only moved to your country a short time ago, it is not a problem.

You want and need foreigners to do the jobs your own people are incapable of doing. They won’t come here if they think you are racist pieces of shit. They won’t visit you as tourists. They won’t buy your butter cookies at Christmas. YOU will become a joke. Worse than a joke because no one thinks it is exactly funny that you are racist.

Permanent Residency

Safety Announcement
If you are in Denmark on anything but the EU rules, you may experience light rage stroke symptoms.

The EU has an agreement about the free movement of citizens. It mostly ensures that we get the same treatment all over Europe.

In Denmark, you need to apply for a certificate of registration within 3 months and you are required to support yourself either through study or work. If you stop studying or working, you have a few months grace period to find alternatives.
If you have lived in Denmark for five uninterrupted years, you can apply for permanent residency.

There is precious little on that last part on the Danish websites. This is the best overview of the information available. You need to fill in the same form as when you applied for your registration certificate but you tick a different box.

I could not find much about what I needed to bring, so I looked on other EU country’s websites and worked out I needed to prove I have lived in the country for five years. I guessed I would need a passport photo and my passport. Then I managed to find a memo for staff at the Government Administration offices, somehow, which said which sort of things they could ask to see.

In the end, I brought along my employment contracts, rental agreements and five years of tax statements.

My local office is 30 minutes by train and a further 30 minutes by foot away. The office, I am not kidding, is in a residential area. I thought it was another one of those hilarious smart phone map app mix ups. I rocked up, after braving at least half a centimeter of snow and temperatures of about 1˚C.

All the other foreigners have to go to the Foreigner Affairs office, we get to go to the place where people sort out marriage, divorce, custody and adoption. The place was busy but people were constantly being seen. A handful were foreign like me but I am not sure if they were sorting out immigration or something else.

The lady I needed to see was on lunch break, so I had to wait for her to get back. Then when she did, I filled in my form. The only question I found hard was where I lived five years ago. I lived there for three months and I have had 22 addresses. I did my best with my crappy memory and the use of the internet.

She needed a passport photo, my passport and my tax returns. Then she said the office would consider my application and let me know within 2 weeks. How anti-climatic!

Two days later, I got a letter which was postal marked with the date I visited the office. It said I had permanent residency.

From a purely selfish point of view, I am glad it was easy. I am glad the requirements were fair. I am glad it was straightforward to prove them to the state’s satisfaction. I am glad that I have permanent residency.

From an altruistic one, I am very hacked off that others need to jump through ridiculous hoops. I am angry that the government needs to create these hoops so that fewer people can get permanent residency. I am irritated that they feel the need to do this because the people are irrationally afraid of foreigners.

I think my requirements were reasonably fair and not particularly onerous. I think anyone on a work or study visa should be allowed permanent residency after five years of supporting themselves. I think anyone on family reunification should not have to meet any requirements. (If you marry a Dane, you’re in the tribe.) If I recall correctly, refugees get the same requirements as EU citizens.

Politically, the same is happening throughout Europe. They have particularly cracked down on immigration in the UK, resulting in the same crap as in Denmark. They cannot legislate against EU immigrants, so they crack down on work and family visas just to say that they did.

If companies can take money out of countries more or less as they please, why is it an issue when people want to contribute to the tax pot (not to mention the takings of local businesses)?

Let’s all go look at my CPHPost article

Let’s all go look at my CPHPost article

It’s about Denmark this week.

 

ETA:

Five years ago or so, I moved to Denmark. I was already blogging about the stuff I was getting up to as an attempt to make me accountable for actually doing stuff. As I went through culture shock and all that stuff, I got much more critical.

The more I wrote about the things that annoyed me (from the not-serious areas around culture shock all the way to the most-serious areas around the Northern European political landscape), the more people would either love me or hate me.

Shit man, it is storm in a teacup stuff. But still. I either had people carrying me on their shoulders and lauding me for Telling it Like it is or bashing me and telling me I was a negative piece of shit for having opinions they did not like. I got more and more entrenched especially since the people that liked my work became my friends in real life.

If anyone says anything ‘positive’, everyone says they have “drunk the koolaid”. Or if you do not say anything ‘positive’ for a while, you get called unbalanced and bitter and deserve all your problems. These two ideas spread like poison and most people stopped talking publicly on the internet about Denmark. Not me though.

I started to feel the pressure though, so I just went for pure politics and translated the news or said what I thought about issues of the day. During this time, a friend of mine suggested to the editor of the English language newspaper in Denmark that I should write an opinion column. He took me up on it and I have been writing for them.

At first, I stayed on politics and then I wrote a bit about the culture. Never anything particularly bitter or out of order. Just the sort of stuff you might expect in a newspaper opinion column: immigration, Danishness, cultural weaknesses, political fights, representations of minorities. That sort of thing.

The editor got in touch to ask if I could widen my scope a little bit, so I have written most recently about the trend of weakening protections for workers and trolls online.

Anyway. Whatever. This week, I wrote about what I had learned in five years of living in Denmark. Nothing particularly controversial, just talking about how it feels to ‘go native’ but I knew this time I would catch flak.

And as I feared, the usual suspects are out in force criticising me for being ‘positive’. It’s not my friends or fans (if you can call them that). It is the people who criticise me for being ‘negative’ or a ‘dane-basher’. They are invested in me being an enemy so that they can be a victim. So that they can feel persecuted instead of really evaluating what I have to say.

Newbies: Winter Survival Guide

If you arrived this summer (as so many new arrivals seem to), it is often around this time that culture shock often hits hardest. Let’s assume culture shock is going to get to you this winter. That is pretty normal so it’s reasonable to prepare for it (but it is ok to hope that you will be an exception).

If you have foreigner friends then now is the time you will fall out with them. This is normal. Sometimes it gets nasty. Foreigners who have been here longer than a couple of years have their falling outs a little earlier in the season.

The process of feeling rotten and lonely and miserable and annoyed and bored and angry tends to end around April. The immigrant then declares themselves cured of culture shock and claim it is all because they have gained some insight and become a better person. Oh honey. You just started producing melatonin on the proper schedule and are sleeping better but whatever… OK, you’re a better person now… Except immigrants tend to come unstuck again in October. After a few years of this, you would be grumpy and impatient too.

Here is a spoiler-free Game of Thrones guide to surviving this winter. Let’s go to Westeros! (I’ll act like you’ve seen like a handful of episodes/read a couple of chapters of the first book)

Stay True to Yourself but Fit in Well

Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark is from the south but married a man from the north. At the start of the story, she is living happily in her husband’s country. She always feels like a fish out of water but her husband claims she has gone native because she has had a buttload of his children. She pretty much has adapted to Winterfell but she keeps a lot of her old ways (for example, her religion) She just gets on with it, you know. There is a melancholy though, she misses Riverlands, guys! But she’s a stoic (and also has someone to take out her shit on who can’t fight back).

Go Batshit

Lysa Arryn

Caitlyn’s sister married a guy and moved with him to where his job was. A lot of shit went down and I guess he wasn’t supportive enough? She certainly didn’t have any friends. Anyway, she goes a bit wrong but tries to keep it together for the sake of her kid. She is reasonably successful at this, for a given value of success.

Get Sucked In (and spat out)

Sansa Stark

Caitlyn’s daughter moves to the south to be closer to her boyfriend. She enthusiastically adopts his culture and customs. She rejects everything about her previous culture. She looks forward to being completely accepted by her new country more than anything.

It is actually dangerous for her to be open about her disappointment when King’s Landing does not live up to the hype so she hides her true feelings. She also has to deal with the knowledge that she will never be truly accepted.

Go Native

Daenerys Targaryen

Dani moves to be closer to her husband’s people. She learns his language in a short amount of time and adopts even the gross weird customs of his people. She becomes a part of his people. She fully intends to make a triumphant return to her old country and bring him with her.

Work to Your Own Agenda

‘Lord’ Varys

Mysterious Varys comes from Essos. Despite being a foreigner, he has great power and influence. He has done this by not giving one single fuck about becoming a Westerosi. Sure, he speaks their language but he plays them at their own game and comes out on top.

Flip out for a bit and then settle down by keeping busy

Jon Snow
Jon Snow

Sansa’s older half brother moved even further north for work. It is total bullshit. Almost everyone there is a dick, there is no dating and his career plans are diverted.

He is sad about it and even toys with going back home. In the end, he comes to a sort of peace with his situation and learns to fake it to make it.

Now, I don’t know what method you should use. But this much I know: if you know any Sansas or Lysas or Jons then for heaven’s sake: keep your judgements about their coping strategies to yourself.

Did Lysa go a bit funny because she put out negative energy and deserved bad things while Catelyn adapted well because she was thinking positively? HELL NO! Their (mysterious) background circumstances shaped them and ultimately gave them little choice but to react they way they did.

Did Dani learn Dothraki ways better than Sansa adapted to King’s Landing because Dani was more dedicated and hard working? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Their outside circumstances were completely different and out of their control.

Good luck this winter and be gentle with each other.

What is dead may never die!

(Edited to correct the spelling of Catelyn, thanks A!)

Weird Danes and Expats

I am not an expat. I am an immigrant. I am a long-termer. Not a tourist. I have a completely different perspective on Denmark than someone who is only here for a short-term contract or an actual Dane. Denmark is my home. I have Danish friends. I understand Danish culture. But I am not a Dane.

One of my Danish friends asked me if I wanted to go to a seminar about Danish culture and I did. I did want to go. So, I went to see what I ‘should’ think about Danish culture according to an anthropologist named Dennis Nørmark.

He is very entertaining and his talk was very well pitched. But I had many thoughts and I will share them with you now.

He led with an example about ‘expats’ being negatively affected by Danes not bothering to hold doors open for them. Who knows why they don’t look behind their shoulder to see if there is anyone behind them. I have a few pet theories (their pedagogues don’t teach them to do it in daycare, it wouldn’t occur to them that other people exist, no one else does it etc). Our friend, the anthropologist, says the behaviour is considered too courtly. That Danes view each other as a family, so they do not go to extraordinary lengths (i.e. looking over their shoulder briefly when passing through heavy doors), for them.

The Danes I have spoken to (sample: two), about this say that they would (and do), hold doors open for colleagues and family. So. I am not sure what he thinks he is saying.

I was worrying for the people at the talk because I would hate for them to get the impression that all the behaviour they are interpreting as ‘rude’ is not-rude-for-Denmark. Because, and Dennis didn’t cover this in any detail, there is a lot of that too.

Okay, newbies, listen up. There are some things that are ‘get used to it’ and some things that are ‘rude-for-Denmark’.

In the ‘Get Used to It’ pile, is not bothering to check if someone is behind you when passing through a door. Also, in the supermarket, if a Dane wants to get past, it is not rude to push you out of the way. They do signal the intent to move into your body space, their eyes get defocused and they get closer slowly. You need to look out for it.  The same with not thanking you for putting yourself out (for example, stopping to let someone pass), and barging past you when you are waiting for someone less mobile than you to cross a more narrow walkway.

Why they do this? Fuck knows. I doubt it is because they see each other as family. I am very dubious about this guy’s interpretation of these behaviours. I agree with him that they do not think of themselves as ‘rude’ and a Danish outside observer of these behaviours would also not classify them as such. It’s just what they do here. I would classify it as ‘anti-social’ and call it quits. They don’t want to make contact with other people for cultural reasons, so they go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. Even when it means that the other people they are trying to afford privacy to, by ramming them, making them wait, ignoring their altruism, are put out.

But. Newbies. What you need to start to understand is: there are rude behaviours too. And you will see a lot of them. Because everyone is so shy and conflict averse, they rarely call people out on them. Maybe the Get Used to It behaviours were impolite in Danish culture but everyone was doing it, no one was calling anyone out and now it is normal. Who knows.

Rude behaviours include:- pushing in queues, punching people to get past, swearing at you, urinating on you, racially abusing you etc. You will see some of these. In my first few years, I saw a lot of them. Not so much anymore.

You see, Denmark has its fair share of assholes. But they are rarely challenged. So the culture of Denmark tends towards the assholish. It’s very sad but what can you do? That is not to say the majority of people here are assholes, au contraire, the majority are delightful. But if you realised that it did not truly matter if you shoved someone when getting off the bus, would you bother trying to get down without touching the people pressing from the outside to get in? What is the point? It’s not even rude here.

Then he also said things that were not entirely true. Or true for a certain value of true. In his defence of Dane behaving in a xenophobic way, he said that the Danish culture has been homogeneous for a long time so they are catching up to the multi-culture thing everyone else has going on.

He defended this point of view with the stats that in a period during the 1800s, there were only 20 foreigners a year settling in Denmark.

Not counting the Swedes or the Germans.

And, presumably, not the slaves. And not counting the foreigners already here, like the second gen French in Fredericia and the Dutch in Amager who were just beginning to assimilate in that period.

Not counting the Swedes? Honestly, if you are going to argue from authority and bring up a historical context, you better have done your reading, boy.  The Swedes were hated in the 1800s. The Danes thought they were lazy and thieves and they deported them without so much as a by-your-leave. If you want to make the case that Denmark didn’t have to deal with problems around immigration until the 20th Century, you really ought to draw a veil over the state of play in the 1800s.

Guys, this ‘we have always been homogenous’ get out of jail free card has been revoked. Danish society is xenophobic because there is no consequence for being so. My country had a lot of immigration for its entire history but it did not stop us being pricks throughout and we are still unwelcoming to certain groups. No one has any excuse, not even Denmark.

Now, maybe what he was saying was helpful to short-termers and I should shut the fuck up. Maybe being told ‘it’s just culture, don’t be sad’ is useful for people. Maybe it helps the culture shock process?

But if I had been a newbie and heard his talk, I think it would have upset me. So, I can’t help thinking it is kind of cruel. Also, casting Danes into noble savages that don’t know any better? Give me a fucking break. There are so many polite Danes, it is possible to be kind and show empathy here. I can imagine the cognitive dissonance of being simultaneously upset by selfish or anti-social behaviour and thinking ‘it’s just their culture’ and I don’t think it is fair to put people through that.

I hold onto the fact that other Danes have had enough of the assholes running ting. Thomas Skov and Lars AP would like Danes to be more courteous and friendly. They are Danes. They are part of the culture. So when people are mean to me, I think ‘they are just ignorant peasants and they have major problems with social skills’

I guess he’s right though. People on three year contracts are never going to burst through and fix Danish culture to their tastes and so lowering their expectations will help their psychic balance. And any cultural change will be very slow, so lowering your expectations is a good idea for anyone.

But. I do wish he had kept his interpretations to himself or at least not pretended they were objectively justified.  Because what he was doing wasn’t anthropology, it was travel writing.

Christian Glücklich Bang

One of the myths that people keep spreading about Denmark is that Denmark was ethnically, religiously and culturally homogenous from Viking times until the 1960s when gæstearbejdere and refugees showed up from other countries.

I am reading a book called Fremmede i Danmark (400 års fremmedpolitik): Foreigners in Denmark (400 years of foreigner policy) (ISBN: 87 7492 631 4) published in 1984 which is an academic takedown of this enduring fairy story.  Not that anyone listens.

From the 1600s, while the slave trade was going strong, there were several African slaves in Denmark. The ban on slave trade in Denmark came in 1802, by which time, there were at least 50 black people living in Copenhagen.

You might think “ahh, well, the capital city of a country that has done particularly well out of the slave trade will have a few dozen black people, that’s sort of a given. But there weren’t any people of colour out in the provinces, that’s just silly.”

Fredericia 2013

In Fredericia, where I live, the book gives an account of a man. I’ll type it out here. This extract is from “These wild fellows: Negros in Denmark until 1848” by Poul E. Olsen.

“Baptism of black pagans was often a festive occasion. On the 1st May 1767, a negro was baptised in Fredericia’s Michaelis church. The negro was bought in St. Croix by a Enevold Bang, who died on the return journey and left the negro to his brother, Lars Bang from Fredericia. The negro was, for preparation to the baptism, taught for two years partly at the school and partly by the parish priest. The week before the baptism, he was overheard by the dean of the city in the presence of all the city’s priests.

On the day of the baptism, he was led to the church by the parish priest and after more speeches and hymns than usual at a baptism, the negro, who had recanted his pagan faith, was named Christian Glücklich. For this special occasion, the Jyske Dragoon regiment oboists played in the church.

Christian Glücklich Bang later became a regimental timpanist for the Jyske Dragoon Recruited Regiment. In 1770, he married Apelone Corneliusdatter, with whom he had a couple of children who died in infancy. In 1772, the Jyske Dragoon Regiment moved from Fredericia to Randers and from then on there is no trace of Christian Glücklich.”

There’s some more detail from a magazine write up of a talk given in the 80s by Erik Housted. For example, he married Apelone after she became pregnant with their first son. And Lars Hansen Bang was in the Jyske Dragoon Regiment as quartermaster.

But I have so many questions about this man. Was he born on St. Croix? Was he a freedman when Lars Hansen Bang “received” him in his brother’s will? What was Apelone like? Was he treated like a normal person or an exotic curiosity by the people he knew the best? What happened to him in Randers? Did he feel bad about renouncing his faith or did he truly believe in Christianity? Did he have any more children? Was he happy?

I can’t find anything on him. Except this:-

Bang, Christian Glücklich 1769 regiment timpanist Negro
Bang, Christian Glücklich 1769 regiment timpanist Negro

Welcome to Denmark!

Summer is peak time for the arrival of new immigrants to Denmark. Most of you will be students and only intend to stay for the length of your course. Maybe for work afterwards, if Denmark works out. Some of you will be “expats”, as in, you do not intend to stay longer than five years and you have come for a specific job. Others have come here for a Danish romantic partner.
Welcome!
I am sure you are more than overwhelmed with advice about how to navigate the system and to a large extent, I cannot help you. I got here five years ago, everything I had to do is different. Plus, the things that people from Europe have to do differ wildly from people from the rest of the world. I have no idea what you have to do.
However, here is a checklist to help you settle in:-

  • Join the library
  • Once you have a CPR card, you go to the library and say you want to join. I was worried about doing that in case they were mean because I could only ask in English but they were NOT mean. In the library, there are lots of books to help people learn Danish. Getting you signed up for Danish classes is going to take forever and they aren’t all that anyway. You can use the library without being a member, so if you are waiting on your CPR card, you can just drop in and use the books and then go home.

  • Get apps to learn Danish vocab
  • I used Before You Know It but I wish I had had Memrise back in the day. Vocabulary is the way in to this language.

  • Don’t worry about learning Danish
  • What’s that? Contradictory advice? Didn’t I JUST tell you to learn Danish? Yes. And no. Learn Danish on your own terms. Do not ever get on your own case for being lazy about learning Danish. Learn Danish because it delights you to do so. Learn Danish because it fascinates you. Learn Danish because it makes you happy. Do not learn Danish as penance for being foreign in Denmark.

  • Walk your own path
  • You may be excited to see that there are blogs about living in Denmark from the point of view of an immigrant. You may feel impatient with people (like me), who point out things that are less good about Denmark. I know. I know. But. Just walk your own path. Some of my best friends are Danes, people who like living in Denmark despite living here for AGES and people who like living in Denmark but haven’t been here all that long. I am not saying YOU have to feel a certain way, I have merely expressed my brain juices towards your eyes. We can agree to disagree. You do not need to try to set me straight or school me on proper guest etiquette. If you can ‘Noble Savage’ the Danes, you can extend the courtesy to me. It is my path, let me walk it.

  • Get ready for winter now
  • Like the Starks of Winterfell say, winter is coming. Winter lasts for approximately seven months. The main problem is not the snow or cold or ice. The main problem is the lack of sunlight. People get really weird. Social isolation becomes a huge issue as people “act lonely”. Make plans to do awesome things, they can be in countries you can reach by rail or air. Buy boxed sets or sign up for Netflix. Take an interest in crafts or reading. Look into gym or pool membership, you are not going to want to run in the conditions in February. Find out where you can get vitamin D and calcium from. Make your place as warm and cozy as possible, you are going to be semi-hibernating from September until March.

  • Find out the names of the pastries
  • Copenhagen Cast has a delightful podcast about the names of Danish pastries. You will really feel like you live in Denmark if you can use the bakery even if you do not learn any more Danish than that.

  • Join the union (and the A-kasse)
  • If you have a job, join the union. Unions are very helpful and strong in Denmark. A-kasse is unemployment insurance. (Check if you will be able to claim it if you lose your job) The reason Denmark has good working time agreements is it has the unions, join the union.

  • Get a notebook
  • Make a note of your questions about Danish culture, combine with photos and when you have worked out ‘what’s with the flags on buses?’ then open a blog for business.