Mothers’ Groups

A little caveat before we dive in. Loads of my foreign friends in Denmark have liked their mothers’ group after they had a baby. It’s the luck of the draw.

In my kommune, the health visitors set you up with a group of local women who have given birth within a few weeks of each other. They leave you to it after that. My health visitor asked if I wanted to be part of one and although I was hesitant, I thought it might be nice to meet some of the local families with babies of a similar age to mine.

Usually, they try to match up first time mums and have second (or more) timers in their own groups but that didn’t happen with ours, so half of us were first timers. This changed the dynamic a bit. There was never any “omg, I don’t know how to make baby work!” for example.

My expectations versus the reality were probably what did for me. I expected that we would meet up, go to the couch and have one drink and one cakey/pastry snack whilst chatting for about an hour and then go home.

How long have I lived here?

The reality was this: we met, went to the dining table and then had Danish breakfast for three or four hours. Of course we did.

On the very first meeting, we were having the suggested group discussion of our birth stories and stuff about our families. When it was my turn to talk about the birth, half of the mums walked away to change their babies/prepare a feed. I tried waiting until they got back, that did not fly at all.

During the second hour, I went into a panic. I could never have them at my house. There was no way I could lay on a spread like the first mum had done. Danish breakfast consists of bread rolls (several types), cheeses, hams, jams, juices, hot drinks etc. I might have half of that in the house at any one time and I don’t drive so I could never just pop to the bakery and pick it all up. I would need to do it in advance and at that stage of newborn life, I was barely doing things on time let alone before I needed to.

Her house was immaculate. All of their houses were immaculate. My house was far from a disaster zone but getting it up to spec would have taken several hours. When would I find the time? My front windows looked like we had used privacy film on them. Our back garden looked unkempt and unloved.

Plus, I have a clingy dog. If I had any chance of keeping her from howling the place down if kept separate from the new guests, I would need to tire her out before they came. When would that happen? I was breastfeeding all the damn time. The baby took unpredictable cat naps.

Where would they put their prams? There was nowhere to put them! I didn’t really use ours and certainly not for outdoor naps like they would expect to do. Where would they put their carrycots inside?

I explained to the group that I would not be able to host but could we instead meet in town? Have a coffee? See a movie at the babybio? There was a mixed reception to the idea but in the end, I swapped “my” day with the mother with the youngest baby who was not feeling up to it which was totally understandable. But then they acted like it was never my turn and we would always meet up at their houses. I was starting to go invisible.

I skipped a few meetings here and there too. I had just had a baby, a baby who woke up several times in the night but slept in sometimes until 10am. They always met at 10am. Obviously, I would be using my second language. On no sleep. Although they were all in my village, it was a good 30 minute walk to any of their houses each time. And I’m foreign, so I cannot just jump in with a witty interjection, I have to really weigh up my words and think about what I want to say for ages which means I do not do a lot of talking at all because the conversation moves on. A group of six is too much for me, even in English sometimes.

One mum was super kind and sweet, and texted me to say I should not feel like I could not come because I could not host and I was always welcome at hers. That meant a lot to me.

But whenever I came, I would just end up talking to my baby. If they were showing photos on their phones, it never got passed to me. If my baby was trying to interact, it was only ever two of the mums who would reply to her. The cloak of invisibility was extending to her too, and I did not like that one bit.

The final straw was after coming one week, they decided to take the group photo of all the babies the next week when we were not there. It is such a little thing. Trivial. But it stung and the message was received and understood. She was not part of the group. Because of me. Again, the super kind and sweet mum texted me to say she was sorry I was not coming back. She is a good egg. And that’s not to say that the other mums in the group were not. They were fine. They just did not know how to be inclusive. They did not know how to deal with diversity.

It seems to me that Danish mother’s groups inadvertently enforce certain standards of being Danish. If your house does not fit, if your face does not fit, if you are not using the “right” brands (they all had the same baby monitor, for example and no one was surprised), if you don’t do the same things with your baby (within a set tolerance range of acceptable practices), then you can start to become unwelcome.

In contrast, my international mother group is still kicking along. We meet in cafes and library playrooms and the cinema and bars. We meet semi-regularly and no one is on the outs if they cannot make a meet up or three.  Everyone has their own way of doing things and inasmuch as we discuss it,  it’s basically to get inspiration material. For example, did you know, you can cut your child’s fingernails more easily if you put a pre-schooler show on the tv? Did you know you can make porridge fingers with oats and bananas if your baby does not enjoy eating porridge from a spoon?

My Danish mothers’ group were not openly judgemental about me but they also had nothing to talk to me about because I was so different. I did not even tell them that I had been putting the baby on the potty when I thought she needed to go, with great results. We were already too different, you know? They were probably all going to start weaning at four months, and I was going to wait until the NHS recommended six months. These tiny differences that make my international mothers’ group so enjoyable, were massive chasms that separated me from the Danish mothers.

And that’s just my impression of it. I am sure they have their own impressions of me and why it did not work out.

Birth Prep Danish Style

As a first time mother, I was invited to three birth prep modules which were run by my team of midwives.

The first module was about the mechanics of birth. The second was about the first few days. The third was about my relationship with the baby’s father and mental health following birth.

The mechanics of birth module was Just The Facts, Son. They went through the different stages of labour and discussed what could be expected. There was a tour of the labour ward and a rundown of all the pain relief options. They also gave out enemas to women that were planning homebirths and wanted to use them before the midwife got there.

Mostly, what I took away from the module was that they didn’t want the dads to feel useless. Indeed, much of the discussion centred around “remember! you’re playing an important role, dads! Mums say they couldn’t have done it without you afterwards”

Have to admit, it sort of grated on me. Can’t a guy go for a few hours not being the centre of things without needing his ego plushed up like a flat cushion? Seriously.

The second module was really about breastfeeding. I found it interesting that all the other mums were up for trying breastfeeding from the get go. In my country, there are plenty of women who already know breastfeeding is not for them. Or maybe it is the same in Denmark but they know better than to voice this in public? There was a little bit about how bonding takes place and the different types of poos to be expected in the first few months.

The third module was basically a plea from the Danish state (which planned the module and made the resources), to the parents “not to keep score” about who was having the least sleep or doing the most work. (There was also some stuff about spotting post-natal depression)

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that there are three ways that a relationship can divide labour with a newborn: equally and unequally at the expense of one of the partners. As most women in Denmark appear to be up for breastfeeding in at least the first few weeks/months, I am going to surmise that either the lion’s share of the childcare is performed by the mother or the couple manage to balance the duties out fairly. Cases where the father is doing so much more than the mother that he wants to start a fight about it are going to be very rare.

So, if there are heated discussions amongst hetero couples about this topic, it is almost always going to be the mother asking the father to do more. And the Danish state thinks this is such a bad avenue of conversation that it needs its very own module in childbirth prep class to serve as a warning against.

Fine, keeping score is a rotten way to run a relationship but it is not like the Danish state, via my midwives, offered an alternative schema. Just a blanket injunction against arguments about a lack of cooperation.

Anyway, the end of the session came and they asked if there were any questions. A course mate raised her hand

“I know this is off-topic but I was just wondering, how many hours a day/night should my baby sleep on her belly so she doesn’t get a flat head?”

The midwives reacted with shock

“Goodness, no, babies should never sleep on their bellies! It is associated with sudden infant death syndrome!”

“Alright, on her side then.”

“No! They have to lie on their backs! Their backs!”

“Really?”

“Yes!”

And it highlighted for me how strange it is that the UK’s sleep advice for newborns is completely at odds with the Danish.

One big difference is that the UK recommend babies do not sleep separately from adults (even for naps in the day) for the first 6 months, where Danish families happily pop their babies outside alone in all weathers for naps.

Another is that the UK recommend that newborn babies do not have duvets (overheating risk). Danish hospitals actually put baby duvets on the the “hospital bag” list for expectant parents.

Meanwhile, we get a whole session on avoiding conflict with partners in the first few months but only get told to put the baby on its back to sleep if we specifically ask?

 

New Adventure

So, I’m 21 weeks pregnant.

What has been interesting so far has been the difference in advice that preggos get from British, Danish and American sources of information.

I get the Danish information at my medical appointments, British information online on the NHS website and from forums, and American information from the apps I’ve downloaded to my phone.

One would assume that as this is based on Science and all three countries are reasonably similar, that the advice for those in the family way would be the same.

Not quite.

The best book I read (and one that I recommend to anyone considering starting a family), is “Expecting Better” by Emily Oster. This is a text where an economist goes through the advice given to American pregnant women, examines the evidence for claims and presents the statistics. Some of the stuff we are told is based on practically nothing at all. The injunction against coffee, for example, might be a simple misunderstanding of cause and effect. (Women who cannot stand coffee in the first trimester tend to have better outcomes than women who don’t find its bitterness completely disgusting. So, was it the caffeine that harmed the foetus or was the pregnancy not viable which led to less morning sickness?)

This is how you can have regional variations. A lot of what we are told to Never Ever do is based on cultural standards and prejudices, rather than hard science.

One example: in Britain and the US, we are told to stay away from pâté. This is for two reasons:

  1. Liver pâté has high levels of animal-based vitamin A, an overdose of which is harmful to foetuses
  2. It may contain listeria which is particularly bad if you are pregnant

In Denmark, where liver pâté is a way of life, “Du kan godt spise leverpostej”. They even go as far as to say it has low levels of vitamin A.

What about alcohol? In the US and Denmark, the answer is “hell no, even if you don’t plan on getting pregnant but are having unprotected sex, no no no”, whereas Britain, the advice is “not in the first trimester. Take it real easy in the second. One or two won’t hurt.”

In the UK, they offer whooping cough vaccinations to women at my stage of pregnancy. In the US, they offer it in the third trimester. In Denmark, my midwife had to look up what ‘kighoste’ even was, and looked like I was asking about getting a smallpox vaccine. (Though she did say “it’s not really a thing here but if you’re going back to the UK with the baby before it has the standard vaccines, maybe it’s an idea to talk to the doctor about getting the vaccine here”)

Gestational diabetes in the UK is screened for if:-

  • your body mass index (BMI) is above 30
  • you previously had a baby who weighed 4.5kg (10lbs) or more at birth
  • you had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • one of your parents or siblings has diabetes
  • your family origins are south Asian, Chinese, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern

In the US, if you

  • Had a previous pregnancy with gestational diabetes
  • Had a baby born weighing over 9 pounds.
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Are more than 25 years old.
  • Have a family history of diabetes.
  • Are African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.
  • Are being treated for HIV

and in Denmark, if you

  • previously had gestational diabetes
  • have a family history of diabetes (type 1 and 2), in grandparents, parents, siblings or own children
  • had a BMI over 27 before pregnancy
  • had previous delivery of a large child (over 4.5 kg)
  • are diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome
  • are pregnant with multiples

The advice is similar but not identical. All this reminds me of the saying “The man with one watch always knows what time it is, the man with two watches is never completely sure.”

In some ways, it has helped me get through everything with less stress and guilt. Each government is trying their best to interpret what they know but for all their injunctions and pronouncements, they aren’t completely sure. This means if I inadvertently do something that is considered harmful in one territory, I can take the advice with a pinch of salt, and skip the guilt.

 

 

 

Danish Winters I have Known

2008-9: My First

The nights drew in, the skies got overcast and it stayed like that until March. There was rain and wind but mostly it was dark. It snowed once and my students insisted on being let out to play. I refused them saying the snow would be there at the end of school.

“No, it won’t. In Denmark, it snows for a couple of hours, melts and that’s it.”

As someone who thought they were coming to Scandinavia, this shocked me. That sounded very much like England.

The lack of sunlight got to me, I remember being confused about patches of sunlight coming in through my living room blinds. “What’s wrong with the floor?” I thought.

I went away for a trip around Europe in February and came back to reasonably deep snow.

February snow
February 2009 

2009-10: My Second

So, I had my Christmas holiday tickets all booked, all ready to go for the evening of the last day of school. Then the night before the last day of school, there was a snow storm. I walked to work in it, it was crazy. The snow came up to my knees in some drifts, something that had not happened since 1986 and my knees were substantially closer to the ground. One driver got snowed in taking a corner and he leapt out with a shovel and dug himself out efficiently. I got to work, feeling like a boss, and they cancelled school. They said it was exceptional and many of the teachers out in the suburbs of Erritsø, Børkop, Brejning et al couldn’t get to work. We had bread rolls and took down Christmas decorations and then went home.

I decided against flying out until later in the weekend.

When I came back in the new year there was still snow everywhere. I asked when it was leaving. Spring, they said.

December 2010
December 2009

The weather regularly got below freezing point, sometimes to double figures. I felt a lot better about the winter, despite the hardships of trudging through snow that had not been powder for quite some time. Every journey was a happy hormone dispensing trip because it was physically such hard work. Plus, it was not as dark because the snow reflected what little light there was.

2010-11: My Third

The winter was incredibly cold and there was quite a bit of snow. The snow fell and then stuck around until March or April. By then, I knew how to deal with it. Tights under legs, lots of t shirts as vests and gloves. I would get hot and sweaty as I tackled the packed snow but I would only feel the cold in my thigh muscles and on my face. I took to wearing a scarf around my face to keep my asthma in check.

I stayed in Denmark for Christmas, having learned my lesson about trying to fly in winter.

December 2010
December 2010

2011-12: My Fourth

The winter was at an almost subtropical 2˚C most of the time, except February when it was proper brassic and snowed a little bit. This was also the month that I moved in with my boyfriend, so we had to negotiate a metal spiral staircase with sofas in freezing, icy conditions.

2012-13: My Fifth

Really cold. Really really cold. There was snow still at Easter.

Easter 2013
Easter 2013

2013-14: My Sixth

Relatively warm but there was snow and it stuck around for a little while. There was a massive storm that messed up all the trains.

Autumn 2013 "We cannot drive the trains"
Autumn 2013
“We cannot drive train”
April 2014
April 2014

 

2014-15: My Seventh

Moved up north so in a slightly different microclimate. Started out pretty mild but woke up on Christmas day to a thick blanket of snow. This melted but was replaced a week ago. Now they are saying it will stay cold until spring.

January 2015
January 2015
A few weeks later in January 2015
A few weeks later in January 2015

All the while, people keep telling me Danish winter is ‘typically’ like my first and all six of my other winters are outliers. Seems suspicious to me. I think this is how winters are in Denmark now.

 

 

Elegy

This is hard to write. Trigger warnings all over the place.

An old student of mine took her life this time last year. I think about her often. This is to her.

My first, temporary response to the news of your death was relief. Because I was sure the bad news was going to be the Worst News and then I thought I was being told you were only going to be late to the writing meeting. Relief is what I felt. Then your friend went on with the news and it hit me that it was indeed the Worst News and I felt confusion. Confusion before grief.

I looked up how you had died and it took some time because the news were being responsible. Even though your death was news worthy, they kept it out of the headlines. Suicide can spread you see. If the news report a suicide in a certain way, young people can ‘catch’ the compulsion. So, you were a person under a train where ‘all signs pointed to suicide’. Not a fifteen year old girl. Not a K-pop fan. Not a funny, shy and fiercely intelligent young lady. A person. Who died and stopped the trains for a few hours.

I want to smash everything at the thought that your impact on the world was a few hours delay on the trains. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

If I could have told you this somehow:- That genuinely and honestly this adolescence shit does get better even though it is pretty grim for a long time. Would that have made any difference? Could it have done?

Your mother opened a Facebook memorial for you and posted all your gawkiest childhood pics. Just like when my friend died of leukaemia and her mum played Bon Jovi at the wake. She kept calling you a ‘princess’ and ‘beautiful’. You were beautiful. Oh my god, the hearts you were about to break, girl. But that wasn’t the best of you. It wasn’t the most remarkable thing about you. It wasn’t YOU.

Maybe you were a princess inside but that is not what I associate with you at all. You weren’t some fucking girl in a big dress and a tower waiting for some boy to make you a woman. You were a bad ass. You were quietly subversive. You were hilarious. You were a little bit nuts in a good way. You were bookish and shy. You were fierce and brave.

And the way you took care of your friends and the fun you had.

So. I do not know what happened to you and why you felt the way you did. I wish I could have helped you. I wish you had accepted help from anyone at all. I don’t understand what happened. I did all the research I could. Exhaustively searching the internet for clues. Some meaning in it all. Eventually, I just talked to your friends and they told me that you were on an upswing. That you waited for a time when you were feeling the best, so you could never get so low again. We visited your grave. A day of three people not believing what just happened and not knowing what to say to each other.

A teacher at my new school put up a sign in the staffroom “Teaching is the ultimate act of optimism”. I don’t think I agreed with it until now. I taught you and I tried to make your life better. I hoped against hope that you would go on to have a great life. And you won’t. You died as a child. You didn’t get to see that all these thoughts are an illusion. That they pop up and try to pull your strings. But they are nothing. They are brain acid burps. Depression lies.

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?

 

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″

 

 

I would have done it for anyone

Northside is a great festival, everyone. It’s big enough to attract bands that I have wanted to see live for ages and it’s small enough that there is not an excessive waiting time for most things (and consequently people are friendlier).

Roskilde is friendly-ish but tempers flare from time to time.

Also, there is no camping at Northside, so people have less opportunity to get tanked up at their tent and then roll into the festival ground half cut. If you want to get drunk at Northside, it’s pretty much at regular festival prices.

Here’s a little compare/contrast for you. On the Saturday, I sat with a friend from work at a picnic table. I was not that bothered about any of the bands on Saturday, so was happy just to hear their sets from afar. I spoke to loads of people that day. Some of them were friends of friends, some of them were randoms. I spoke in mostly English but did have a couple of Danish conversations (with drunks) too. It was pretty great.

On Sunday, before the bands I wanted to see came on, I explored the indie area and watched some poets on the little stage. I also checked out an area for encouraging people to have conversations. There were little signs up about ‘don’t use mobiles’, there were games and a ball pit. There were also some conversation starters. As friendly and fun as that area was, it was pretty much just being used by children. The adults that accompanied them, they were sitting staring into space, not talking to anyone. I was only there for a short time so maybe it was a hotbed of conversation and contact between strangers at other times.

I felt sad for Danish people at that point. Their cultural expectation is that it is very rude to talk to anyone. That’s pretty much the same in the UK, unless more rudeness is committed by NOT talking. So, in the UK, it is possible to start conversations with randoms if you are, for example, in a special area dedicated to starting conversations with randoms. Or if you need to communicate or negotiate something vital (for example: it’s super rude not to ask “Can I pull this blind down/open this window/move this bag/get past you?” and a tiny bit rude not to say “Those doors don’t open at this stop, you need to walk down the carriage.”), whereas in Denmark, it appears to be rude to say anything in any of these scenarios.

This means they only get to speak to people they know and, I guess, friends of friends. Except Danes aren’t that good at blending friendship groups. I’ve heard of parties where the row club friends sit in the kitchen and the colleague friends sit in the living room and both groups try to pretend the other does not exist. Not to mention, these sort of parties with separate friendship groups are rare. No wonder they have no time in their calendar to meet new people, if they need a separate event for each of their sets of buddies.

Not that groups of Danes aren’t trying to get this to change. After all, I got to make these observations at a place set up by Danish people trying to get Danish people to talk to each other. There is definitely a movement to get these conversations going. They are needed, not just on a purely social level, but also to spark new ideas. Cities accelerate development and  innovation partly because people bump into each other and exchange their thoughts.

Anyway. On the way back from the festival ground, there are no buses past 11pm or something, so you have to walk a couple of kilometres to the next bus stop. It’s not as if the city council of Aarhus could lay on extra buses on that weekend, jesus. While I was walking to the bus stop, I noticed a man who was in a bad way.

He was weaving left to right in a drunk manner. Every time he veered left, he ended up in the bike lane. Bikes were coming past regularly and at a fair old whack. All he needed to do was badly time a left swerve with a bike and it would be goodnight Vienna.

So. I ran to catch him up and stood on his left. I marked him like it was netball, he slowed down: I slowed down. He sped up: he sped up. Then the inevitable happened and he swerved hard into me. I caught him and smiled. I said

“You alright?”

and he said

“No.”

I said

“Aww. Is there anything I can do to help?”

And he looked at me and he started muttering about how great this was and he hugged me. So we walked along, his arm around my shoulders. He asked me if I was Italian. He said that this would never happen. Never ever happen. This is so great.

I asked him if he needed to catch a bus or anything and he didn’t understand me. I tried in Danish. Even less understanding. He took my hand and said “I don’t understand you. Sorry. I’m Danish. But I understand THIS.” and squeezed my hand.

He asked me where I lived and I asked him where he lived. He pointed across the junction

“Just over there.”

Then he smiled and said

“Sorry but I have to run.” and he let go of my hand and ran across the junction. I yelled

“OK, well be careful!”

I think Danish culture is ready for people being more friendly and kind to each other. I know I saw a lot of people helping walking wounded after the many inevitable drunk-on-a-bike accidents all along that ring road. But it really needs more people being up for making contact and saying “You alright?” Prevention is always better than a cure.

Don’t feed the trolls

I write for the English language newspaper Copenhagen Post sometimes. Not that that is a secret.

A few months back, I took a recommendation to write about what it is like to be the partner of a soldier who has been deployed to a war zone.

I was as honest as I could be. I am not just a partner of a soldier but also a pacifist. I mean, ok, there are some occasions where I could be persuaded that violence is part of a reasonable response to a situation but conflicts like Afghanistan just do not make the cut.

Afghanistan is a mismanaged, imperialistic clusterfuck of a conflict. Having my boyfriend deployed there did not make me change my mind. It made me do as much background reading as possible which strengthened my opinion and gave it justifications grounded in fact and testimony.

That’s not to say that I think my boyfriend is a bad person for being involved. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. I don’t think he is. I think he was trying in his clumsy, misguided way to make the country a better place for those living there. We all do our best. Sometimes we do the wrong thing. I’m not mad at him, or any individual soldier. I am mad at the war machine, crisis capitalism, 24 hour news cycle, corrupt political systems and powerful men who avoided ever fighting in a conflict but send young people to fight them on their behalves.

Anyway. I wrote about that in different words. I got attacked by people who think ‘support the troops’ means ‘support the war’ and the corollary ‘if you don’t support the war, then you hate the troops’.

The world is black and white. You are either with us or against us.

One of those guys got under my skin. I don’t know why. I should have expected pushback. I thought I had worded it so that even the very patriotic would understand the bind I was in. Maybe not empathise with it or even sympathise. But just to recognise it. Just to recognise that I had gone through some shit and that the usual consolations of the partner of a deployed soldier were not available to me.

He did not recognise me as a human being. He did not recognise my suffering. He did not respect me or show me any kindness. He just assumed that he could be rough and unkind with me because I was just some bitch who did not support the war without question.

The comments he has left on the site since then have done nothing to rehabilitate his image in my eyes. He is mean spirited and unkind. He also appears to be not all that smart. (He might be book smart but his critical thinking facilities leave much to be desired)

So, why would I engage with him? Why would I bother to talk to him ever again? He’s a prick and we would probably never get on.

Though, actually, if we met in real life, he would probably like me. It’s not like I tell soldiers and relatives that I am against the war when I first meet them. It’s often a consolation and a comfort, this idea that the war is just.

But the point was: where is my consolation and comfort? Do all relatives of deployed soldiers have to brainwash themselves into believing in the war, if they were not already on that side? Are we only worthy of respect and support if we toe the party line?