Shit advice

I have been feeling pretty zen about Denmark recently and have also not been reading the news (coincidence?), so I wasn’t sure what I could talk about.

Some of my hate-readers hate that I talk about my health problems. HEALTH PROBLEMS ON A BLOG? It almost boggles the mind. Well, prepare to be bamboozled.

My immune system is all like Clive Dunn in Dad’s Army, flapping around, telling everyone not to panic. There are few systems in my body that L Cpl Jones the Immune System has not whipped up into a state of frenzy. I am being treated for hypothyroidism, polycystic ovaries, insulin resistance and asthma. (Yesterday, I had a prick test, where they rubbed cat hair and mould into tiny cuts in my body to see if it got itchy. It turns out I am allergic to all of the things. They also gave me some drug which increased my lung function by 95% or something. Shit the bed)

Anyway, while I was at the thyroid appointment, I mentioned that I had put on a tonne of weight very suddenly and waah waah. The doctor (who I love), referred me to a dietician. And I went because although I know what I am supposed to eat, I am not really eating it because it’s really hard to avoid bread and potatoes in Denmark. Plus, sugar is NICE and if I gave up sugar fulltime, then what would the point even be? And I know I am supposed to balance my shit out with protein but how much nuts is that really supposed to mean because I am so over nuts.

The dietician was a disappointment, instead of finding out what I knew just questioned me on different headings.

“So, how much dairy do you eat?”

“I like Greek yoghurt and skyr, I guess?”

“OK, so try putting oat flakes on top of that to slow down the absorption. Only drink a small amount of milk, it contains sugar. What about potatoes?”

“I only eat a small amount of potatoes.”

“Only have three small ones unless you are active, then you can have four”

and instead of saying “You know what, you need to be eating like all of the vegetables and exercising a metric fucktonne because this insulin resistance is not going to go away without those changes,” she said

“So, you’re English, right? That must mean you eat a lot of white bread. Have you learned to eat dark ryebread yet?”

I said I didn’t like it but I only ate wholemeal bread and didn’t recognise the stereotype, actually. She was like “Woah, ok, mind blown”

I got out a book about insulin resistance and showed it to her, saying I had read it and understood the advice in it. She said her student had read it and she gave me a pamphlet about PCO and how insulin levels vary depending on what you eat.

Then she handed me this:-

Good LUCK, vegetarians
Good LUCK, vegetarians

For those who cannot read Danish, it suggests six slices of bread a day to someone with insulin resistance. And artificial sweetener in drinks. And slimming bars. You’re supposed to have 300g vegetables and can choose between processed meat, jam and cheese as toppings for the bread. Less a “healthy eating plan”, more a “eating disorder”.

I entered it in to one of those food diary websites to find out if it was nutritionally balanced.

Even though the plan was supposed to bring me below 1200 calories, if I followed the advice I would be eating 1400 calories. I would be getting 19g too much sugar, 49g too much protein and 754mg too much sodium. I would be getting 4g too little fat on this plan. As if dietary fat were the enemy in insulin resistance.

And I don’t even LIKE all those guidance numbers, they are a snapshot of the prejudices of the nutritionist that wrote them rather than any hard and fast rule about what you need to stay healthy.

The thing that gets me about this plan is how artificial sweeteners are so glibly promoted. When even in people without insulin resistance, these additives make people’s insulin spike (the body goes “OH BOY OH BOY, SUGAR! Better call Mr Pancreas!” and then out comes Ms Insulin who knocks on all the cell doors and says “Open up for some yum-yums!” and also “Let’s put this sugar away for later!” and so if you have artificial sweeteners, your cells are like “Where’s the party?” and then “OMG I AM SO HUNGRY” and then you eat actual sugar which is then helpfully deposited in your liver to be transformed into fat and stored if you do not exert yourself in the next few hours/day. And if you tease the cells too much with this, they start to tell Ms Insulin to shut up which leaves more for transformation into fat for storage)

NO ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS.

Also, what the actual fuck is going on with all that bread, cheese and ham? What I really need is a way of getting decent sources of non-animal fat and protein into my body without taking in too much salt at the same time. The way you do this is: vegetables. (And seafood, I guess because although they are animals, they have unsaturated fat which is the best sort.)

Whatever. I had a week off of school (and commuting), and lost the weight pretty much. It was stress everyone! I am not making particularly bad choices when I eat usually, it’s just that I am more likely to pick something that is not great because I am feeling down or stressed. Plus, being hungry in downtown Aarhus means that I either get an unhealthy snack because that is all that is available or I wait over an hour to get home (which is bad for my hormones for other reasons).

The constant stress hormones mean that whatever I eat, I am more likely to store fat because my body believes I was in a marathon or a war or something.

Now, I didn’t expect Denmark to be ahead of the curve with the thinking around nutrition but I also did not expect a dietician whose ONLY JOB it is, is to know what sort of foods are healthy for particular groups to recommend a diet that would make me fatter, mess with my insulin and raise my blood pressure.

The science isn’t secret, the discussion isn’t new. She has even read the same books I have, in Danish (we exchanged notes), but she has been completely blinded to what constitutes a healthy diet by her culture.

Now, here’s the dilemma. Do I go back to the appointment and tell her off or just cancel it quietly? I mean, the first possibility will make for one hell of a blog post but what it will do for my stress hormone levels, I am not sure.

Femte juli

I must have blogged about the 6th July parades in Fredericia before. That sounds like something I would have definitely done. (Oh look, two years ago)

Less well documented by me is the 5th July celebrations. This is because I have never observed them before although I have heard the canon fire from my house.

 

The statue Landsoldaten (
The statue Landsoldaten (“The Foot Soldier”) in Fredericia, Denmark. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

This time I managed to see the whole thing. I had the least honourable of intentions. My boyfriend is serving in the military and they make him march around sometimes and this was one of those times and I hoped to put him off like if he was a ceremonial guard of a queen or someone, I would definitely come see him at work and make faces at him.

I woke up this morning thinking “I can smell flags!” (smells like tents), and when I looked out of my window, there were flags as far as the eye can see. Which is remarkably less magical than waking up to blankets of snow, I can exclusively reveal.

So, what happened was this:- when the sun went down, a bunch of people brought down some flags (one on the ramparts, a few around the statue of the unknown soldier and one of each of the Nordic nations), simultaneously. This seemed historically inaccurate to me, Sweden and Denmark might be buds now but back then not so much.

I was stood next to three soldiers who seemed to be the only people in the town square who were saluting the flag as it went down, which is pretty much every Dane’s duty or something (NB: not an actual Danish duty).

Then a bunch of people walked past with burning torches. These people included:- a marching band, a bunch of actual war veterans (and some other soldiers), a dressing-up group of old-timey people, everyone else who likes holding torches but not pitchforks.

I raced the parade down to the beach and got some good shots of my boyfriend looking miserable and then I raced him around town until the procession ended. Some thoughts occurred (and it is probably just as well I deleted twitter in a fit of ‘but I’m not SAYING anything on there’ because I would have tweeted the shit out of this), the most pressing was “gee, I am glad I am not in the military”.

I am a teacher. My job has existed for a long time. Yet, I am not required to know how to teach children like it’s 1799. I do not have to, on ceremonial occasions, hit children for misbehaviour.

And yet, the military, who ride around in tricked out vans and walk around like normal people while fighting actual wars are expected to know how to do a thing that has not been relevant in battle since (not a military historian, so guessing), relying on sharp objects was replaced with more explodey and projectilish ways of murdering others.

Why march? It isn’t an efficient way to travel, it isn’t comfortable (if something chafes you, you’re not going to get to move it until the march is over which results in very real consequences involving blood), it is dangerous on bridges. No modern soldier needs to know how to march for any professional reason.

Plus, and I proved this multiple times, it is not very fast and someone with a camera phone and the will to take as many distracting photos as possible, can outwalk a marching army. Take that, military history.

Then we arrived at the old town hall. Something you need to know about Fredericia is that there are loads of old people’s homes. Whenever a public building closes (which is often), they suggest opening another home. Now, almost every building in Fredericia is opposite an old people’s home. You should not be shocked to hear that there is an old people’s home directly opposite the old town hall. The old people were watching on, there appeared to be an old people’s home party on one of the terraces. One of my prayers is “Don’t let me grow old in Denmark” and it is partly the fear of being invited to a 5. juli speech terrace party that lights a fire beneath my behind.

Loads of the soldiers who stood there recently returned from a war zone. There will be no commemorative marches or special parades more than a hundred years later to any of the things they did. This is because everything they did was in someone else’s country. They really should think about having a civil war every now and then, just to keep the historical marches relevant. Maybe they could ask someone to invade.

I am not sure how much time is spent on marching around to get this duty right and I am torn between thinking “Good, keep them busy, it’ll stop them going off and bombing something” and “For heaven’s sakes, my taxes are paying for defence and security, this is an unacceptable waste of their time.”

They asked a police commissioner to make a speech and god knows what he said because he was a mumbler. No one was listening to him, not the old people, not the children (out at 11pm! Scandal!), not the soldiers, not the marching band. It was not about the war with the a-little-bit-more-German-Danes but rather something about him being a police commissioner.

(On the actual 6th July, we will be getting Prince Henrik (the French one, married to the Queen), which should be good for a laugh. )

Then a band played everyone out and that was that.

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.

Cultural Imperialism

I have lived in Denmark for nearly five years now. This is quite a long time and is almost the longest I have lived anywhere. (Record to beat: six years in Cardiff). When people ask me where I am from, I say “London” which is bollocks because I lived there for three years. I am almost “from” Denmark, statistically speaking.

Home is where the heart is
(Photo credit: countrykitty)

What is awkward about being a critical thinker abroad, is that I think critical thoughts but not many people think I should be allowed to express them. Back in the UK, I could criticise racism and boorishness to my heart’s content. Over here, even though this place is my home, I am seen as a terrible cultural imperialist if I say anything other than “how quaint!”

Here is a little story for you: I was walking down the street with a friend in Copenhagen and two very drunk older gentlemen stopped us so they could flirt. They spoke excellent English and we had a good chat. One of them asked if I liked Denmark and I looked sad and said no.

He said (and I didn’t make notes so this isn’t a direct quote, it’s a paraphrase)

“Good girl! It’s a terrible place. Terrible. Do you know what the three worst things about Denmark are?”

And he let rip. I will summarise: inferiority complex, superiority complex and Jantelov. Then he said:-

“Happiest country in the world my ARSE. They are all depressed. Everyone is mentally ill. Happiest country! And people refuse to take jobs they think are beneath them, so they end up on benefits and then they cannot get a job that is not beneath them because they have been unemployed and they stay on benefits for the rest of their lives. And the alcoholics, they stay sick because no one helps them,”

And I just listened in stunned silence. People are oh-so eager to tell me how the source of all small-mindedness in Denmark is “the old people”. This has never been the case.

If I say anything on these themes then I am shut down for being a cultural imperialist. I do not want Denmark to be like the UK. Very not. I just do not want to live in a country where it is seen as so routine and normal to call certain cultures ‘barbaric’ that it only makes the news if the cultures in question find out and hit the roof.

This is an awkward stage to be in: to feel at home in a culture but being expected to keep quiet about my opinions because I am not seen as really belonging to it.

How I’m Doing

My boyfriend is back from Afghanistan and it is going okay. We had our 72 hour storm on my birthday but after that, we have fallen into the comfortable pattern of co-habiting pretty much as we left off. YAY!

Work is going ok. Like, as if I am going to talk about that here! But it is exciting to be working as part of the international community, providing something that other foreigners have said they need and value, in a city which has a lot going for it. They are working me very hard and my evenings are spent in an exhausted heap. But I guess I already knew that was going to be the case.

I am excited about moving to Aarhus but no news on when the Big Move will happen. We really really like our apartment (he speaks American English, so now, *I* speak American English), and we would only really want to move if the new place had as much going for it as this one. Another hitch is that he has changed his mind about future plans. No more “leaving the army and going to school in Aarhus”, so if we move, he will have to commute. Understandably, he is not that into the idea.

Not that I am exactly pleased to be spending four hours a day in transit. Two of them, I can work and the rest I can listen to music or audiobooks, so it is not a total bust. But getting the internet going is difficult and a lot of my work requires the internet.

But yes, plans are up in the air.

Aarhus seems to be the place for me. The new crop of “expat” temporary immigrant have been forewarned about the social isolation of Scandinavia, so they have started clubs and meetings and are making things very cozy for themselves. I could be a part of that. Meanwhile, my Danish is pretty acceptable, so I can access all the entertainment options of the city. Sure, I would like to give another country a try. My feet are itchy, now I have forgotten what it is like banging your head repeatedly against a language barrier.

I also have three jobs now. My main one: at the international school. A part time one: at a gymnasium. A freelance one: at Copenhagen Post. If you are an immigrant wondering why you do not have a job, it is probably because I got yours. Sorry about that.

What is great is that I am 32 and I can see several forks in the road ahead of me. Work in an international school in a new country, work in an international school in my old country, work in an international school here. Have kids, don’t have kids, adopt. Work in a gymnasium, work freelance. So, it is pretty exciting right now. I know that options narrow sharply at a certain age, after certain decisions.

Fucking Flink Live

The Flink movement is something I have banged on about covered here a few times. I guess it steams my milk because it is something I desire for Denmark but feel like a terrible imperialist by trying to be the change I want to see in the world.

I have previous, London has a rep for being cold and rude so as soon as I moved there, I was double polite and friendly to try to tip the balance. What helped was that I called myself a Londoner within about 10 months of living there. I have lived in Denmark for 18 months longer than in London and I still call myself a Londoner and not a Dane. (I lived in Cardiff and Stafford for six years each and I never said I was from there so maybe it’s because Londoners can be outsiders to London)

I digress. The Fucking Flink movement, is to try to introduce a bit of kindness and consideration between strangers in public in Denmark.

Political considerations aside, it is this unkindness and lack of consideration that I like least about living here. When people are kind or considerate here, I think about it all day. All day.

Lars AP was persuaded to come to Fredericia by the library. What a treat! Another digression: when I tell people that I don’t get on with Danish culture, if they come from somewhere else they blame F town. Outrageous. There’s loads going for my town.

He started by talking about how Danes are the happiest. He seemed convinced by the studies (I am unconvinced by that’s by the by) but he brought up the paradox: If Danes are so happy, why don’t they have the energy to spread the joy?

If it were my talk, my question would be “studies show that if strangers smile at you, you feel much happier than if they scowl or ignore you in a walking down the street situation. How on EARTH are Danes happy?” But it wasn’t so there we are.

He also revealed that as a bilingual child, he was aware that in English he was more outgoing, curious, kind and friendly than in Danish. He also used the dirty word for bilingual to describe himself, several times, so I am in love.

With that set up, he talked about how “Flink” isn’t a sexy word and not something people aspire to. I didn’t know that. In English “nice” is unsexy (friend zone) but “considerate”, “curious”, “friendly” and “kind” are neutral. Maybe a bit sexy depending on the context.

Then he gave five ways of increasing Flink interactions. His main thrust was it starts with the individual, it is nice to be nice and so on.

When he asked the audience (80% pensioners), what they could do to make Fredericia famous for flinkhed, the discussion was limited by imagination. Not that they were bad ideas. Just limited. They need more coaching.

For example, the first few things were about how to persuade others to be more Flink in the dog poo situation. Irresponsible dog owners leave dog poo on the streets. The majority of the discussion was about how to get them to pick it up. Poking Danish flags in the turds was suggested. But I had always taken that to be more passive aggressive than Flink. I’m not knocking it, it works!

Then there was talk about getting the borough to introduce a Flink initiative. Another guy blamed the press for focusing on “negative” stories. Lars put both of these back on the individual. “Make the positive news more newsworthy and the media will run with it.” for example.

It seems to me that the ones willing to share with the group had missed the point. This journey starts beneath our feet. We need to be kinder and funnier with strangers. How can WE do that? What behaviours of ours are the equivalent of leaving poop in the street? What can we do ourselves to make things better for everyone? There’s no point waiting on the borough to do something and it’s not especially Flink to try to modify the poor behaviour of others with passive aggression.

I am excited because maybe the movement will strike a chord and things will change but I’m also nervous because it looks like I’ll need to roll up my own sleeves.

A lack of familiarity with flinkhed has led to a lack of facility with it. The people of my town need to be shown and not told. Over and over. But I am hopeful even though I am over faced by the challenge.

Plato’s Cave and Complacency

One argument I regularly have to field is

“Sure Denmark isn’t perfect. Nowhere is.”

This comes in variants, depending on how shitty the other person is feeling about what I just said.

“Your country isn’t perfect, either. HA!”

and

“SURE I HOPE YOU CAN FIND A PERFECT COUNTRY. AND THEN MOVE THERE. TO THAT PERFECT COUNTRY.”

Don’t you think I know nowhere is perfect? Oh, honestly! But for as long as we are living in Plato’s cave, I can see the perfect country projected on the wall.  I can see how it would look, what would happen there and how it would make me feel.

My country used to upset me a lot because it fell short of its potential in several areas. Denmark upsets me for the same reason in different areas.

Everyone everyone! It’s okay to talk about how a country isn’t perfect! I appreciate the good bits but I reserve the right to talk about the rubbish bits, too.

Please, if you are an immigrant to any country, do not feel like you are a “guest” and may not talk freely. (Exception: if you live in a country which enforces your silence with threats or actual violence). Last weekend, an immigrant of 14 years told me that “weather” transformed my country into a 3rd world nation. If he felt like a “guest”, I never would have had that refreshing perspective. I never would have laughed and said “You’ve got that right!” Who knows, sharing that perspective with the right person, would lead to the UK getting better at weather. Stranger things have happened.

Stop enforcing complacency, everyone! The only way anything every gets done or improves, is if people can look at things from all angles.

No, nowhere is perfect. Let’s embrace that and make the place we are living in as good as it can be.

Whatever you say I am, that’s what I’m not.

Funny how people react to criticism of Danish culture. If you start a blog in which you tackle the day-to-day situations involved in integrating into another culture and then you mention some of the not-so-good things then you open yourself up to abuse. This, I think, is ridiculous.

Now, obviously, there are foreigners who live in Denmark who are having a whale of a time. They are a good match for the culture, they don’t get any hassle from the borough, they find a nice job, their colleagues and people they meet socially are nice. These people have lovely times in Denmark. YAY! Good for them!

So, why then, do people who say they are having a great time feel the need to attack me if I say I have had problematic experiences or if I take the experiences of others and average these out and talk generally about the culture of Denmark?

The personal attacks I have had most recently are:-

  • You hate Denmark
  • You imagine Danes hate you
  • You treat “the Danes” like animals
  • You deserve to be treated like a twat
  • You treat people aggressively
  • You are unhappy
  • You are lonely
  • Any bad experiences you have are YOUR fault
  • You are negative
  • You are unhappy
  • You cannot speak the language

Apart from being untrue, these are not arguments and they do not address my points. They are “ad hominem” and “tu quoque” arguments. They are caused by the human brain distorting reality.

  • Someone else’s problems are always more simple than our own.
  • Someone else’s misfortune is more likely to be their fault, where our own is seen to be in the lap of the gods.
  • Our own success is seen as deserved, other’s success was pure luck.

So. If you have two people. One person has spent the last four and a half years in Fredericia and has very few Danish friends and most of her friends are from other countries, another person has spent the last year in Copenhagen and has many Danish friends.

The Copenhagen one is going to think “That Frederician girl has no friends because she’s a negative bitch.” The Frederician one is going to think “That Copenhagener has got more friends through blind luck!”

And neither would be right.

I have very few Danish friends because

  1. I live in Fredericia. (Famous only for its drug addicts, prostitutes and petty criminals.)
  2. Most of the people I work with have families and are therefore very busy
  3. I didn’t speak Danish when I first came

Someone in Copenhagen might have more Danish friends because

  1. People move to Copenhagen from their shitty Jysk villages, they are desperate to make new friends
  2. People in certain industries are better travelled and cosmopolitan
  3. Certain industries have a younger workforce, who are up for more socialisation

You could call it luck or circumstances but you most certainly could not start to blame the individuals.

How on earth could a stranger hope to make an accurate assessment of the situation based on 600 words on the internet? Even if I got someone to follow me around with a clipboard for a week/month/year, I think they would find it hard to tell me exactly what it was I was “doing wrong” because I’m not doing anything wrong. Plus, they would be more careful because a real life human being would be in front of them.

It is so easy for these so-called “positive” people to judge me and find me wanting. It is so easy to invent faults and attack me.

If they were truly positive, they would treat me graciously and with compassion. Instead, they rely on cheap attacks.

Let me tell you something, “positive” people. I have been here for nearly five years. For every one of “I am having a great time!”, there are at least three people who tell me “I am having a shit time,”. I met a woman who almost cried when she whispered “I thought it was just me.”

This shit HURTS, this shit is mentally damaging. Every time I go abroad or back home, I make new friends.

I am rather personable. If I had to stay here all year around, and I had to listen to “you get out what you put in”, I would quickly go mad.

Obviously, no one wants to be friends with Eeyore. No one wants to hear wall-to-wall whinging and whining. Fine. But that is not what I am like. I’m lovely! I go to parties where I don’t know *anyone* and chat all night. I am EXTREMELY friendly. I have a lot of friends, I make them easily, I like to have a laugh, I attend a lot of social events (I try not to say “no”), I like to listen to new people, I volunteer, I blah blah bloody blah.

I just don’t have that many Danish friends. So, it can’t be me. If I can make friends with Swedes, the Dutch, Germans and Danes; then why can’t I make friends with LOTS of Danes?

The answer is complicated and I don’t have the energy. The answer starts with they are busy enough with the friends they already have, diverges into day care has not prepared them adequately for befriending new people and ends up with they do not have the theory of mind to realise that excluding others is a dick move.

And OF COURSE it doesn’t apply to all Danes. Some of my best friends etc etc parp. It applies to SOME Danes. The Danes I am talking about.

Anyone that is tempted to talk smack about me (or others finding it hard to make a social circle here), go find a Dane that moved from one town to another. Ask them about their network of Danish friends. Are they in the new town or the old one?

I suggest you do not tell them that the reason their friends are concentrated in their home town is because they are a bad person who deserves no less. Don’t be a jerk, eh?

Dear Amy

A single review of my blog on expatsblogs.com

“This blogger seems very angry, and incredibly unhappy to live in Denmark. I really wanted to ask her what her reasons for staying are, but it seems like she has disabled comments. I can’t imagine which part of this blog would be useful to someone interested in being an expat in this particular country.”

The comment policy on expatsblogs.com is “Please note: only positive or constructive comments will be published. Unnecessary, negative comments won’t be published.”

**EDIT** They removed it! Anyway, I spent ages writing this, so here we go**END EDIT**

Apparently, calling a stranger “very angry” and “incredibly unhappy” is constructive somehow? This comment is not seen as either unnecessary nor negative. What a world.

Let’s take it from the top.

“This blogger seems very angry”

My last few “angry” posts have been about forced terminations for underprivileged women, a lack of support in intercultural adoptions leading to emotional neglect of vulnerable children and the nature of racism in this country.

If that sort of thing does not make you angry, Amy, what would? What on earth could?

“and incredibly unhappy to live in Denmark”

This confuses me because, hell, the rest of my “non-angry” “this is an outrage!” “political” posts have been pretty light hearted and gentle. The non-mouth breathing peasant Dane has nothing to fear from me. (In fact, some of my best friends are non-mouth breathing non-peasant Danes. And anyone who says any different is a fucking LIAR.)

“LOL,” I exclaim, “Danes, eh? With their foibles? Hmm? How about them, eh? Nah, they’re alright… Everybody, let’s give it up for the Danes! They sure have given up on themselves. Only joking. Remember to tip your waitress. Here all week.”

Incredibly unhappy. Wow. Amy, I see I am going to have to introduce you to my good friend Mr. Projection and his common-law wife Ms. Defensiveness.

“I really wanted to ask her what her reasons for staying are”

Did you? Did you in-fucking-deed? You “really” wanted to ask me? What my reasons? For staying are?

Who do you think you are? Louis Theroux? Going around wanting to ask people to justify themselves to you.

If you read back through my archives, you can see that I have gone through cycles as I have integrated into Denmark and am currently in quite a positive, accepting phase. Indeed, in my last post, I wrote “Denmark is probably ok”. Do you have to LOVE where you live to not have to justify why you live there?

“but it seems like she has disabled comments.”

I haven’t disabled comments. I just have them open only for a short time after a new post. This is to reduce my comment moderating workload. And your comment would have been moderated because it breaks my “no attributing emotions” rule. Twice.

“I can’t imagine which part of this blog would be useful to someone interested in being an expat in this particular country.”

Perhaps it is your lack of imagination which hampers you? Maybe it causes problems in your wider life, too?

I think expats considering Denmark are exposed to an extraordinary amount of hype. A little pre-emptive bubble bursting is meant as a kindness. Being an immigrant in Denmark is incredibly hard and just being told “everything is lovely, you’ll have a great time, here’s how to deal with practical problems, here’s a picture of something quaint” is not enough.

My regular readership is around 100, not counting readers who check out one or two posts and decide I am not their cup of tea. No doubt a few of my 100 or so regulars hate-read me but I would not put their numbers above a dozen. So, there are scores of people who keep coming back to read this site. I am humbled (and a little unnerved), by that knowledge. (Sorry I have not been writing more, Regular Readers!)

I assume what they are finding useful is:-

  1. The idea that they are not alone in finding Denmark difficult
  2. News stories translated into English
  3. An archive of posts showing one person’s integration process
  4. Another voice on issues that affect them and are of interest
  5. The concept that you can think “wow, mouthbreathing peasant scumbags are the WORST” and still go on to have a happy and successful life in a country which enables mouthbreathing peasant scumbags to go about their business of being a scumbag entirely unhindered.

Furthermore, Amy, I expect they find it refreshing that someone can have a laugh and enjoy life outside of the narrow constraints of “THOU SHALT NOT BE NEGATIVE”. The cult of positivity is cruel, it is unrealistic and it is unnecessary. It is possible to look at the culture you are living in, identify its faults and continue to live a contented life.

I am living proof.

Is Denmark as bad as everyone makes it seem?

Denmark. Denmark. Denmark.

My country (the UK), is currently having an internet love affair with Denmark. The UK is excited by the very flattering photos Denmark keeps sending, with the camera angle oddly chosen to point down all the time with really quite bright lights. They have also read its dating profile over and over. Some of the lovely things Denmark says it does are really quite lovely! And exciting!

Imaging living there! The journalists who are invited to Copenhagen by the Danish tourist industry which in this analogy is probably a first date, right? Yeah, let’s go with that. The journalists from the UK have only nice things to say! The venue chosen by Denmark for the first date was really nice and Denmark was totally on Denmark’s best behaviour all evening. They totally took the UK back to its place and showed it some hygge. IN ALL THE POSSIBLE WAYS.

Naturally, after such a courtship, one’s thoughts turn to co-habitation. A quick once-over with the old google internet search engine and … Christ… well, if I wanted to doggedly continue with this over stretched analogy… would be a bit like coming across someone’s myspace blog about a breakup with the person you were courting. Or their Tumblr, if we want to be all twenty-teens about it.

A lot of people living in Denmark have written on the internet “OMG WHAT THE FUCK?” whilst in the midst of a culture shock driven breakdown. Others have written “No seriously, what the fuck?” when the culture shock has worn off and they are still not impressed.

There are plenty of foreigners who never write anything because they feel reasonably content (for a given range of contentedness) and there are a few foreigners who only write up the good stuff. These foreigners and their blogs are aggressively pushed to would-be “expats” by the government and that is when my metaphor is no longer of use because I guess it would be like when an internet dating prospect sends you to their wedding photos flickr album to show you their first marriage to prove they are capable of giving and receiving love. And as far as I know, this is not a trend on internet dating sites. Even OKCupid.

But yeah. There is a remarkable amount of shit-listing of Denmark going on.

Is it fair?

I am going to go ahead and say “yes” but with some caveats.

Denmark is probably ok. It is a reasonably well off country with mediocre services, medium-to-high taxes, medium-to-very good standard of living, currently quite cushy terms of employment. No one starves. No one gets cholera. No one is tortured for their beliefs*. But as I have said before. This is setting the bar waaaaaaaay too low.

Compared to similar countries, let’s go ahead and say France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands (let’s leave the other Scandies to one side for now), it’s not really anything to shout about. Remember, expats can move anywhere. That’s their thing. Compared to similar countries, Denmark does not come out very well.

The schools are a bit in need of an overhaul. Health care is variable. The borough councils are unhinged. Crime is high. The terms of employment are being made progressively more shitty.

But for the expat, the main concern is “will I experience happiness and enjoyment?” and the answer is “Unless you put an extraordinary level of effort into entertaining yourself: no”

The language barrier is a serious impediment to happiness which is not really improved by saying “Well, obvs it’s Denmark. You should speak Danish.” That does not, with the best will in the world, get your pipes fixed when you are fresh of the boat and need a plumber.

Then there is the thorny question of social interactions. If you are coming to Denmark to marry a Dane or for study, you might be ok. It can be a lottery. Even very outgoing, friendly people who have had no problem making friends anywhere else, can find it hard to make friends in the Danish community. This is partly because they often do not speak Danish well enough to develop a friendship but mostly because Danes are just not that into us.

Not that Danes make a lot of new friends of any background after they finish their educations. If you go to a party with two groups of Danes who know the host from two different places (say: badminton club and sailing club), it is unlikely these groups will blend. Everyone at the party is the type you get might back home where the guest is just too shy to go talk to others and must wait for other guests to come to them. If everyone is like that, no one is coming to anyone.

Throw having a guest with a different culture into the mix and you might as well forget about them socialising beyond the old “Immigration Interview” conversation (When did you come? Why did you come? How is your language coming on? When are you leaving? )

And that is only if they even get invited to a party.

If you come to Denmark, your social life is over. All your friends will be foreign or mates of your Danish spouse. (Unless you happen to like doing sport)

If you like having friends, then yes, Denmark IS as bad as everyone is saying.

Meanwhile, even though they are most definitely not “all like that”, the only Danes you are really going to get any interaction with are the ones who are like that. They shove you in the street, they treat you like a twat when you try to speak their language, they push in front of you in shops, they leave their dog shit on your doorstep, they tell you off for talking to your kids. It can get quite fraught because although you do not want to become racist, you are facing a reality where you are effectively having to take it on trust that they are not all like that.

And if you have to interact with the authorities, it’s time to flip a coin. Heads: they will treat you like a human being. Tails: they won’t.

So. Yes. It is as bad as everyone is saying. It’s not paradise and it’s not hell. And you just need to be ready for that if you are serious about moving here.

*Denmark has been implicated in torture a few times since the war on “terror” began. But frankly, who the fuck hasn’t? It’s a shitty state of affairs that my team turned out to be the Storm Troopers when I thought they were the Rebels but I am literally powerless to do anything about it. I’m not a fucking ewok, am I? I’m not even Lando pigging Calrissian. You know the school teacher in the storm trooper clone factory they never made an adventure about? I’m that one.