Anger about the Social Democrats’ leader was clear during State Minister Helle Thornin-Schmidt’s 1st May speech in Aarhus.
She was met with protest whistles and boos from the audience at the event in Tangkrogen.
It was only a couple of minute’s speech where she tried to get the audience to listen before she left the podium. At the same time, a large number of the audience turned their backs on her.
The protest against the State Minister is based on the government’s criticised reforms and intervention against the teachers.
“Everyone is entitled to think what they want about me but it’s a bit of a shame. It’s a strange paradox when the first of May is about dialogue and listening to each other,” was how Helle Thorning-Schmidt reacted.
“I don’t think we tells each other anything when we try to drown each other out. There were some Social Democratic Youth down there who would have liked to have heard the speech,” she said after the speech.
Also, in Fælled Park in Copenhagen, a leading Social Democrat had to fight to drown out protesters. That was the city’s mayor Frank Jensen who was met with jeering protesters who also used his speech to show their dissatisfaction with the government’s cuts and intervention. He stood across from a banner with the text “Helle is Blue” (Translator’s note: Helle is supposed to be left-wing and therefore “red”.)
While fingers were pointed towards the stage, the Social Democratic premier in the capital gave up trying to make himself heard.
“GO HOME!” was the cry to the mayor while the organisers tried to get the audience to get the large audience to adjust their angry outbursts.
This was not successful, even though the mayor was going to talk about the town’s schools, school meals and better help for the poor.
The answer from the crowd in Fælled Park was the fighting cry “GO HOME” which was shouted over and over through a megaphone.
Frank Jensen also had to duck an item that was chucked up on stage by a First of May participant, just as the speech was carried out in the smoke from fireworks or similar.
“May I wish you a good First of May in Fælled Park in Copenhagen,” was how he signed off his speech, which he carried out despite massive protest from the lawn in front of the stage.
The person after him at the podium in the capital was SF’s leader Anette Wilhelmsen. She also had to raise her voice to try to drown out the protesters.
“I stand by the compromises, even if not all of them have grassroots support,” she explained in competition with the megaphone shouts.
Finance Minister Bjarne Corydon (S) talked to a wall of backs when he spoke in Vojens, where teachers protested against the government’s intervention in the union conflict that started when they were locked out by the association of municipalities.
Tendai Tagarira, a poet who was granted political asylum in Denmark after criticising Robert Mugabe, settled in Aarhus. Before leaving Zimbabwe, he had a bad collision on his motorcycle, after the brakes were tampered with. He was made a sort of poet in residence as part of being a refugee and then the money ran out and then he became a refugee under the usual rules. His case has been mishandled a lot, mistakes have been made A LOT. He has suffered because of these mistakes, like the month where he had no money at all because his caseworker made a mistake.
He writes bits for the Copenhagen Post, gives talks and so on. This is, in the Danish system, a “B income”. He also runs an excellent website called “Aarhus Culture“, which he started as a reaction to being refused entry to a bar because he is black.
This website has all sorts of different articles about Aarhus and has a wide readership. It is growing but it is in a very early stage of development. The Integration Department for Aarhus said that he could run this website as part of his integration contract, after support from the mayor.
He writes one article critical of the Integration Department and THE NEXT DAY, they contact him to say that he can no longer run the website while he is on kontanthjælp. They say it is because kontanthjælp is for getting people to be self sufficient as soon as possible and that he cannot support himself with the income from the website right now.
He had an hour long meeting with Lene Brink of the Integration Department. She interrupts him a lot, she repeats herself and never lets him finish his points. She takes advantage of technical difficulties at the start to push the agenda from a presentation about his project to an attack. She responds to him before the interpreter is finished, almost as if she does not need an interpreter. She speaks in English at some points before she remembers herself, she works through an interpreter the rest of the time. She speaks in long paragraphs, so the interpreter must simultaneously translate, the effect is very confusing. It is supposed to be. She uses the Danish language as a weapon, in this way. She can interrupt in stereo. She often says “You should be listening to what I say,” and “Can I finish,” and “If I can just say,” as if he is interrupting her. She talks to him like a child about “respect” when he interrupts her towards the end.
She feels superior to him. You simply do not interrupt people you feel equal (or inferior), to. Why on earth does she feel superior to a famous poet, published author with a background in law and finance who is running a much more successful website about integration than her department is able to make?
She accuses him of making threats when he makes the reasonable point that the way Denmark treats African refugees will come back to haunt them, when they want to do trade with African countries. Denmark needs people like Tendai, not just because he contributes to Denmark’s culture but because Denmark will need help understanding how to do business in African nations. Interpreting “if you treat me with disrespect, I will not stay in your country and you need people like me,” as a threat, is indicative of her attitude towards Tendai in particular (and African men in general, probably, since she cannot know Tendai individually all that well).
His choice, as she tells it, is that he can either run the website without kontanthjælp (which will make him homeless) or he can stop running the website and receive kontanthjælp. He makes it clear that her threats to cut him off do not scare him. She tries to make out that it is “his” decision not to receive kontanthjælp by continuing to work on the the website.
His reading of the law is that as part of his integration contract, Aarhus should be helping him run this website.
Her reading of the law is that he should not be running websites for integration into Danish society when he could be applying for jobs in supermarkets.
He would do manual labour if he could. He can’t. He was badly injured when his brakes were cut in Zimbabwe. He is trying to create a business that will support him financially, using the skill set he has developed over many years. He is close to being self-sustaining, working on this projects. The Integration Department of Aarhus would prefer he be close to being self-sustaining, by doing nothing but apply for jobs.
This is the reality of “integration” of refugees in Denmark. You can come for political asylum for criticising your own country, as long as you don’t get uppity and use free speech to criticise Denmark. You can live here, as long as you work stacking shelves and not as a professional or equal. You must exist as supplicant. Grateful. Humble. But above all. Silent.
There is a petition you can sign, if you feel the same as I do.
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.
I am back to my old self now. When I first moved to Denmark, I did not want to be a cultural imperialist. I did not want to tell people off for being rude when they were not being rude by their standards. I did not want to force people to speak English.
Then as I went through culture shock, that uncomfortable process of finding out what is rude, what is acceptable and what is expected, I became increasingly impatient with the level of rudeness I was experiencing.
I was getting a lot more shitty incoming, at precisely the same time I could not handle it, because my Danish was poor. I would go into a shop and ask something and be greeted with incredibly poor manners. They would look me up and down and decide “Yes, this person is fair game.”
As my Danish got better, and my expectations got somewhat lower, the poor experiences were fewer and fewer. It really does seem to be a minority of people who do this and they only do it to freshies. You might get through your first few years of integration without ever meeting one. Or maybe, just meeting one. And thinking “What a prick!” and not becoming mentally scarred.
I was getting a 50% hit rate. Fifty percent of the time, I would meet someone who would try to tear me down or was dismissive or unkind. And it really really fucked me up.
Did I tell you about the time I visited France? My French used to be pretty hardcore and now it is just reasonable. Even when my French was still crappy, I was happy to have a go. Think around corners. Just talk. When I was 11 and had been learning French for 3 months, my mum asked me to ask where the baker’s was. I could not remember the word for baker so I asked for the “bread shop” and we were shown the way. Anyway, I visited France, not understanding the number the bad-danes had done on me. I blithely went into a pharmacy, looking for ear plugs (youth hostel), and halfway through the interaction completely panicked and shut down because I realised I did not know the word for earplugs. Pre Denmark, it would not have fazed me, I would have just said “Hello, I would like…” mimed the international symbol for “I’m not listening” and said ear and then put my fingers close together to mime how small the object I wanted was. But I just went red, shut down and went “OMG I am sorry. Ear plugs? Do you speak English? Sorry.”
That is what Denmark did to me. And I was worried the damage was permanent. Now, I am happy to even ring people up, people who are not expecting a foreigner on the end of the line, and sort some shit out.
Even though I am working in an international environment right now, I have spoken Danish dozens of times in a week. The majority of these times have been fine. There have been two were I thought “Ahh, shit, I should have said it like that,” after the fact but the person I was talking to was okay with it. I impressed myself with a complicated call to the post office about a re-delivery. Like during the call “Hey, this is impressive stuff.”
But like the men with bladders on sticks hitting kings on the head as they go through crowds, I must be reminded that I am not a god. My reminder was yesterday at the bank. I also found out that I am back to normal because I reacted to it in the exact same way I reacted to camera magazines being placed under men’s interest in WHSmiths newsagents the week before I moved to Denmark “Well, you can see why I would be confused, photography is unisex. So your layout does not make any sense.”
I got an old 50 kroner note from the 7/11 and I thought as I walked away “Oh shit, is this still legal tender?” (It’s the femti one they got rid of about three years ago) I resolved to go to the bank and ask. I walked down to my bank branch in Aarhus, in the snow, got inside. Found out they do not have money anymore. Just cashpoints. So what do you do if your card gets stolen, geniuses? They also want to charge me for having a bank account. I will be changing banks as soon as. I told my boyfriend about this story and I think he was disappointed it was in Aarhus, he has been hoping all this shit has been local to Fredericia and people in Aarhus are a bit more cultured and used to foreigners.
A lady of about 50 said “Can I help you?” and I said
“Hej, jeg har lige kommet fra en butik. De gav mig sådan en (showing note). Kan det stadig blive bruges, eller skal jeg skifte det her?”
(Hi, yai har lee comet fra en booteek. Day gayw ma sawden een. Kan day staredy bleer broous, eller skal yai skifte day here?)
And she goes
*Le sigh* I had been practicing it in my head all the way down to the bank.
“Didn’t you understand ANY of that?”
And I thought “!” but I said (channeling Judi Dench, as I do in stressful situations)
“Would. You. Prefer. I. Asked. In. English?”
And she goes “Yes, English.” (to which, I now realise I should have said “WHAT?!”)
A brief interruption on the matter of culture. In Danish, there is supposed to be a cultural assumption that no one is better than anyone else. They have a form of polite you that is only used in extremis. They call each other by their first names. You can tell your boss you don’t think much of his decisions and he will not get mad.
Now, if this meant, no one was lah-di-dah and everyone got treated with the respect they deserved as human beings, then that would be the best thing ever. EVER. But it often means a race to the bottom in terms of courtesy. Why should I treat you like a human being, you’re nothing special? So words and phrases that lend an air of consideration like “Må jeg lige komme forbi?” (Excuse me) and “Må jeg bede dig om …/ Jeg vil gerne bede om…” (Please) and “Det må du undskylde” (Sorry) and “Hvadbehar?” (Pardon) and “Beklager” (Apologies) are almost entirely wiped out. I only ever hear ‘please’ from children, ‘sorry’ when someone has totally shit the bed and ‘apologies’ ironically. I learned all these phrases about two years in. Not at language school. Not from any of my interactions. In the first two years. If these phrases were pandas, there would be a campaign to save them.
You need to bear in mind. If I had been an 80 year old woman, a businessman in a suit and tie or Princess Mary, there is no way on God’s green earth that woman would have said “HVAD?!?” she would have said “Hvadbehar?” or “Beklager, hvad siger du?” or “Undskyld, engang til.” It is not a crime that she did not understand me, foreign accents can be hard if you are not expecting them. It is because she talked to me without any respect or consideration.
So, we are not equal. We are not considered equal. We are not treated equally. Some people are treated with no respect and then told it is because of some book that the person has not read (I have read it. It’s a satire. It also over-uses the word “Pludselig”) Some people are treated with great respect. Deference even. The way this matter is settled is through the magic of prejudice. Look or sound a certain way and forget about getting courtesy from small minded people.
Did I tell you that the last time someone said “Hvad siger du?” to me with an air of superiority, I said “HAH!” and parrotted the phrase back back with a Danish hick accent to them before asking again really slowly? Because, helt ærligt!
End of intermission.
So she says (as if I am stupid), that yes, the note is still legal tender.
Customer service is pretty poor in Denmark, yo.
And I said thanks. She turns to go and I think “No, fuck it. Fuck it. I’m saying something.” I think I skipped becoming my mother and went straight into becoming my grandmother. (Though, my mother DID do this sort of thing a lot when she was my age and I would hide behind her legs and go “No, not the manager AGAIN.”) My grandmother does not take this kind of shit, either. But where I differ from my mother and my grandmother is how I respond. My grandmother responds with biting sarcasm. My mother is very direct. I respond pedagogically.
“Can I give you some feedback. (No pause for her response, I just launch into it). When you say “HVAD?!?” like that, it’s not very helpful. What would have been more helpful is if you had said which parts you did not understand or asked a clarifying question about what you did catch. Just shouting “HVAD?!” at me makes me not want to speak Danish anymore (tears of rage showing in eyes), and it hurts my feelings.”
She looks surprised and sorry. She did not mean to treat me like dirt, nor hurt my feelings. She is not sure why she did, by the looks of her face. I am talking to her like she is a child and she is responding in the same way even though she is 50.
“It’s just it was so fast…”
“That’s great, that’s perfect. So, next time, you could say something like “Could you slow down, please?” and I would have felt a lot better about it.”
And she squeezed my upper arm (which is a primate thing for “I am dominant over you” and I know that so), I twisted my arm as she reached so I could squeeze hers simultaneously. And I left the bank.
I have been so stressed out. There’s the boyfriend in Afghanistan. There is my school closing down. There is the stress of being foreign. I am ill all the time. Plus all the normal stresses on a person. It has been too much.
When they announced the school closure hearing process about this time last year, I worked out that their plans were completely unworkable and not fully costed. When I asked for clarification, I was subjected to “I cannot understand your Danish” by Peder Hvejsel. Then the politicians in Fredericia all lined up to say that the plans did work and no one else really challenged them even though they were lying. Maybe a dozen people stood up and fought?
And so, we were closed.
My choice was: work in a school which has not been properly thought through OR find a new job.
As much as I love my classes, I love my mental health soooo much more. Which meant I submitted my C.V. to schools around the country.
I got a call from a school, asking if I could teach maths from “ASAP” and I said “No, I couldn’t do that to them.”
Then I lost a baby and needed some days off to recover. And my bosses went into overdrive, trying to “control” the situation and be able to say they “did” something about me. I had four or five meetings with them about my absences. One of which, my boss told me to go back to my own country “if you hate it” four times. Another of which, a stranger was invited and told my medical issues without my permission. Another of which, an “expert” in internal climate, invited to investigate the indoor pollution in my workplace, had written “PSYKISK?” on her notes about me before she met me.
I almost had a nervous breakdown. I was so close to losing it. And something snapped inside of me.
The next time the same school contacted me, it was to teach science and maths. From January. And I said “I am torn but I would love to.”
And I am torn. I love my classes, my children are so adorable and I cannot imagine not getting to see them develop. But I have to get out. If I do not get a job for next summer, I have to leave the country. This new job is permanent.
My classes have taken it well and with great maturity and grace. I love them so much and I will miss them loads. And I happen to know the teachers taking over are great and will do a wonderful job. That is a major relief. I would hate for my students to lose out.
So, I do not have to worry about my job anymore. I have a job. I will have a new job next summer. I will not be unemployed. And my job is pretty exciting and rad and I will get to move to Aarhus in about six to nine months.
Meanwhile, finally I have a doctor who knows what he is doing and I have been to the endocrinologist and I am suffering from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Hence: all the illness, tiredness, aches, anxiety, night terrors, swollen neck glands, weight gain, infertility. I have had this for two years at least. I have medicine now and hopefully it will kick in soon and I will have normal health again.
When my boyfriend comes back in February, I will only have a few things to worry about. A normal amount of concerns. A reasonable amount of irritation and worry.
Many poor (“resource-weak”), pregnant women experience being pressured into having an abortion by their social worker at the borough council.
This is what a group of lawyers who specialise in helping vulnerable citizens claim. But it is not legal for social workers to interfere in questions of life and death, believes an expert in this area.
Have an abortion – if you want to keep your daughter
21 year old Simone Jørgensen is one of the women who has experienced the situation. It happened when she became pregnant in September last year.
“My social worker said if I wanted to keep the daughter I already had, I needed to have an abortion,” said Simone Jørgensen.
More lawyers confirmed in a survey conducted by DR News that social workers encourage young women like Simone Jørgensen to have a termination.
“It happens every other month, that I am rung up with that situation,” said lawyer Lars Buurgaard Sørensen from Brøndeslew and called the practice in borough councils “grotesque”.
Lawyer Rasmus Hedegaard from Aarhus agreed with the critics. He is rung up every month with the problem.
“It is outrageous that one can almost threaten that ‘if you don’t have an abortion, then I as a social worker am going to get the authorities to forcibly remove your child’. It doesn’t fit with their role. You cannot sit with a sword in one hand and at the same time want to be a secure base of guidance for citizens,” said Rasmus Hedegaard.
Lecturer in social rights at Aalborg University Trine Schultz said that the law gives social workers the right to guide and inform about which scenarios arise if a family increases in size.
“But that’s a long way away from going in and giving specific advice about abortion. That responsibility lies in a completely different area. It is the health authorities who can advise about things like that,” she said.
It’s okay to talk about abortion
Peter Brügge, the social services leader in Simone Jørgensen’s previous borough council in Randers was presented with Simone Jørgensen’s case and the lawyers’ criticism. He does not believe that the borough council has made a mistake.
“I think, that it is okay to talk about abortion. Abortion is a possibility. This does not mean to say that we should pressure someone or over-encourage them but they should have an understanding of the consequences they might get.”