One from the Vaults: Integrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a bit from the Tao Te Ching.

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

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

Zealotry and Real Life

Mary Elizabeth Williams said that there is a saying

Zealotry springs from doubt, not faith.

But I could not find that saying anywhere else so I am going to go ahead and say she coined it. Good old, Mary Elizabeth Williams!

When I came to Denmark, I would not say I was a zealot but I was certainly an enthusiast. It seems completely incredible (if not batshit crazy), to me now but I did not even try to look at the experiences of others living here. I read a book called Culture Shock, started learning Danish (but half heartedly because I reckoned 3 months immersion would get me fluent), and that is as far as I went with preparation.

I was not ready to hear what people actually living in Denmark had to say, in any case. I had no illusions: moving countries was going to be hard, culture shock was going to be hard, a new language was going to be hard. So, if I read anything about how hard things were going to be, well, I already knew that. None so blind as those who will not see.

My first exposure to other foreigners (apart from a handful of Brits in my town), was online. There was an excellent blog called “It seemed like a good idea at the time” and the title itself was what I needed. There were a group of foreign bloggers at the time, this also seems incredible to me, who talked about what life in Denmark was like. Some of them talked about the nice things, some talked about their day-to-day lives and some talked about frustrations. As I got to know these people, I became disillusioned with the hype about Denmark and had to adapt dramatically to make a life here (and not in the place, I hoped I was moving to).

Of course, winter came, as it is wont to do, and there was a massive falling out.

This was my first winter in Denmark so I had no idea that falling out with foreigners is a seasonal sport here. Most of the blogs went private or closed completely.

As people follow the most common advice given to foreigners, and leave, the blogs shut down. There are only two from that time that remain. The rest of the blogs are by “newbies” (some of the newbies have been here three years).

I saw a question posed, in that way questions are posed when you do not give a shit about the answer but do not want to make a statement, why aren’t there publications and blogs devoted to a “balanced” and “non-confrontational” treatment of integration into Denmark?

One of the practical considerations of writing one of those sort of websites is that when you are dealing with getting a CPR number or getting a place, you are too busy actually doing that to write about it for an audience. And once you have done it, the rules change. You would have to find out from someone else how to do it and they cannot tell you because they are too busy doing it.

Thing is, despite all this, there are. There are loads. No one reads them for the same reason that the Daily Mail Online is doing so well.

Besides, I would not write about integration anymore, would I? I am integrated. I am six months off permanent residence. I pay tax on three jobs. (My boyfriend says I have ONE job, one freelance gig and one part time thing. What does he know? He has one job.) I volunteer. I speak Danish, I was helping kids with their Danish at work the other day and thinking “Oh wow, I really do speak Danish”.

Good luck with your integration journey but I cannot help you, just as a Dane cannot help you. Your experiences are completely alien to me!

What I can talk about is what it is like to live in Denmark and this is where disagreements with zealots comes in.

I know plenty of people who have made new lives in Denmark and are perfectly happy (within normal tolerance ranges for happiness). They are also very personable people. They have their stuff going on, they find joy and frustration, they can talk to me about what is going on with me. There is no need for zealotry because they have worked out how to live in this country. There is no need for self righteousness, telling people off or unkind words. They just get on with it.

Zealots come in two flavours. One, is the person who intends to move to Denmark and needs Scandinavia to be better than home. Their own country has its problems and they need a place to exist where those problems are not an issue. They know that there are drawbacks to Denmark but they are making a deal with themselves that those things WILL NOT BOTHER THEM when they move.

The second, is the person who has moved to Denmark, cannot move back and has problems. They have no choice about where they live (for whatever reason), but they can choose how they react to their problems. Either they react to things that upset them or they shut that shit down.

Shutting down that sort of shit, requires that you make a decision never to process the feelings brought up when you have a bad day. If you have a bad day, you must make a decision to call yourself a bad person for feeling bad about it. That is what “choosing happiness” entails, if you feel a “negative” emotion, you must squash it down and keep it in check. If you are going to these lengths, you do not hear about it from anyone else. If you persuade yourself that you need to believe you are a bad person if you feel sad when someone is rude to you, then it is a short jump to calling everyone bad people for expressing that emotion.

The NUMBER of people who get in my face and tell me that I am not balanced because I do not talk about the good stuff! That I must have half my posts devoted to the good things about life in Denmark. I am sorry, but it’s not 50:50 here.

Racial discrimination, borough councils forcing people to have ECT against medical advice, children being deported, medical incompetence… these things are not reset by a decent bicycle infrastructure. With the best will in the world.

And with the personal: being belittled for trying to speak Danish, being shoved regularly, being ignored in social situations… this is more interesting to write about because it differs from my life in the UK. Back home, I had good friends, I had romantic interests, I had a nice place to live, I had a good job. I have that here too. What is different now is that I am an outsider and am subject to random unpleasantness because of that, from time to time.  There are hundreds of blogs about what it is like to work as a teacher and have a boyfriend. There are dozens of blogs about the interesting and quaint things of living in Denmark. There is one blog about working as a teacher in Denmark and having a Danish boyfriend. Difference is interesting to write and read about.

To those considering a move: Denmark is ok but it is not a place you should enter into lightly. You are going to find it hard to integrate here. You are going to have difficulties. The good news is, you are not alone. We are all finding it difficult. With luck, your difficulties will be minor and trivial but you must prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. We all find nice things in our lives that keep us going and moving to Denmark could be the best decision you ever make.

To the zealots: you need to lose your self righteousness and stop trying to pull me down for saying what you dare not. You are only a zealot because you are having the same doubts and problems as I am, you are just dealing with it in a hypocritical and disingenuous way. You do have a choice and its not to “choose happiness”, your options are

  • be in the moment you are in with patience, simplicity and compassion
  • carry on hating on me in your proxy war for self loathing.