Where do you meet these people?

I have instituted a foreigner-bubble to protect me from the shit going on in the news. Fact is, I have enough on my plate with stuff that I cannot blog about.

Still, in terms of integration, things are going alright. Aarhus is way better than Fredericia in terms of opportunities to socialise and relax. I feel a bit more at home here than I did in Fredericia. At-homeness would peek in at the weekends when I went to the neighbour-baker and got some pastries. That was it though.

Some people have asked me how it was to integrate. What it was like to come here seven years ago and settle down. And I tell them about the high points and the low points. If they are Danish, they will make a comment on the low points. Where do I meet these people? How unlucky I was to meet such unkind people! How I must be focusing on a few outliers because they surely were not the norm.

But in Fredericia, it was about 50/50. Half of the time, the people I met were friendly and helpful and the other half, they would not have pissed on me were I on fire.

Of course, friendly kind people cannot imagine someone being so rude or so unwelcoming. It’s like when women talk about street harassment and regular men are incredulous and think she is exaggerating or making it up entirely.

What would be easy, now that things are fine, would be to gloss over the details and just focus on how good things are now. This would make my conversations less awkward. It would mean I wouldn’t have to defend myself against the implication that I did something to deserve it. But I don’t. I talk about it because this is a missing piece of the integration puzzle.

Every time the news or the politicians talk about the dirty foreigners who do not even speak Danish properly, they never talk to one of them to find out why. Why is easy: I tried to practice and people were hostile and so I limited my interactions to things I knew I could do. Having a conversation with me in Danish is possible but unpleasant because I had a difficult decision

Through Door One: I could have tried to socialise with Danish people I liked with my shitty Danish. But I liked them. I didn’t want to put them through it and I wanted them to enjoy my company.

Through Door Two: I could have tried to make more small talk with strangers to level up. But I was flipping a coin every time to see if they were total shits about my accent. I’m resilient but I’m not that resilient.

So I didn’t go through either door. Which meant that when I went to my union rep training last year all but about two people were total fucking pricks about my accent for the first three days. Let’s focus on the two, on the outliers: one was a foreigner and therefore easy going. The other was actually famous for some talent show and was just effortlessly cool and awesome. He talked to me like a human being. A few of them warmed up over the next few sessions but only because I had decided ‘fuck em’ and if they gave me any shit, I blocked them out. I brought a book for the coffee sessions in case they were ignoring me and I read chapters and chapters. I tried though, in the first 3 days. I broke down in tears after trying so hard.

Though, it’s not the ignoring that gets me. I am so used to it. Honestly, I have learned that the types of people who ignore people at their table who are nodding, giving eye contact and smiling because they assume that they don’t understand Danish because they heard a foreign accent usually have nothing of consequence to say. These people lack the critical thinking needed to realise I understand more than I can say and thusly lack the critical thinking necessary to contribute anything of note to the dialogue.

What gets me, is the vinegar face when they hear my accent. And the repeating back what I said with a singy-songy accent. And the discounting of ANYTHING I have to say unless a Dane repeats it.

So, why do so many foreigners like me have such bad accents? Well, it’s simple. A clear majority of people I have ever spoken more than transactional Danish with (as in “Can I have a sandwich?” “Where is the post office?”), are not able to listen without making me feel uncomfortable.

You want accentless-foreigners? You have to start talking to the ones with the thick accents in such a way that makes them want to keep talking.

Jantelov: A primer

Once a Danish-Norwegian wrote a satire sending up small town Scandinavia. It was called “A Fugitive Crosses his Path” and I read the first half when I could speak rudimentary Danish and can report it is about poverty and things “suddenly” happening every new paragraph. I may be one of the few people who have read even this far but everyone likes to quote the best bit.

In Aksel Sandemose’s jaded vision of Scandinavian village life, anyone who tries to stand out is smacked down. There are eleven rules that, I have to admit, I have read so many times that my eyes slide off them like they are covered in bacon grease. They’re basically “You’re nothing special so who cares”

In other countries, the same thing is known as Tall Poppy Syndrome or by the delightful analogy of crabs in a bucket pulling each other down if they try to get out. These rules have been used to justify everything about Danish society from queue jumping, to racism, to poor school performance, to ‘jokes’ where you upset your friends and back again.

Practically, what Jantelov does, is make everyone in Denmark a fucking nightmare to be with in public unless you know them personally. Since the informal laws of this fictional village in a book no one has read tell the average Dane that no one is above anyone else, this is naturally expanded to the following world-view:-

“No one is special, so get out of my fucking way.”

You see it on the mouth breathers getting onto buses before everyone has got off: you’re nothing special so why should you be able to get out of my way so I can get on? You see it in Ikea when people stop dead in the numerous chokepoints around the store: you’re nothing special, so why would I turn my head 45 degrees to see if you are in danger of collision with me if I stop suddenly. You see it in supermarkets when people shove you aside so they can get at the bread slicer you are still using. You see it in department stores when people let heavy doors slam in your face. YOU ARE NOTHING, ME FIRST.

Most of the Danes I know personally are awesome people, so I am not talking about them and I am probably not talking about you even if I haven’t met you yet. But even the Danes you regard as decent human beings can be affected by Jantelov when they make ‘jokes’ about what an asshole you are. This is fine because you can respond in kind. But they might expand it to make you remember your country is nothing special, especially if you are from the USA. If you respond in kind, they will cut you. That’s just how it is.

Jantelov makes bragging very difficult. You cannot be proud of your achievements or mention them at all, lest you make one of the other crabs in your bucket feel jealous. No great loss to the conversation. But you cannot talk about lah-di-dah ‘elitist’ stuff either, in case people feel like you’re being pretentious. So, you’re only allowed to talk about meatballs, how hard Danish is for foreigners and how difficult the word ‘hygge’ is to understand. I mentioned I was reading A Fugitive Crosses his Path at a dinner party and one of the guests looked like he was going to be aggressively sick on me. Also, you cannot brag in a job search situation either, you have to know people in Denmark who employ others and play badminton with them until they ask you personally if you want to work with them.

In many parents’ evenings, it is common for the teachers to tell the parents to stop worrying, the kid is good enough and shouldn’t we care more about their social skills? Coming from a culture where the parents just want to know their kid is making progress, this seems like a bit of an undershoot. ‘Good enough’ is not the issue. That is set by the average and the average moves with the group. Learning something new and getting better every day, how is that too elitist?

There are people who resist Jante for the most part. They are ‘most people in Denmark according to themselves’. But even if they refuse to pull down other crabs, they are still in a bucket trying to get out with claws around their ankles.

A friend of a friend was at a job interview where they were asked “How do you feel about your customers being  the upper middle class of Danish people… like me?” This story is passed around with amused disbelief by Danes. Who is this person who would consider themselves above someone else AND then share it with another person? Then again, the foreigners who hear that story think it is a pretty ridiculous question to ask. Then again, it’s not ridiculous if you want to employ someone who won’t try to pull at your customers’ crab legs.

Though perhaps I am not being fair. I believed I could tell the dinner party guests about reading Aksel Sandemose without making them feel sick to their stomaches at my presumption because the librarian that issued the book did so with a wry smile (he then went on to being one of my friends). There are plenty of people out there who are not threatened by intellectualism or individualism and of course there are plenty who know how to move through a crowd without inconveniencing every other person. Still, it’s got a lot to answer for.

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?

 

Feeling Like a Failure in Learning Danish

A double bind we foreigners are put into early on is this:-

  1.  “Danish is the hardest language. Say a tongue twister so I can laugh at you.”
  2. “Speak Danish fluently, imperialist scum. Never mind you have no vocabulary. Just speak it 24/7 and you’ll get it.”

Add to that the four reactions we might receive if we have a go at speaking Danish.

  1. “Ahahahahaha!”
  2. “WHAT DID YOU SAY?!?!?”
  3. “GOOD DOGGY! Look at the foreigner, she thinks she’s people.”
  4. “Oh ok, I’m now communicating with you.”

Given that only reaction #4 is what we were actually going for, there is quite a lot of negative feedback. The other three reactions are ‘micro-aggressions’. As in little kicks in the shin to keep us in our place. Sure, #3 might be said by a kindly person, trying to encourage us but patronisation and condescension necessarily requires that you feel superior to another. Patting a foreign on the head for asking you to pass the salt is a way to keep them under. It’s all ego. Contrast with: a few minutes into the conversation “Wow, your Danish is pretty awesome. Let’s continue talking about the thing we were talking about in Danish!” Can’t fault that. Can’t fault that at all.

If you get a #2, you just repeat but louder and with a bit more umph. Chances are, you put the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Sounding pissed off usually puts it on the right one. Don’t worry, no one gives a toss.

Truth is. Danish is not the hardest language for English speakers. It has very similar grammar (and is at least understandable if you use English grammar), the vocab sets overlap, the sounds aren’t that crazy. At least it isn’t tonal.

What might trip you up is where the emphasis/stress goes and the way the vowels are distinct to Danish speakers but much-of-a-muchness to English speakers. It’s like the four candles sketch on ‘The Two Ronnies’ all day long.

But, and this may come as a surprise to the willing student of Danish: Fuck ’em.

Say ‘Kusse’ when you meant ‘Kysse’, say ‘Boller’ when you meant ‘Bøller’ or indeed ‘Balder’. It is funny so laugh along with them when they are laughing at you. It’s like the policeman in ‘Allo Allo’. Get zen. If the laughter is good natured say ‘Hvad sagde jeg?’ If the laughter is not good natured say ‘At least I am trying,’ in the language of your choice. If you speak anything other than English and Danish, this works especially well.

What about feeling inadequate about your written work or your vocabulary?

Learning a language takes a lot of time. You have a top speed of acquisition based on things like how many languages you already speak, what the languages you speak are like, how young you are, how musical you are, how many words you know and so on. You cannot alter your top speed.

You can work at your top speed by exposing yourself to Danish as much as possible. But. You will inhibit your top speed by thinking ‘Argh! I can’t do this!’ or ‘Why am I so bad at this?’ or ‘I should do this better!’

If you find yourself having an unhelpful thought, acknowledge it and then side-step it. So what if another immigrant got fluent before you and she arrived around about the same time as you? So what if your friend’s step mum speaks Danish all day and that’s why she’s so good now? Just breathe. Breathe, damn you!

Feeling feelings of inadequacy will get you precisely nowhere. If you feel reasonably happy about learning Danish, you will absorb it whatever conscious effort you put in. Your brain will do a lot of this on automatic. However, if you build up an association between guilt or self-loathing and learning Danish; your brain will avoid learning anything even with conscious effort.

Find things on Danish tv and youtube that please and delight you. I like Jonatan Spang, for example.

He speaks quite clearly and he is adorable.
I like to write things that I would have liked to have written in English (rather than the uninspiring crap we usually have to write for class).
I like to read things I would have liked to have read in English (magazines are especially good because they are long form but not looooog form).

You will get there. I promise. But just forget about being fluent or perfect or amazing. For now. Baby steps right now and before you know it, you won’t even be able to switch off your ears on public transport and be absorbed in your own thoughts.

Learning Danish

 

I have been thinking about taking the “studieprøve” which is the Danish exam at the C1 “Proficient user” level. To be able to do this, I need to become a “Proficient user”, so I have been doing a lot of Danish writing.

 

To get better, I have been making myself flashcards on memrise, maybe someone else would find them useful too?

 

I bought two (very reasonably priced) books for students at my level. There are not many available. There are more than a handful of beginner’s books but there are only a smattering of upper-intermediate books. Add to that how picky I am about Danish language textbooks, I don’t have much choice. I reserved two books from the library that are at my current level. They are both called, I am not lying, “Danish is hard”. One is about pronunciation, the other is grammar drills. Who are they trying to kid? It’s no Mandarin, this one.

 

Skriv på dansk! has some resources and workshops to help me improve my writing. Unfortunately, there is a stench of patronisation on all the pages. In the preface addressed to my teacher “The texts are taken directly from the second-language context the students live in and can therefore be used as a launchpad for discussions with a view to expanding the students’ cultural competence.” What are the texts about, you ask? The environment, men and women’s roles, children, integration, health, the usual. Goodness me, if they had a text about anything that I choose to read every day on my favourite websites, I’d explode with joy. But it’s fine. IT’S FINE. It’s not like the test will be on things I’m actually interested in or anything, it’ll be about this “second-language context” guff I am supposed to be so interested in.

 

*And* in line with what the government seems to think I require from a language course, they go into great detail about “types of non-fiction” and “constructing an argument”, the skills taught in Year Six back in the old country. Considering you cannot even get on this course unless you have been in formal education (in a country Denmark respects), for more than 15 years (or however long), this is a damned cheek. I already know how to structure a bloody opinion piece, I just don’t know the vocab for it in THIS language.

 

The book’s not a total bust, the example sentences at the back are ALL about how cheap and healthy potatoes are. Which is either an act of extreme Danish irony genius or an earnest stab at saying something that is uncontroversial (hilariously.. and also kinda ironically). Either way, lols all around.

 

My other book is about getting the endings right on words. This is something I need to the very MAX.

 

So, that’s good.

 

I’m on goodreads and I joined a Danish book group. They have a challenge part of the group and I signed up to read ten novels by Danish-authors in ten months (starting from next month). There are ten different categories:- modern, short story collection, poetry anthology, novel from before 1960, male author, female author, an author I haven’t read before, a novel set in the Danish provinces, a crime novel and a debut novel.

 

Sounds like fun but we’ll see how long I can keep it up.

 

Anything to avoid editing my own novel into a second draft.

 

Danish for Expats

For a country that sets such great store by conformity, foreigners are subdivided into a dizzying array of categories.

 

Plus-Belly Sneetches
(Photo credit: charliecurve)

 

The most favoured of all the groups is the “Highly skilled immigrant”, prized for the revenue it can generate by increasing the productivity of Danish companies, buying power in the local community and paying more tax than it can hope to claim back through using services. The Danish government’s stated aim is for these sorts to come and then leave. The tension for them is between staying long enough to help the company earn more money but not outstaying the welcome and using public services.

 

Three to five years is the length of time the government prefer. Any shorter and they are just doing handover-takeover, longer and they might get their money’s worth by needing hospital treatment or schooling of their children.

 

One of the deals offered to this group is a tax break for three years. If you stay longer, you have to “pay back” the taxes you avoided.

 

This group have absorbed the message that they are favoured above all the other foreigners and do not call themselves immigrants. They are “expats” and “internationals”. They float above ordinary mortals and do not share their challenges or issues. That is not to say that they do not experience problems or frustrations but rather they are insulated against some of the more upsetting possibilities.

Should these people have to learn Danish?

 

The Danish government does not think so. They will be offered a year of tuition. If my Danish language classes were anything to go by: they would be better served by a couple of boxed sets (Recommend: Klovn and Matador), and a library card.

 

One thing you must understand about me before we continue (though long-time readers might know this already), is that I love learning languages. I lived in Cardiff for six years and learned a little Welsh, some of which I can still speak years later. I went to night school to learn Japanese and Swahili. I used to speak pretty decent French. When I was in school I was in the elite group who were allowed to study German from scratch to school leaver certificate standard in two years (I got an A). I even know some words in Klingon and I cannot make up my mind between Valyrian and Dothraki. My mp3 player has French, English, Danish and Swedish tracks on it. I love languages.

 

One of the primary attractions of moving abroad was having the opportunity to learn another language to fluency. Even if this language is not spoken widely, it opens a door into another culture. It helps you understand how thinking occurs. It allows you to access what is going on around you.

 

Danish has come in handy, I won’t lie. Many doctors and nurses do not speak English or are not happy doing so. My medical Danish is pretty good now, even as my word order creaks under the strain of expressing ideas while upset, in pain or frightened. Also, as a teacher in a Danish school, I had a much easier time overall with Danish than without. It has helped with communicating with children and older people. It has helped in shops. It has helped in social situations. It has helped me act politically in my town.

 

However, my Danish is not “good enough”. I have been here five years and I am reminded every day, at some point, that it is not good enough. I am not even kidding. I hardly notice it anymore. I am inured. Usually people are well-meaning, they are trying to help me, it is meant in the spirit of friendliness. But you know what? I have been here five years and none of their help has come in handy. And yet, it keeps coming. There are also people who are massive turdbags. They remind me that my Danish is not native quality in a much crueler way.

 

In my first year or so, these people were the majority. On year five, they are the minority. What changed? I got better at Danish and became less of a target.

 

I am a highly qualified immigrant and I am now working in an international, English speaking environment. I used Danish this week to:-

 

  • Give directions
  • Read the news
  • Watch a few tv programmes on netflix
  • Go shopping
  • Eavesdrop
  • Understand the announcements on the train
  • An entire hospital appointment from receptionist to discharge
  • Order food
  • Take the piss out of my boyfriend

 

I use Danish quite a lot, considering. Back when I was new, I was afraid to do many things because I was unable to do them in Danish and felt bad about doing them in English. I felt like, when I got good at Danish, then I could socialise. Then I could go get asthma inhalers. Then I could buy clothes. Then I could date.

 

I put my life on hold for months and months. If I got official letters, I put them in a shoe box unread. I had so much money in the bank because I was only spending on itunes downloads and budget airline tickets. Eventually, I pulled myself together and tried to have a life here without having Danish fluency first. Danish fluency would come through interacting with Danish people. I found a bilingual knitting club set up by an American, in Aarhus. I went to it and she wasn’t there. The people that were there were nice until the Danish Queen Bee showed up and she was incredibly mean to me. I thought maybe it was a blip and went back the next month. Same thing only worse.

 

Year Five and I probably have more Danish friends than my Danish boyfriend does. Not that I am counting. But I do not speak Danish with them that much. My vocabulary is limited. When I socialise, I can agree and answer direct questions but I cannot speculate on the relative cost/benefits of varying strategies during a zombie apocalypse (which makes me such scintillating company en anglais), so I appear quite boring and flat. I am better in English.

 

Anyway. Should someone who already knows they want to leave in three to five years learn Danish? My heart says “of course! languages are awesome!” but my head says “don’t bother, if people are mean to you, it can damage how you learn other languages.”

 

Danish is of limited application, even in Denmark. If you are living in a big city, there are plenty of people who are dying to speak English to you and only a minority who want to hear your shitty Danish. At most, you need to learn phrasebook Danish. You will not often get to use it outside of tourist situations.

 

And yet, you will curse yourself. For every time you are on public transport and the driver makes an announcement and you don’t know what everyone is doing or what it is they said about your destination. Or when you need an electrician. Or when someone is shouting at you, pointing their fingers at you and getting animated as you blush and shrug. Or when you see a lost child. Or you fuck up at work because something vital was communicated only in Danish.

 

But honestly, with the quality of the Danish language programme put on for foreigners (and considering you will only get a year of it from now on), you were never going to get good enough to do those things. Even if you had worked hard and been a good immigrant. Even if you had got yourself some Danish friends. Even if you spent every evening on your homework. And for everyone that insists you should have been speaking Danish fluently after three months of residence, there are three who will switch over to English the second you screw up the pronunciation of something.

 

If foreigners who intend only to spend a short time in Denmark need to learn enough Danish in the first year to be able to function in Danish society without interpreters, then the recruitment of them has to change. Instead of relying on government schools, companies need to make sure that their workers are given high quality Danish tuition that targets their needs. The message “Everyone speaks English,” must be scrubbed and be replaced with “We will give you an intensive course before you arrive so you are functional.” It is this disconnect between what is said in the recruitment process and the actual reality of Denmark that bothers me. Not the need for Danish.

 

Do you recognise your body language?

A little background. DR, the national tv network of Denmark, has a mini-site to solve the problem of high unemployment amongst a group they call “nydanskere”

What is the definition of a “nydanskere”? My dictionary has

“An immigrant or a second-generation immigrant in Denmark”

“A second-generation immigrant is a person who is the child of an immigrant and was born, or spent most of their childhood, in the new country.”

What do nydanskere look like? According to dr, this is representative:-

New Danes
New Danes

Many of my friends are unemployed (or underemployed) foreigners. They would look out of place in that photo because they are south-east Asian or white or black or any other variety of human that is not middle-eastern or sub-continental Asian.

If you ask my friends why they cannot get a job that reflects their skills or training or experience, they often say that jobs are awarded through networking. Someone knows someone, they have contacts and then they get the job. They also tell me of interviews for English speaking jobs where they are told their Danish is an issue. Or they go for interviews for Danish speaking jobs, whilst being fluent in Danish and are told their accent will be a problem.

It is great that DR seeks to help people like my friends and those in the photograph become meaningfully employed.

On the site, there are some interview tips and information for how to find jobs.

There is also a “Learn Danish” page, they have three games.

“How to go supermarket shopping in Danish”, “Karaoke Danish” (a very basic pronunciation game) and a memory game that doesn’t work. All of these pages are in Danish, the people who are able to access them are not the people who need to work on pronouncing “e” at the end of verbs. Not to mention, where is the “job interview Danish” game? It’s almost like they had access to six nydanskere to interview about getting a job and they didn’t think to ask them what sort of Danish learning games would be useful.

Then there are some quizzes.

One is about writing a C.V. and application. One is about the Danish work market with such questions as “Where are most jobs advertised?” and “What percentage of Danes work with nydanskere?” and no questions about most jobs not being advertised at all.

I will reproduce the “Recognise your own body language” questions and answers in full. I will not spoil the quiz for you, you have to work out the answers yourself.

1) How do you enter a room?

a) I stick my head in first, wait and then enter completely.
b) I open the door wide and tell a joke, while I raise my arms up above my head.
c) I come in calmly and greet everyone in a clear voice.

2) You wear hijab for religious reasons, what do you do at the interview?

a) I take it off because otherwise I’d  be afraid of not getting the job.
b) I keep it on, it’s my signature look.

c) I put a more noticeable hijab on and mention immediately that they will never get me to take it off.

3) You have sat in yourself down in the interview, how are you sitting?

a) I lean back, with crossed arms.
b) I sit, wringing my hands together and picking fluff of my clothes.
c) I sit calmly, leaning slightly forward with my hands open.
 
4) You need to get dressed for a job interview. What do you wear?
 
a) I put my best party clothes on.
b) I dress in clothes I look good in but are appropriate to the place’s dresscode.
c) I won’t get the job because of my clothes, I’ll wear whatever.

5) The interview is underway and you are asked about your bad sides, what do you do?

a) I say I don’t have any bad sides.
b) I have prepared and mention a couple of things that could be considered bad sides. You are only human after all.
c) I recite everything I cannot do.

6) You come into the job interview, what do you do?

a) I nod politely and get myself ready.
b) I shake hands, say my name and get eye contact.
c) I smile and give a hug and say my name.

Now, okay, quizzes can be a bit fatuous and silly. But do DR really have such a low opinion of nydanskere that they think that this information would be useful in any way?

Not to mention, (spoilers!) wearing a hijab in an interview with some companies does mean you do not get a job because it is their written policy.

Not to mention, only two of these questions was really about body language.

Anyway. Imagine you follow all that advice. And you get the job. And then you work there for at least four and a half years. And you pass the Danish language exam with more than a passing grade. And you pass the citizenship exam. And you sign this. And you renounce your previous nationality. And you make a solemn declaration to become a Danish citizen.

You can still find your name and town in the newspaper, associated with being a “danger” to Denmark. (Given that many nydanskere have names which are unique in Denmark, let alone their small town and it is possible to find home addresses with only that information, this is quite the irresponsible dick-move.)

Yes, DR, it’s obviously the fact that nydanskere cross their arms at interviews and pronounce “e” like “er” at the end of verbs that is preventing the employment of them(!)

Consequences of Brain Farts

Sometimes I have “no Danish” days where my brain just cannot get with the Danish programme. What happens is that I understand about 3/4 of what I usually can and I can express myself about one half of my potential ability.

These days happen when I’m tired, sick or out of practice. They are not a big deal really and they happen less frequently than they used to. 

I was having once such day today and it’s frustrating because it coincided with meeting someone with no understanding of how languages are learned.

My working week is such that I have Thursdays off to run errands and do boring teacher stuff. One errand was to get my blood taken, so I went there first.

As I was saying my person number to the phlebotomist, my brain farted and I couldn’t remember the Danish word for 80. This is because the Danish word for 80 is almost identical to the Danish word for 70. And the Danish word for 70 is almost identical to the Danish words for 50 and 90 and so, yeah, brain fart.

So, being the Language Thinker Around Cornerser that I am, I just switched to single digits. And she reminded me the word for eighty and I went on with the rest of my code.

The phlebotomist corrected it into two digit pieces as in “twenty”, “ninety-four”, and not two zero nine four*, why not correct it into two-thousand-and-ninety-four? And then she said “But it’s right”. Yes. It was right. It is a number I have memorised and read back in single digits because that is how I learned it.

Then she said “Don’t worry, it’s not just foreigners who struggle with the numbers. Children do too.” and I thought “Sucks to be her, she has no social skills and cannot hear in her head how condescending it is to compare someone you just found out** is nearly 32 with a child

And as I had not been stuck with the needle yet and was also feeling a bit tired and sick (new job, new commute), I just smiled like an idiot and said something like yep, poor kids.

Then she asked me what I was doing in Denmark, was I here to study? And I said, no, I was a teacher and she could not keep the surprise and dismay out of her facial expression. She recovered and said “Oh, of ENGLISH though, right?”

And I told her no, I was teaching maths and science but IN ENGLISH. And then she asked me where and I told her and explained I was living in Fredericia still and she answered “You work at Købmagergades Skole?” and I said “No, I used to teach there but I quit.” and she asked if there were other schools with international lines and I named as many as I can remember and she asked if I worked in one of those and I repeated, I work in Aarhus and she said “Oh, in Aarhus. Ok. That’s a long commute.” 

So I thought, hey, maybe she cannot hear me. That’s maybe why she keeps echoing what I’m saying, to check she heard me right.

Then I figured, hey, I never get to chit chat in these sorts of situations, so to keep it going I told her I didn’t work on Thursdays. In case she was all like “Why is this chick getting a blood test on a Thursday?” But I couldn’t remember if it was “I have free on Thursdays” or “I am free on Thursdays” and I didn’t feel like getting corrected so I said “I don’t work on Thursdays” And she said “You ONLY work on Thursdays?” which doesn’t make any sense considering what day it is so I think maybe she did have a hearing problem. So I repeated myself in a different way, language learning skills ho! and she said “Oh you’re FREE on Thursdays.” Yep yep. But she said “Du’r FRI om torsdagen” so I am none the fucking wiser if it is “er” or “har” but learned to say “Jeg’r fri om torsdagen” so it wasn’t a total bust.

Then she said, (and thanks VERY FUCKING MUCH THE GOVERNMENT OF DENMARK), “but you don’t work 8 hour days, do you?” and did the lemon face.  And I said “I do, when you take into account” and then I was like fuck it, I’m not going to say “crime” by accident and said “preparation” in English. (forbrydelse/forberedelse FORbru∂elsa/FORbehre∂lsa)

And she told me the Danish word for preparation and then continued to make the lemon face. Like, I was lying about how much I work as a teacher! It was like living in England again. 

The Danish government has turned its people against its teachers in order to force through working time agreements. The Danish teachers are trying to fight back but because the government has touched on the “teachers don’t work the same hours as phlebotomists” nerve (last time I checked, the clinic is open from 7am to 1pm, so actually if you only count taking blood as “working”, then we have the same “working hours” but I’m sure she sees the other things she does as a phlebotomist as “working”, just as I see my other important duties as “working” but the government hasn’t tried to turn the people of Denmark against phlebotomists so she has no idea). In about 15 years time, Danish children will be completely unteachable as the attitudes being made mainstream about how awful teachers are filter down through the generations. And all to save a bit of money.

Then I thought, she has corrected my Danish about fifteen times in the five minutes of taking my blood but at least she doesn’t know how long I’ve been here. For all she knows, I’m fresh off the boat.

“How long have you been here?”

“Four and a half years.”

“Four and a half years.”

“Yep.”

“Wow. Doesn’t time fly?”

And I thought, she’s going to go home and tell her foreign daughter in law or foreign friends who are fresh off the boat “Don’t worry! Your Danish is SO MUCH BETTER than the foreigners I work with who have been in the country FOUR AND A HALF years and still don’t know the word for preparation and say their person number in single digits!” 

Because if you’re not an expert in language acquisition, you think that being able to speak like a native is the only marker of success. Not the fact that I understood everything she was saying. Not that I found other ways of expressing the same thought so she understood.

Non experts also think that correcting every single mistake will help learning. In fact, it does nothing and can actually do harm. What language learners need is to hear the correct way something like 15 times before it goes in. Just correcting someone whilst having a conversation (unless they ask “hey did I say that right?”), kills it. (Exception: when what they said made you have NO FUCKING IDEA what they meant or what they said was rude)

It makes them focus on what they got wrong and not on what they are getting right. It also casts you in the role of MASTER OF LANGUAGE and the person you are talking to as THE LOWLY LANGUAGE LEARNER. And how did you get your crown, again? Just by learning the language as an infant? Well, whoopty fucking doo for you!

Also, she will not think “I didn’t speak as good English at 14 and a half after starting to learn at 10” or “It must be quite difficult to acquire a foreign language if your working language is your native one,” or “I wonder where people get to practise Danish, we sure are a quiet bunch,” or even the good old “Danish is a VERY HARD language, good for her for giving it a go!” or “I guess it IS harder to learn a foreign language as an adult. I don’t suppose I’d do any better if I had to move to France or China or something” or “I wonder if having blood taken is stressful enough for someone to forget vocabulary in a language they are learning” or “I wonder if the reasons she is having her blood taken are anything to do with being forgetful and making minor mistakes.”

And I KNOW, omg, I KNOW, there are people like this everywhere. I KNOW that other countries do this and it happens even in my country. But I don’t have to deal with it in my country, duh. Or quite a number of countries, actually. And you know what, it’s not the point. I’m not comparing. It is a thing that happened and I didn’t enjoy it. And I would have not enjoyed it in French too!

The thing I did not enjoy the most was the “teachers are lazy” theme, I actually didn’t mind the rest of it that much. I have got to the stage where I know my accent isn’t going to be much better than it is and I’m doomed to be more of a Prince Henrik than a Princess Mary (or Marie for that matter), and I am okay with that. I actually could not give a fuck less. I know from my four and a half years experience, that I can survive and succeed in this country. I know I can make myself understood and follow the majority of what happens around me. So, it’s cool. It’s cool.

But if I’d remembered the word for eighty, none of this shit would have happened. 

* This is a made up four digit number. OR IS IT?!

** The person number contains your birth date.

Danish Mainstream Culture is Quite Racist

Discuss.

I mean, I can think of a lot of examples which highlight that Danish mainstream culture is quite racist and have written about them at length.

So, let’s have a heated debate. Do you readers out there think that Denmark is quite racist in the mainstream? Or is it just little pockets? Can one say “It’s not racism in this country to do x”, if anyone has been offended by it? Is it just individuals making mistakes and not indicative of the culture as a whole?

Strictly no derailments!

Examples include personal attacks and the following:-

1) America/the UK/every other country is the same/worse

2) That’s not racist! You’re overly sensitive/can’t take a joke.

3) Shut up and go home.

Like my main man Lao Tzu says:-

“A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.”

If someone is telling you that you have shat the bed, you probably don’t say

1) Other people (e.g. babies) shit in their beds all the time

2) I was joking when I shat the bed/it’s my culture to defecate here

3) Get out of my bedroom if you don’t like shitty beds!

But rather: please tell me more about developing my voluntary nocturnal anal continence.

Let’s do that here. (But for racism and not recumbent bowel evacuation. )

Expat Dinners

Expat in Denmark, the governmental organisation set up to keep highly-valued immigrants in the country, have been running expat-dinners for a couple of years now. The idea is that you can meet Danes socially, make friends and then with a newly gained social life; feel less isolated in Denmark and go on to stay until your contract is up and not a moment before!

I wrote about it when it was new and this is what I said:-

{wiggly flashback lines}

The information pack I received had a crash course (in English) of dinner table manners, what to talk about at the table, gift etiquette and so forth. It is as if the people writing it thought they were writing for aliens.

[…]

There was also an admonishment in the advert email for the scheme:

“There’s still time to sign up to Expat Dinners, or suggest that a friend does so. There is no point, no point at all, in wondering why it’s hard to meet Danes and then not taking the chance when they make an effort to do so. All the details are below, so no excuses!”

[..]

And I got matched! MATCHED! With a *gentlemen* in a town one hour by public transport. Fine. So, I emailed him “How do you want to organise this?” (Hoping he would say “Let’s meet in a public place actually, we’re both single and this set up isn’t that safe”)

Can you guess the punchline? He did not reply. What this organisation did not appreciate when it wrote its passive aggressive “don’t blame us when it is YOUR laziness which is at fault” message is that this is what happens EVERY time.

The next one is this Thursday. It’s no longer in private houses but in libraries as a sort of potluck affair. The idea is the same, to get Danes and “expats” together so they make friends. How lovely!

Now, my Danish is much better and I have looked at what they say to the Danes and what they say to the “expats” and there are differences! Let’s have a look!

Conversation Tips and Topics

Danes love to chat, and as many of you will have noticed in daily life, they can also be quite direct in their conversational approach. Be aware of irony and sarcasm, and keep
conversation positive, humorous, and light. Also remember to compliment and praise
before complaining, and only complain/criticise if invited to do so.
Usually it is a good idea to avoid business, religion and politics unless you know each other well, and are comfortable discussing sensitive topics, or topics of dispute.

Topic suggestions:

  • The weather (!)
  • Infrastructure (public transport, biking, navigation tips, etc.)
  • Vacation – where have you been, where would you like to go?
  • Cultural similarities
  • Cooking / Gastronomy
  • Humour (what’s funny?)
  • How do Danes meet Expats, and vice versa?
  • Kids and schooling (if applicable)

Most importantly – get to know each other, and have fun!

c.f.

Basically it’s a good idea to avoid topics like religion, politics unless you know each other really well. Be careful with irony, it is a very Danish phenomenon and is often misunderstood. Furthermore, it is a good idea to stay away from taboos and historical conflicts.

Hot topics:
• Weather (!)
• Infrastructure (Public transport, cycling, etc.)
• Vacation – Where have you been, where would you like to go?
• Pets
• Cultural similarities
• Cooking
• Humor (Danish humor and what’s funny?)
• How Danes meet Expats and vice versa?
• Children and School

Most importantly, get to know each other and have fun!

Spot the difference?

Did you notice how the foreigner needed warning that the Danes are direct, ironic and sarcastic (or “rude” for the cultural-absolutists out there), without any explanation of what “irony” is, while the Danes are warned that foreigners do not understand irony because it is a very Danish and oft misunderstood phenomenon.

Did you enjoy how the Danes were not warned that foreigners often complain/criticise and make conversations negative and heavy while the foreigners were advised to cut that shit out, for heaven’s sakes?

Now, you know me, I don’t like to generalise but if you grabbed Zog from the southern hemisphere of Aldebaran Gamma and told him “Just make small talk,” he wouldn’t suddenly start a conversation about the shameful occupation of the beautiful snow moon of Deneb 3 by the cruel and terrible Washiballasta ice people or begin a debate about the ethics of castrating fifth gender individuals from the planet Kallagosh. He would almost certainly talk about his pet space aardvark or the beauty of triple sunsets.

The list seems redundant to me. Have Danes never met strangers from other countries  without giving offence? It seems to me Expat in Denmark holds a dim view of both Danes and “expats”: The first group keep fucking things up by being offensive while the second keeps fucking things up by being negative. Well, that’s just lovely, isn’t it?

In my opinion, the first group actually keep fucking things up by not showing any interest in meeting foreigners. The ones who are interested, are usually fine. (Even if their use of irony is awkward and clumsy in their second language). The second group are usually terribly positive and determined to make things work when they show up to networking events like this. The negativity sets in after a long while, it’s not the default state of the foreign worker. If I had to pick something, I think they probably keep fucking things up by not being terribly interested in talking about frikkadeller and summer homes.

If I had written it,  I would give the Danes this advice:-

“Be interested in the other person and what they have to say. Listen to their life stories and ask open questions about them instead of ‘yes/no’ questions. Don’t assume you know anything about them because you have heard of their country. ASK!”

For the foreigner

“If you meet a Dane you click with, get your diary out and schedule a follow up meeting with them ON THE SPOT. Any vague offer of “coming over for dinner sometime” must be formalised or it will never happen.”