Play Parks and Dog Forests

Once, on a warm spring day, I suggested to my friend that I take her kid to the play park. It was lovely weather and my friend was sick. The kid had recently become very difficult, a reaction to the divorce.

Picture it: a childless woman in her late twenties with a 4 year old in a playpark. I kept her entertained with see-saws and swings and helping onto climbing frames. We played some hide and seek in the woods around the equipment. We had a good time. Until the little one was in the mood to push in the line for the climbing frame.

The kid she wanted to push in front of was about 2 years old. If she pushed him out of the way, it would hurt him. I tried using my words but she was not in a listening mood. I tried to explain how important looking out for each other is. I tried going over the concept of ‘turns’ again. Nothing. So, I held her back. She screamed bloody murder, cursed my name, cursed my family. And then once the boy had made it up to the top, I let her go and she forgot all about her anger and asked me sweetly to help her up.

I looked around for adult moral support. The park is lovely but not very busy even at peak times. The only other adult was the dad of the 2 year old and he avoided my eye contact like one avoids staring at the sun. I was doing something wrong. Was it my accent? Was it the way I was hands on? Should I have let them work it out for themselves, even if his kid inevitably came off the worse? There was no way of knowing because he refused to acknowledge my existence.

I put her on the swings and sat on a bench. Other kids came to play, their adults sat on benches too. Nowhere near me. Not making eye contact. Not looking my way at all. Not interacting with their kids either. Just letting them get on with it.

Ahh, the Danish way, making kids more independent. Allowing them to discover their own limits, negotiate their own boundaries. Not for me, but that is not really for me to judge for others. Not for me to judge either, this bubble around Danish adults making friendly informal temporary contact between others impossible.

Fast forward four years and I have a puppy now. She is 6 months old and in some ways has a better sense of propriety around turn taking and interacting with her dog peers than that small child back then. She knows when to back off and when to play and she respects the limits of smaller and younger dogs. This isn’t something we have taught her, particularly, she figured it out in her litter. We reinforce, of course, at home but dog body language is not even our second language and we mimic imperfectly. We take her to the dog forest so she can play with other dogs and run around in a stimulating environment.

Our dog is a scaredy pants and if a bigger dog, no matter how friendly, interacts with her, she squeals and lies on her back. She does this for about 15 minutes, gains confidence and then plays nicely with them. I can see the other dogs are playing nicely: body language, facial expressions, vocalisations all add up to “Hello little dog, let’s play fight, ok?” But she’s crying out like she is being killed until she gets used to them which is a little disconcerting for anyone that does not know her. The owners call their dogs off. “He’s not usually like this! Would you like me to tell him to stop? Messi GET DOWN”

They interact with their dogs and teach them right from wrong, not just about play fighting but all types of play. They ask how old our dog is, tell us about their dog and interpret the body language of all the participants. No one sits on a bench and ignores their dog at any point. Only once has my accent been interpreted as a cloak of invisibility. The dog park is intensely social for the humans as they trade dog tips and stories.

Dogs are not trusted to work out their limits for themselves and the humans feel no problem with telling them off when they step out of line.

What happened to Danish society that the adults feel like giving structure or boundaries to their children is inappropriate when they understand that their pets need gentle reinforcement of how to play nicely? Where do they imagine their children are learning these skills if not explicitly from adults? Why is chatting to other parents in the park verboten but to other dog owners de rigeur? It makes no sense to this outsider.

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?


Anti-Blog Indeed

I just had a weekend in London. Yes, I know, hark at her.

I got back Sunday night when I should have got back Sunday evening and the stress of it all, knocked me for six and I was really unwell all Monday. But I am back, fit for fight as the Danes say, and ready to analyse my experiences for your entertainment.

My weekend started halfway through Friday. Work time agreements in Denmark are sweet. They are really sweet. As long as I get all my teaching work done, I can leave after my lessons and not have to wait until 4pm like in the old country. I finished at 10am and stuck around, doing my marking and planning until after lunch.

I got a train, in the thick snow which fell on Wednesday, down to the airport. There were no delays. The snow had been ploughed and the roads gritted. The train was really cold because it was one of those nice new ones that don’t work, so the heating was out. (This probably accounts for the lurgee I went down with). I got to the airport very on time. The checking in lady was AWESOME, really nice and perfect English. I had a laugh with her.

Security were great. The lady in the café was bored and a bit diffident but she didn’t spit in my food or anything.

As I got on the plane, the (Welsh), flight attendant informed us that we were being diverted through Southend. No one was a dick, we just went “oh what. ok.”

He then worked his butt off arranging onward flights for two passengers who needed to get to other places after London. He sorted it out and was a thoroughly nice chap. I heart British Airways.

We landed in Southend. We were then left on the runway, freezing our butts off while we waited for the miniature border control to finish checking the passports of another flight.

A passenger did a REALLY British whinge to the runway steward and I said

“That’s so BRITISH, man,” to another man who looked kinda British. And then almost cried the homesickness was so savage.

The border control guy teased me about my passport. (It is battered to hell now)

I went to the loo and left my hat in there. I rejoined the queue to grab it and had a lovely banterous chat with two guys waiting. It was so lovely to have a joke with strangers. It was sooooo lovely!

Then I asked a steward, in terms of time, would he recommend the bus or the train?

THE TRAIN, he said with zero hesitation.

I got to the theatre bang on at half time which was so fucking lucky because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the show at all. I almost slipped on the pavement about five times, even though there was only a tiny bit of slush. There was about one centimeter of snow. About a fifth of what I left in Denmark.

The show was a sexual health charity benefit organised by the fiancée of a dear friend. I had arranged to buy a ticket off of one of his friends. I sat with three strangers and within the short time before the show started again, we had become firm friends. We continued chatting afterwards, even as it was clear the group were going home.

I met my friend and some of his other friends, and again, chatted with them about allsorts of things. I hung out with his friends in the bar, having a laugh. These people were all strangers to me and they accepted me with open arms.

Then I hung out with my friend and his fiancée and her friends and ended up sharing a taxi with a colleague of hers, who also chatted freely and happily with me about all sorts of things.

Next day, the reason I was going, I had a lunch with a friend and her friends. I did some shopping before lunch, to get some new jeans. Every single sales assistant was extra nice, extra smiley. I wondered if I was ovulating and sending out “be lovely to me” hormones.

At lunch, I had a chat with almost everyone. I knew only one other person. The chats were not superficial. They were funny. They were interesting. They were varied. No one played with their phones.

After this, I went by train to another dear friend and her family. We chatted until what would have been dawn if the sun would have come up.

I caught a train back into central London and was let off by a nice ticket inspector because I’d stupidly bought a day return the day before and not a return return. I got to the airport and then we had to be diverted through Southend because of the snow.

At the sandwich shop, the man said “I’ve been in this country for fourteen years and come to the conclusion that it’s a developed country that transforms into a third world nation at the first sight of “weather,” after we had a long chat.

Then we got a taxi to Southend. A taxi, not a mini bus, not a coach. A taxi. And we all arrived at different times and so the plane was crazy delayed.

Then we all started making friends, Dane and non-Dane alike. Then on the plane, it was the same steward and he recognised me and when we got home, we were pretty late at around 8pm. I helped a Canadian visitor to Aarhus not get stuck in Billund until 10pm by advising him of other options and we chatted in the bus the whole way to Vejle.

And I have a few conclusions I would like to come to.

The first is that you find friendly people everywhere. But. You find more of them in the UK than in Denmark. They’re not necessarily British, they come from everywhere. But they know how to chat and have a laugh with a stranger in a queue. They know how to take a fucking interest even though they know they will never see that person again. They know how to chat about a variety of things, to get the best out of the conversation.

They know how to make a human connection, no matter how fleeting.

Customer service in the UK is better. That is not to say that Danish customer service is 100% total crap but rather that in the UK, it is consistently better, friendly and faster. In Denmark, you really are flipping a coin every time you want to buy something.

On the other hand, Denmark can handle weather without turning into a third world country. They grit the roads, shovel the snow and just go the fuck to work.

What I came away with was that I really wished I lived in another country. It doesn’t have to be the UK, though that is home and I feel welcome there in a way I might not in another country. But even though Denmark has great infrastructure and working agreements, I miss the human factor SO MUCH.

I miss talking to strangers, I miss having a laugh in queues, I miss making new friends every time I meet old ones, I miss having interesting conversations with new people (and not the same one on repeat every time). I miss vibrancy. I miss home.

The taxi driver, on the Friday night, was really nice too and we had a chat about missing home and he said that I would probably be aggravated by the little things if I came back. That visiting is always better than living. And he was absolutely right.

But it’s either move to a country where people have decent social skills or be part of the movement that introduces them here. Otherwise, I will wither and die.

I get called “negative” and “anti” and all sorts of things by shit-for-brains. There is a class of person who thinks you should only look on the bright side and not try to see what you could improve or what you could change. This class of person is a nincompoop. And in calling me mean names, has shown themselves to be an unkind nincompoop. And in warning others not to read what I write, in case they become spoiled and unable to integrate into Denmark, a small minded, unkind nincompoop. Walk your own path, you small minded, unkind nincompoop!

I’m sorry, but if you refuse to address “the negative”, as it is so facilely put, then if your sewer pipes burst, you’re saying “well at least we can ‘go’ wherever we want now, don’t have the tyranny of the porcelain throne anymore,” and not “I better clean up this shit and call a plumber.” Saying “Don’t listen to the ‘clean the shit up’ message, it’s just negativity, you get used to it. It’s what it is LIKE if you live next to a burst sewer main!” is really wankerific.

Grow the fuck up, people that call me negative.

There is nothing negative that does not contain a positive, nothing positive that does not contain a negative. Everything is a combination of the two, the only constant thing is change. There is nothing negative or positive about Denmark, Denmark just is.

I look at things that could be better. And friendliness, politeness and social skills could definitely do with a polish here. I don’t talk about how they deal with snow and how I have a great work life balance because it’s boring and THE LEAST THEY COULD DO, ok?

If that means new people to Denmark should not read what I write, in case they become bitter and jaded overnight, then that is a pretty bad indictment of the state of this country. Surely they can see that the snow is dealt with really well and they have good working hours all by themselves? These things do not stop existing just because I write about how boring queues are here.

And yes, I would like to leave, (if the Fucking Flink thing doesn’t work and Denmark becomes a much nicer place to live). But it’s not as simple as that, is it?

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.

Six Stupid Arguments that are Damaging Denmark

6) There are plenty of countries that are the same

I like to call this the “but their Mommy lets them do it!” gambit. This argument is usually made in response to someone who has made the observation that, in line with other countries, Denmark is not perfect. This argument is given because the person has misheard and believes that the observation “Denmark is the worst country in the world!” has been made.

Why is it damaging Denmark?

Denmark is not perfect. No country is perfect. Everyone knows that. Some countries do things better than others. And some do things differently enough that it is just a matter of opinion which country is doing it better.

The argument is damaging because people use it as a shield to avoid having to think of ways of to improve Denmark at all. Other countries have problems with depression, Denmark never has to look at why it is true here.

5) There are countries that are worse

5) and 6) arguments are kissing cousins. This argument makes the point that in failed states, developing nations and war torn countries; conditions are much poorer.

Why is it damaging Denmark?

People who make this argument are setting the benchmark way too low. Instead of looking to Scandi cousins like Norway and Sweden or up-and-coming emerging markets like Brazil and India; we can simply look to the worst country in the world and pronounce things “good enough” in comparison.  Children do it, when they ask each other their test scores. As long as they don’t have the worst mark, it’s fine. Never mind that in another class, their mark might very well be the worst. WOO! Not Worst!

4) I agree in part but you are just being idealistic

Appeals to pragmatism are a common technique. Come come now, they say as they set up their strawman, you can’t honestly want the MOON ON A STICK, can you?

Why it is damaging Denmark

The person making this argument never offers anything pragmatic in  terms of a solution. They agree “in part” that it is a sorry situation. They do not explain how your solution is impractical (even if it is, they have no idea how to examine ideas critically), and never suggest a more practical solution. They just insist that since any attempt to improve things is like “wanting no more war and free everything”, it is time to stop and just enjoy the status quo.

3) We have to do it like this because this is how it is done

If you point out something, especially as an outsider, of how things could be improved or changed; even if you make no ego-bruising references to other countries. Even if you come up with a practical solution. Even if you cover all these bases…. You are going to bang up against this argument.

Why it is damaging Denmark

This is also known as “we fear change”. Even if someone offers an evidence based, elegant solution to a niggling problem; the argument that “it is just the way it is/this way is better because we have always done it like this” is proffered. Denmark stagnates until it has no other choice but to change its ways. To save face, those who execute changes ignore ALL evidence based ideas and try to reinvent the wheel.

The result is that improvements are sabotaged by change-averse people in organisations. If improvements are somehow forced through, they will most likely fail anyway because no one feels like they have anything to learn from others and they will repeat their mistakes.

2) The reason we have so many people on antidepressants is because old people are given them to be able to survive nursing homes and the drug companies have made up new diseases like gambling addictions

Ok, this seems like an overly specific example. In general it goes like this “The reason we [xyz] is because of [pqr]” where [pqr] avoids the point [abc].

In that specific argument, old people in nursing homes are DEPRESSED and people with “new diseases like gambling addictions” are DEPRESSED. It doesn’t really matter if the disease was made up by drug companies to sell product or if a run around the block and nice cup of tea would sort them out; they are not being sorted out and they are suffering and that is why the Danish antidepressant stats are so high. Because a high proportion of Danes are DEPRESSED.  Missing the point of “Shit son, there are a lot of depressed Danes” with the claim it is “only” the old or the addicts pulling up the average, misses the overall point . Yeah, genius, that is who we were talking about. The depressed people.

Why is it damaging Denmark

Simplistic reasoning makes me angry. Think of how long it took you to learn how to speak, walk and count. From zero to hero in a few months. You’re a prodigy! When someone tries to give me an explanation for something that misses my point entirely; it makes my fists itchy. This is NOT what your brain is for. I can think of a few more examples, like when the police attacked some peaceful protestors and everyone went around saying “Ahh yes, but the protestors had mobile phones and they texted each other and were organised.” Or when there was an anti-Islamic protest and a counter protest on the same day and everyone went around saying “Yeah, extremists on BOTH SIDES are bad.”

It is sloppy logic and destroying Denmark. Do you think H. C. Andersen, Blixen, Bohr and Ørsted went around thinking stupid thoughts like that? They bloody didn’t! They thought and thought and made sure that their arguments followed. Stop being so lazy.

1) If you don’t like it/if it makes you angry: you should leave Denmark

This is pulled out with depressing regularity. I have only been blogging in this reboot for ONE MONTH and I have been told to leave the country twice by concerned Danes. I am not atypical. The aim is either to shut the other person up (you don’t belong here, you have no right to comment), or to shame them into admitting that Denmark is the best of a bad lot (it bloody isn’t, but I’m stuck here for the foreseeable).

Why it is damaging Denmark

Critical thought does not necessarily denote anger or hate. Looking at a problem and thinking of a solution can be an emotionally detached, neutral process. That is not always true, of course, but it is not always a bad thing to be “angry” or even “hateful”. The point of life is not to avoid these emotions but rather to make peace with them.

Feeling angry is Step One, doing something is Step Two.

The instruction to leave if I don’t like it; encourages the belief that Denmark can NEVER change and nothing can ever be improved. Meanwhile, people make deleterious changes to Denmark all the time. Look at my kommune! The only changes which are unwelcome are those that might make things better? This is a particularly vicious circle. Things are destroyed by incompetents but then no one is allowed to fix it because “if they don’t like it, they should move.”

This sort of thinking is destroying Denmark because people are following the advice and leaving. In droves. Taking their skills and their insights with them. Not just foreigners, you know.

All you will have left are the old, the gambling addicts and the fuckwits who make stupid arguments like this and expect to get away with it.

Translating the News: Parental Competence Cases

This took a long time to translate. I wanted to get it out there because I think a lot of people who go around praising Denmark to the heavens have no idea how anything works here because it is hidden behind layers of the Danish language. Sure you can google translate but how would you know which articles and what can you make of sentences like “Neither is self-evident in the municipalities,” if you do not have a smattering of Danish. I would also like to point you in the direction of Only in Denmark for a selection of news stories about Denmark in English.

I understand that you WANT Denmark to be a wonderful shining example of how to do things but it does have major weaknesses. As you will see in this article, some people are working hard to make things right but they face incredible resistance and are not always successful.

The cultural expectation is that professionals are trustworthy and know what they are doing. In the cases where only one or neither of those things are true, there are no safety nets. Everything is left up to interpretation and then set it stone, never to be interpreted again.

Denmark is also crippled by a belief that there is nothing to learn from “experts”. Everyone invents their own wheel here or else does What Has Always Been Done. Practically, that means studies of effectiveness or quality are rarely conducted. If they are, they are waved away by those wish to try something similar with such reasoning as “our town is smaller than the town in the study, we will be different.”

I get a lot of “Well, it’s like anywhere then! You’d get this in <insert country>!”
Denmark is not some Shangri La. There is a lot of serious incompetence which result in horrifying decisions being made. You have taken exactly my point.

Translated from: Methodological freedom does not involve due process in custody cases


When borough councils have to identify parents who are harming their own children, they have a free hand in methodology, time frame and professionals consulted. There are no exact rules for how the sensitive parental competence investigations have to be conducted, even though they are often key in the cases where children are removed from the home.

The result is that there is an enormous variation of how thorough investigations that judge the ability to take care of children are. Even though the investigations have become commonplace in forced removal cases, there are no minimum requirements in the investigations which are not even mentioned in our laws.

Therefore there are, for example, no requirements that a registered psychologist should be consulted or that the parents and the child should be observed together. Neither are a matter of course in the municipal boroughs. (As shown by a survey by P1)

In the survey, 61 boroughs gave widely different descriptions of what a parental investigation is. While some boroughs use up to half a million on observing the whole family in a family institution for several months, in some places manage to conduct parental competence investigations for a few thousand kroner, by one social worker reading the files from local government workers and daycare workers.

Lawyers with great experience in the area experience also a sharp variability in quality of the investigations.

“It can be very superficial, what happens. Perhaps, they are not with the parents for a long time or they don’t see the parents interact with the child. It is very inadequate in practice,” said lawyer Bjarne Overmark.

He has represented a normally functioning Asian woman, who was written up in a parental investigation as “retarded” because the answers she gave the psychologist were childlike and primitive – simply because she did not speak particularly good Danish.

No quality control

The president of the boroughs’ social service leaders Ole Pass admits that no one has ever investigated the extent or quality of parental competence investigations and that the boroughs have not compiled the best practice of which methods work  or even give the greatest assurance that the parents who are harmful to their own children are identified.

“I’m not denying that there might be a need for a countrywide investigation and a compilation of what is best in different situations. I just wouldn’t want any  standardisation because there are a lot of diverse factors in play,” said Ole Pass who is also against a definition of exactly what a parental competence investigation is. “It would definitely limit the borough’s necessary freedom of methodology,” he said to P1.

The President for Parliament’s Social Affairs Özlem Cezik (SF) has difficulty seeing why there should be a difference in how parents are investigated on Lolland or in Ringsted. She wants clear, uniform guidelines for boroughs, if necessary through legislation.

“I don’t think it is sensible that there are no professional guidelines for such an investigation. It’s a bit like when an organ is being removed, you make sure it is a doctor who operates on you and that someone takes your blood pressure and so on,” she said.

She points out that parental competence investigations can directly cause forced removals and that they must sharpen requirements for transparency and due process around the investigations.

“This has got to be set out in law, so that everyone knows there is a professional basis for these investigations and at the same time parents get the due process of a second opinion or a complaints procedure.”

Özlem Cekic thinks that the investigations should be undertaken by a multidisciplinary team under an experienced psychologist. In this way, this also ensures that all cases are assessed by several individuals.

Ample due process for the parents

As the system works today, the Appeals Board refuses to consider the quality of parental competence investigations because the law does not give quality requirements for the boroughs to meet.

But the boroughs cannot see any problem that parents can neither make demands nor complain about the content of parental competence investigations. “There are indeed ample opportunities to complain about the decision as the borough acts on the basis of the study,” points out the President of many years of social worker leaders, Ole Pass.

“The lawyers who represent parents in these cases ought to know how to shoot down the reasons the boroughs gives. That’s usually what happens in these cases, that the lawyer drags the evidence documents into doubt to shoot the borough’s arguments down. It looks almost like a court,” said Ole Pass.

He thinks that lawyers all too often are occupied with the parents’ – and not the children’s – due process.

Branded for ever

Lawyers experience, however, that they are appealing to deaf ears when they attempt to correct mistakes or misunderstandings in parental competence investigations.

“Unfortunately, I experience it far too often. Typically what happens is that what were hearsay or guesswork a long time ago in the case suddenly appear as truths in the finished parental competence investigations,” says Mona Melberg who is a lawyer with specialising in parental cases.

“As soon as the first mistake sneaks its way into a parental competence survey, it is virtually impossible to get the investigations content or conclusion changed,” said Mona Melberg.

“It’s incredibly hard. You can make a couple of comments but it is seldom taken particularly seriously.”

That’s what the parents of seven year old Maja experienced, Camilla Christensen and her husband Henrik Andersen, who told P1 how their daughter was removed when she was 18 months old.

“I have never felt so powerless. Never. It was horrific. They took our child completely away from us,” remembers Maja’s mother.”

Maja did find it quite difficult to maintain eye contact and had trouble bonding with her parents. She was born with autism. But the psychologist who conducted the parental competence investigation mistook Maja’s autism as some sort of developmental disorder due to her parents inability to bond with their child. The result was a forced removal, which took Maja’s parents nearly six years to reverse.

“The whole process hinged on the psychologist’s incorrect assessment. So it was done on a mistaken basis. The mistake happened, and now we and our daughter have to live with the consequences,” said Maja’s father Henrik Andersen.

No knowledge about methodology

Maja’s story is not the only example of a borough investigation overlooking a child’s disability. Some of these could maybe be avoided if psychologists got some clear guidelines for how they should investigate children and their parents.

Even when boroughs choose to use registered psychologists, they can be on shaky ground. No one has ever investigated what works best or even if investigations identify those parents who are actually harming their children. Therefore it is entirely up to the particular psychologist themselves to use trial and error with the methods they know, explains psychologist Søren Friis Smith, who conducts investigations himself.

“We psychologists are asked to go where angels fear to tread when we carry out these investigations. We actually don’t know anything about what the upshot of changing the design of the investigations would be. It could be important and very interesting to work out,” said Søren Friis Smith to P1.

Last summer the Social Ministry formulated for the first time guidance for parental competence investigations. But the guidelines are not binding and it is underlined in the text that it is optional for the boroughs to follow the because the guidelines are not connected to any actual legislation. Out of the 61 borough councils that took part in P1’s investigation, one borough revealed that they have changed the procedures after the new guidance.

Social Minister Karen Hækkerup (S) did not wish to comment on the administration’s opinions on the unregulated parental competence investigations because she was busy last week and on holiday this week.

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Top Five Best Things about Denmark

The UN has run the regular “Stoicism Survey”, where they ask people in different countries “Is your life basically ok?” and people in war-torn famine-ridden failed states answer “What drugs are you smoking currently? No, really!” while people from developed countries say “Well, I’d be more ok if I replaced my 30″ tv with a 32″ tv, why do you ask?” and people from Scandinavian socialist paradises answer “Mustn’t grumble. Things are alright I suppose. I’m more satisfied than Jens next door, whatever he says. What did he say?”

Denmark 2011
Jeg sagde, at jeg var tilfreds. Hvad sagde du?

In response, the Guardian has published yet another puff piece praising Denmark as a place you should definitely move to immediately. Bless the author. Denmark really suits her and it will definitely suit YOU too. *

Her Top Five Things about Denmark:-

  1. Childcare: Subsidised heavily.
  2. Health service: She really likes same-day doctor appointments. (I had those in London and Cardiff too, so wtf?)
  3. A compact capital: Copenhagen is small, so you can cycle around it.
  4. Architecture and design: Fair enough.
  5. Public spaces: Clean beaches and parks.

My Danish Boyfriend’s Top Five Things about Denmark:

(He rebelled at first and said “Low corruption” and “Good weather” and then laughed)

  1. Free education from primary to university: there is a way for really poor people to get a university degree
  2. Health care coverage and quality: he acknowledges I might have a different view because I use it a lot more than he does. He would improve it by giving more comprehensive dental coverage.
  3. Not as many homeless people/destitute people as in other countries: the way the State will help you out if you are in the shit.
  4. And then he dried up and said he’d need to see how other countries were run in order to compare.

My Top Five Things about Denmark

  1. The people I have met here. Sure, not many of them are Danish but it is quality not quantity right?
  2. The libraries. OMG, I love my library, it’s so awesome. And you can get any book from any library in Denmark. ANY BOOK! (I have heard a story about a British guy getting refused a card because “Foreigners steal books” but my experiences have always been tip-top.)
  3. The work-life balance (even as a teacher). Sure, it’s changing now but my guess is it’ll take a few decades before it is anywhere near as fucked as back home.
  4. The way that even children from shitty backgrounds have an ambition to better themselves (and are able to): Their counterparts in the UK dream of being “famous”, Danish children with shocking backgrounds have ambitions like “become a politician”, “get a respected qualification and have a profession” and they take steps to make it happen. CAVEAT: the Muslim children I know have the same dreams but they say they will have to move countries to make it happen because “No one in a hijab goes to university!” “What about in Indonesia? Isn’t it wall-to-wall hijab there!” “In Indonesia(!) Not here.”
  5. The innocence: They trust the authorities. They trust people around them. They trust everyone to have good intentions. They have not realised that approximately 10% of people are most likely psychopaths (there are no figures on how many of the population are fuckwits). They dismiss as anomaly: corruption, favouritism, poor decision making and brutality. This means that when something is good, you do not have a group of Danes trying to find the downside, they just appreciate it. It’s cute, (most of the time).
*Unless you understand what is being said about you, “look” foreign, are poor, like to question things, have uneven/poor health, want to stay-at-home with your kids,  move from non-EU country to be with a Dane, do things a bit differently, sincerely miss the absence of diversity, have to promise to integrate or want to have a job other than “freelance journalist” (*cough*blogging on tumblr*cough*).

Inset Days

In the UK, occasionally we would have to endure training days. Someone would be invited to speak, there would be a boring powerpoint, some stupid activities and very rarely would it be useful.

Denmark is no different, you will all be unsurprised to hear.

On the first day of school, a chief bigwig came in and made a speech, the gist of which was

“Inclusion of students with special needs is going to be implemented because it saves money and we have to make a lot of cuts to budgets.”

What stings the hide is that Q8, the petrol company, have not been paying tax for 28 years. How much trouble would Denmark be in if they had paid? How many other companies are not paying? How many other companies have been paying less than they should?
Though, that is a different story.

I have to say, I like the inclusion model. I think the best way to teach students is in mixed ability settings, with proper differentiation for their needs. However, this is necessarily more expensive as it requires major non-contact time in order to plan, prepare and assess properly. It requires tiny class sizes (around 10-15). It requires extra educated and trained adults in the room. It requires a lot of photocopying or buying of different types of resources. It is much more expensive than what we are doing now.

We are not moving to the inclusion model. We are moving to the “haha, teach THAT!” model. Where you get 30+ students of varying needs and backgrounds, maybe one person in the room who might know what they are doing (or might actually prefer to work against you), reduced photocopying/book budget and much less time to actually prepare properly and ensure good progress.

Today, we had a training day. Today, as in Saturday. Six hours, on a Saturday, having training.

The first training session was a woman from outside, who put up text heavy slide after text heavy slide. When it did not have text it had a bullshit “graph” (you know the sort, only pretending to be sci/mat based, using involving a triangle) or some sort of cartoon strip.

She used quotations as the classic method to argue from authority. And what she taught us about inclusion was… nothing. She made a load of sexist observations and put up a slide of sexist jokes, though. She taught us “communication skills”. As in, we had a workshop on “active listening” for no reason. As in, we had different types of criticism stereotyped as idiotic. As in, we were told that the only two ways of dealing with the winds of change were “building fences” or “building windmills”. No other possibilities.

To be critical of change was bad. Whatever those changes might be, no matter how badly thought out.

The second training session was “about” teaching methods for inclusion but instead of training us in teaching methods for inclusion, she instead got us to do a really piss poor written activity about factors we found “most meaningful” related to our teaching practice.
Then some people fed back to the group about their feelings around teaching.


Needless to say, not one of the trainers bothered change their communication strategy or teaching method to include me.

Just like integration where it is expected for the foreigners to do all the integrating themselves, it appears the special needs students are now expected to do all the inclusion themselves.

And so this is how all the children of Denmark were sold out to save some money for the older rich people.

One from the vaults: Limited Choice

Through my colourful couple of years in London, I have a good working knowledge of several counter-cultures. One such “community” (ugh, what a word), like nothing more than to get a partner to make day-to-day decisions and otherwise limit choice to a narrow range. They then write long (and often derivative) poetry about how “free” they feel in this lifestyle and it is always the same: “because I do not have any choice about little things, I feel a lot better about my life.”

Wow, right?

What strikes me about life in Denmark is that it is *just like that*. Even without “my own Viking” to subtly manipulate me into being one of his belongings by bringing me to a country where I rely on him to translate everything and do my speaking for me; my social life revolves around him, his family and his priorities and my home decor and belongings reflect his heritage alone.

(Quick aside: I use that as a rule of thumb… if a woman calls her Danish-husband “her Viking” then there is probably a power-play at work with an uneven dynamic in his favour. It’s their choice, I am not judging but that’s one of the signs I use. Maybe you will too!)

Even without a personal one-to-one relationship with a controlling/manipulative Dane, I feel the same dynamic in my day to day life.

For example, there is very little choice in the shops. If I want to be happy, I have to sharply lower my expectations and hopes. Once this is achieved, I feel “free” just like those women I used to read on the internet.

In the street, people are breathtakingly rude. Back home, people pay good money to be treated in such a way.

I *say* the street, I do in fact mean *everywhere*. At work, in the street, in bars and even in my own home if I invite Danes back.

For example, I entered a café and a woman ran from the back of the room to the bar to get there before me. For example, at work I had to sit around doing nothing for more than half an hour because a colleague acted selfishly. She had every opportunity to act selflessly, I and a colleague told her three times (and in Danish, for what it’s worth), so don’t give me the “language barrier”, “praps she was unaware of what she was doing” guff. She knew. She did it anyway. For example, I have had house-guests say rude things to me in an attempt to shame me into acting in a different (more Danish) way even though the way I am acting is acceptable (in that it does not hurt anyone).

In a way, this is also freeing. My daily acts are separated from the expectation that they will be greeted with pleasure or acknowledgement. I may even be “punished” for acting in goodwill. This makes me much more secure in my idea of what makes me a good person. Did I hold doors open in the UK because I was “good” or because I wanted the smile from the person I was helping? Now, here, it only occasionally makes people visibly happy so if I keep doing it, it is because I am “good” and nothing else.

There is a downside, I feel like this is an easy way out. If I lived in the UK, I might be unhappy because there were too many possibilities, too much choice and too much chance of me having to think for myself. Here, straitened by having little or no choice, I feel a sense of euphoria. I do not have to think for myself! I do not have to worry about what to have for dinner: it’s going to be pork and potato! I do not have to worry about “is daycare the right option for my child?” because OF COURSE IT IS! I do not have to think of others first, I can just think about me! (To think that I used to waste time thinking “what would I do if an elderly person, a person with physical disabilities AND a pregnant woman/person holding an infant all got on the bus at the same time? Who would I give my seat to????” !)

But it is cheap. A cheap and dirty hack of my mind’s circuitry. If the only thing that can give me “joy” is if I have Georg Jensen cutlery or that weird paper lampshade thing, then life is exceptionally easy as long as I save up my øre to afford them (by being tight with money).

In the past what would give me “joy” was complicated by having to think deeply about my priorities and my interests and then narrow the possibilities down by what I could afford and what I wanted to spend time on. Here, that is not only unnecessary but ill-advised.

For example, a hangover from my free-range life in London, I am growing food on my windowsill. It makes me happy, I see green things every day and my food is super fresh. They are growing really well and I might have to transplant them outside now the weather is improving. This excites me on a level I am not ready to blog about yet.

Apparently, I understand now this should not make me happy because it is “weird” to grow vegetables on your windowsill.

Thinking for myself may have made me *think* I was happy but I can see now, that I was wrong. I should have done what everyone else is doing and only then I would be truly happy. Why didn’t I understand that people are only happy if they grow flowers  (one plant pot), on their windowsill and maybe a plant pot next to the front door step?

If you will excuse me, I feel a long (and derivative) poem coming on about how free I feel now that Danes have manipulated me into self-doubt and dependency on Their Words.