One from the Vaults: Integrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a bit from the Tao Te Ching.

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

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

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?

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.”


“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.