I got into a discussion at work about what I would like to do next year. I do not really know what I will do next year. I would like to move to a big city and have a nice teaching job. Though which city, which teaching job… that is all up in the air.
I made the point that I would need to find a really good job to justify staying in Denmark and went on to elaborate that I “hate it here”*, so having a horrible job on top of that would be too much.
Obviously, this led us down the alley of “Why do you hate it here?” but before this was established, he said
“If you hate it, you should leave.”
I replied that I would like to, in fact, I made plans to do so two years ago but getting with a Danish boyfriend spoiled it. He asked me what had kept me in the country if I did not like it. And I said that I really liked my job and I wanted to be with my boyfriend.
Then he wanted some concrete examples of what I did not like about Denmark but I must point out, that he was looking defensive and angry *at this stage*.
I gave him a quick précis, Disgruntled Foreigner 101. Discourtesy in shops/the street, rudeness from Danes in one-to-one situations, racism, being “invisible” in social situations and my social life effectively ending when I got here. I stressed it was not all Danes but these bad interactions are random and unpredictable which makes it difficult to relax.
First he asked me “what do YOU do when Danes are not speaking to you?” I told him that I do speak to them but they go on ignoring me and reminded him of the Knitting Club Incident of 2009. “Have you got any Danish friends?” I told him that I have three. (I actually have four if you count my boyfriend.) I told him that I went on holiday for a month and made that many friends, in other foreign countries.
Secondly, he tried to tell me that the rudeness and racism I was experiencing was not rudeness or racism. He tried to tell me I had interpreted it all wrong. I told him that I gave the rude Danish people the benefit of the doubt for 18 months and then realised that the rude ones are in fact rude. I told him that I refused to dismiss The Danes as savages and say that they cannot help it, that being racist/rude is somehow cultural and excusable. Plus, even in the case where racism affects me but it was not meant as an attack, it was just a clumsy ignorant person acting on their base instincts:- it still affects me! I guess I forgive them their trespasses but it still impinges on my quality of life, even if I find some way to rationalise how they behaved.
I said that that sort of “doubt your own perception of events” was another part of the problem, that foreigners are often told they are wrong, they have seen rudeness where none exists. And that this was not very helpful. I know what is going on. I admitted that more than occasionally, it is hard to confirm:- was that person a dick generally (and to everyone), or did I get “special” treatment. But against that backdrop, if you are getting treated like shit semi-regularly, does it matter if it was “personal” or not? It still feels shitty, right?
I reminded him of the mercury spill at work that is only now, two years later, being dealt with. I told him how that made me feel like I was not safe. That since work and my doctor had not been concerned with a major chemical spill, that my physical safety was in jeopardy.
He told me that I should leave if I felt that way, again. I said that I wanted to but I have a boyfriend here who would like to finish his education.
He asked in a very frustrated manner “Is there ANYTHING you like about Denmark?”
I answered, “I suppose the beaches are nice?” Shit man, like, sure there are good things about Denmark but they are not *specific* to Denmark. I could find many of the advantages of Denmark in Sweden, France, Germany, the UK (etc etc) and a completely different set of disadvantages.
He said “I think you are generalising.”
And I drew closer and I said really softly.
“Listen to me. I am not. I am really really not. I am saying a minority of Danes are like that and it is ENOUGH to make me want to leave. A minority are like that. The majority are probably ok. But of course, I notice the bad ones more because they are up in my business.”
“You are generalising about that minority.”
“Uh. Ok. I am quite happy to generalise about the minority that I have met who have treated me badly… I am categorically not saying all Danes. Some Danes. Enough Danes.”
Then he said “I think you are being very direct and very honest about your feelings.”
“Yeah, I’ve really integrated.”
He did not laugh even though I did. And then he said,
“I think you need to persuade your boyfriend to leave, if you hate here and go. You shouldn’t stay here if you do not like it.”
I replied that he should take it up with my boyfriend.
I told a couple of Danish colleagues about the conversation. One said “WHO THE FUCK DOES HE THINK HE IS? How DARE he tell you what to do!” Another said “How can he say YOUR EXPERIENCE is wrong? I mean, shit, I might move to the UK and think ‘What a terrible country!’ for exactly the same reasons and it doesn’t make the UK a *bad place*, it’s just my experience of it. It’s YOUR experience! He can’t tell you that you are wrong about something like that.” I said that I know foreigners who like it here, so obviously it is not all Danes. “Yeah, of course it isn’t. But that doesn’t invalidate your experience.”
If you needed more “they’re not all like that” proof, I went to my doctor and he said
“You know there are loads of English speakers in this town, right? I don’t suppose it’s easy to make friends if you speak Danish as a second language. Would you like me to give them your number?” so giving “foreign in Denmark” as a symptom really paid off!
And, of course, there are my three Danish friends who are awesome, kind and friendly. On top of that, there are a few Danish acquaintances who are the same. So, I do get that they are not all like that. I do understand they are diverse. (Not only do I understand it but I said it repeatedly.)
However, that does not improve my feelings about meeting bad-danes who interfere with my natural good cheer. Knowing a few dozen nice Danes personally, it doesn’t help when someone is rude or tries racism on me.
I told my boyfriend over the phone about the conversation and he laughed. It is funny. Sort of. No, actually, it is all the way funny. That a general conversation about how a culture is not a good match for my temperament was taken so personally, that is laughable. That a conversation about how people in parties treat me could make someone (who has never treated me badly), feel angry at me for having my feelings hurt, that is funny.
A man tried to jump the queue in Føtex (maybe he didn’t see there was a queue but he sure as hell didn’t turn his head the 45˚ necessary to check) and I patted his arm and said, there’s a queue, I’m in it. And he said “Oh, it’s like THAT is it?” and I said “Yes. That’s right,” and smiled and that was the end of the discussion.
Which only goes to show how much I have levelled up in four years.
*I probably don’t “hate it here”, I probably mostly “dislike it here”. But yeah. It varies from hate to very-mild-dissatisfaction.