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.”
and
“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?

 

One from the Vaults: The Buck Stops Where?

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Something prescient from 2011 about Venstre foreign policy hope you enjoy reading it again.

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And so, wearily, on to immigration.

As I noted previously, Venstre allowing certain people from certain “developed” countries to have an easier experience when they try to live here permanently with their Danish husband or wife throws up problems.

The Integration Minister (Søren Pind) said at the time in a newspaper column that he was “sick to death of equality mongers”.

The Press releases from the Integration Ministry are never translated into English. Highlights of a recent one saying how successful the current immigration policies are include “Denmark is internationally seen an example of good integration,” (which is demonstrably untrue, as international reports have noted Denmark is the worst at integration), and “Denmark is today more open to foreigners than ever before but now you come to Denmark to study and work, unlike earlier where you came for asylum or family reunification,”
and my personal favourite
“But at the same time I am in the process of modernising the Danish Immigration legislation, so that for example, now it will be easier to have family reunification with foreigners who come from countries which have a marked similarity with Denmark.”

If Søren “effing” Pind thinks that Japan, Canada, The USA and Australia are “markedly similar” to Denmark, then this guys problems are more serious than we think.
His grounds for choosing the countries that are on the favoured list have nothing to do with similarity with Denmark but are rather
1) No visa required to visit Denmark from their country
2) Member of OECD
3) At the top of the Human Development Index

Which includes South Korea and Israel for all three criteria. He never mentions them in his speeches.

The OECD is a club you can belong to if you like democracy and market economies. There are 34 countries in it, less than 30% are outside of Europe. The President of the OECD is Mexican. If he married a Dane, he would have to sit the language test to be allowed to stay in the country with her.
There are no African countries in the group. Only Japan, S Korea and Israel are from Asia. Only Chile and Mexico are from Central/South America.

The Human Development Index is a calculation made on the basis of life expectancy, education and income… A way of calculating if a country is “developing” or “developed”. Denmark comes 19th, behind all the other Scandinavian countries and, as I have noted, South Korea, Japan and Israel.
Making the cut of “Highly Developed Country” but behind Denmark are countries like Bahrain, Qatar, UEA, Barbados, Singapore and Brunei.
As they are not members of the OECD, these highly developed countries are not “similar” enough for Mr Pind.

Then the visa arrangements. How very strange that this would be requirement for saying a person was more able to integrate. Whether you need a visa or not to enter a country depends on if a visa has been negotiated with the country or not. “Similarity” is a very funny way of putting something like that.

Now, let’s just cut the crap for a second. If a Dane has fallen in love with someone from another country, surely the Dane should be the judge of whether she or he is “similar” enough to be romantically involved with. Why second guess them? Why say that similarity between cultures can only be judged on visa arrangements, a country’s membership of an arbitrary group AND the use of controversial development indicators?
He has enough courage to come out and say things that are not true, like Denmark is internationally recognised as a good place for integration but not enough courage to say that he only wants Danes to marry people from predominantly white, non-muslim, rich, democratic, market-forces led countries.

He has to couch it in terms that are understandable but not easily translated into plain English and spread far and wide. Dogwhistle politics, they call it. He uses the word “similar” to mean a certain thing and that thing is not about cultural values or ability to learn a language or will to integrate but rather a similarity on the most superficial of bases.

We have to watch this development carefully. He is saying that people from certain countries do not have to pass a stupid test to be allowed to stay with their Danish spouse today but tomorrow, he will almost certainly be saying those people should also be allowed welfare benefits like receiving health care without having to pay extra out of pocket.
This will be a way of ensuring that foreign wives of Danes only give birth on Danish soil if there is a good chance they are white. This is what is coming, everyone so try to act surprised when it happens.

This is the State’s Minister being questioned on the new rules that would make exceptions for people from certain countries.

His answers are instructive. Some highlights if I may…
Enhedslisten’s (the Red-Green party), Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen asked the Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen, how is this remotely fair?

Why should an Argentinian man have to sit a test that a Japanese man does not have to? What objective reasons are there?

He tries not to answer it and just goes into some guff which reveals he wants it both ways, he wants tough immigration rules but he wants to be perceived as having an open society. (We want an open society, not a wide-open society)
Johanne gets to ask again and she says that she was not asking about the administration’s immigration policy but the concrete question of “how is that even fair?”

He tries to pass the buck to Søren Pind “because I am indeed not an expert at caseworker level here” (echoing his COP15 performance when he was trying to be chair and when he got it wrong “I am not familiar with the regulations in this system”)
He makes the general point that the thinking of the administration is to be as flexible as possible for those that have “integration potential”, who have “the will (to integrate?)”, who can… fit in our society.

Line Barfod asks the same question “What are the objective criteria that say that people from certain countries should be subject to different rules? What are the objective facts behind the Minister’s opinion that an Argentinian man cannot handle Denmark?”

He blusters, passes the buck to Søren Pind again, he says the grounds have something to do with the UN’s development index.

Lene clarifies that she does not require Lars to go into great masses of detail into individual cases, simply wants him to explain what the objective criteria are for his opinion that an Argentinian man will find it harder to manage Denmark and have a weaker desire learn Danish than a Japanese man. Why would an Argentinian man find learning Danish harder than a Japanese man?

He answers that the debate needs to be had. But later.

This is interesting. They picked “men” on purpose. They picked those countries on purpose.

Why they could not have said “Why would a woman from Pakistan find it harder to learn Danish than a woman from the USA?” goes to the heart of what this is about. They needed to find the most “ridiculous” case thrown up by this law. The case of two men from equally strange but equally non-muslim countries being treated very differently.

If they had brought up women from Islamic countries, there was always a risk he would say “Well, of COURSE, they will find it harder to integrate!” If they had brought up men and women from African countries, would he have made other ignorant observations?

Even if he did not say ignorant things, the Press would dutifully report the story in such a way that they did not need to be said. The prejudice in this country is that people from the US are more able to integrate than people from “Muslim” countries. What objective criteria is this based on? There is none.

Dogwhistle politics.

He claims that he wants to make it easier for those who can and want to integrate to come here. As there is no way of knowing who that is ahead of time, they have just decided to claim those from developed, democratic, rich countries are better at integration than those from “dissimilar” countries.

This would be a lot easier to talk about if they would reveal what integration is. Søren Pind said it was “assimilation”, becoming Danish and a bunch of American immigrants freaked out. They love being here, they said, but they do not want to BE Danish.

Is integration the ability to get a job? They already have a point system in play which allows those with educational backgrounds far in advance of the average Dane to settle here. If you have a PhD from a top 10 university but also come from a “dissimilar” country like Barbados or China, how will that impede job hunting?

If integration is about speaking Danish, then Prince Henrik (bless his heart), never really integrated properly into Danish society and he is FRENCH. As similar as you can get on these development criteria.
Plus, some of my friends are Americans in Denmark who cannot speak Danish. Even luksus Australian Gus does not speak fluent Danish. Meanwhile, all of the immigrants from “dissimilar countries” I know speak fluent Danish (fluent enough to get 12 in their 9th class Danish oral exam, some of them).

What do they mean by integration and why on earth would coming from a muslim, poor, non-democratic country preclude you from finding it easy?

Lars Løkke Rasmussen should have been hounded from office ages ago. He is incompetent, he passes the buck, his ministers make embarrassing mistakes, he presides over an administration which deliberately and accidentally misleads and he seems to be drunk most of the time.

The Danish Press leave him be. He is allowed to make such statements, answer questions in this way and get away with all manner of double-speak without being challenged.

The buck should stop with him but as he refuses to take on that responsibility, it must stop with the Press.

Let’s Deport Everyone

The present administration has been in place for a couple of years now.

When people complained that unfair deportations were taking place before they got in, we were pacified with “just wait, new red government coming in, it’ll be okay!”

When the new red government got in, we were pacified with “Oh for heaven’s sake, give them some time to get their feet under the table.”

The deportations and denial of residence are still going on.

Here are some children being refused residence because they need to apply from another country.

Here is a family who need to move to Germany because the Dane claimed a sickness benefit. Looks like the wife didn’t have enough media-sympathy points (Non-white, female, unwell) and so the whole family must leave.

Because those are just the rules! (Unless you are male and white and able bodied and working a prestigious job and then exceptions may be found if your media campaign gets traction.)

This news article says that the number of children refused residence has plummeted to six on the grounds of integration and 130 overall.

You cannot, sorry Denmark, say that children have a human right to family life and that they need to be protected from uncertainty and stress and the best place for a child is near its friends and loved ones and THEN pat yourself on the back for kicking out ‘only’ 130 of them.

So, I did what you said. I waited to see how the new administration would handle things. And while there may be fewer completely unacceptable breaches of human rights, that is still not good enough and I continue to maintain that this country is xenophobic and sick.

Weird Danes and Expats

I am not an expat. I am an immigrant. I am a long-termer. Not a tourist. I have a completely different perspective on Denmark than someone who is only here for a short-term contract or an actual Dane. Denmark is my home. I have Danish friends. I understand Danish culture. But I am not a Dane.

One of my Danish friends asked me if I wanted to go to a seminar about Danish culture and I did. I did want to go. So, I went to see what I ‘should’ think about Danish culture according to an anthropologist named Dennis Nørmark.

He is very entertaining and his talk was very well pitched. But I had many thoughts and I will share them with you now.

He led with an example about ‘expats’ being negatively affected by Danes not bothering to hold doors open for them. Who knows why they don’t look behind their shoulder to see if there is anyone behind them. I have a few pet theories (their pedagogues don’t teach them to do it in daycare, it wouldn’t occur to them that other people exist, no one else does it etc). Our friend, the anthropologist, says the behaviour is considered too courtly. That Danes view each other as a family, so they do not go to extraordinary lengths (i.e. looking over their shoulder briefly when passing through heavy doors), for them.

The Danes I have spoken to (sample: two), about this say that they would (and do), hold doors open for colleagues and family. So. I am not sure what he thinks he is saying.

I was worrying for the people at the talk because I would hate for them to get the impression that all the behaviour they are interpreting as ‘rude’ is not-rude-for-Denmark. Because, and Dennis didn’t cover this in any detail, there is a lot of that too.

Okay, newbies, listen up. There are some things that are ‘get used to it’ and some things that are ‘rude-for-Denmark’.

In the ‘Get Used to It’ pile, is not bothering to check if someone is behind you when passing through a door. Also, in the supermarket, if a Dane wants to get past, it is not rude to push you out of the way. They do signal the intent to move into your body space, their eyes get defocused and they get closer slowly. You need to look out for it.  The same with not thanking you for putting yourself out (for example, stopping to let someone pass), and barging past you when you are waiting for someone less mobile than you to cross a more narrow walkway.

Why they do this? Fuck knows. I doubt it is because they see each other as family. I am very dubious about this guy’s interpretation of these behaviours. I agree with him that they do not think of themselves as ‘rude’ and a Danish outside observer of these behaviours would also not classify them as such. It’s just what they do here. I would classify it as ‘anti-social’ and call it quits. They don’t want to make contact with other people for cultural reasons, so they go to extraordinary lengths to avoid it. Even when it means that the other people they are trying to afford privacy to, by ramming them, making them wait, ignoring their altruism, are put out.

But. Newbies. What you need to start to understand is: there are rude behaviours too. And you will see a lot of them. Because everyone is so shy and conflict averse, they rarely call people out on them. Maybe the Get Used to It behaviours were impolite in Danish culture but everyone was doing it, no one was calling anyone out and now it is normal. Who knows.

Rude behaviours include:- pushing in queues, punching people to get past, swearing at you, urinating on you, racially abusing you etc. You will see some of these. In my first few years, I saw a lot of them. Not so much anymore.

You see, Denmark has its fair share of assholes. But they are rarely challenged. So the culture of Denmark tends towards the assholish. It’s very sad but what can you do? That is not to say the majority of people here are assholes, au contraire, the majority are delightful. But if you realised that it did not truly matter if you shoved someone when getting off the bus, would you bother trying to get down without touching the people pressing from the outside to get in? What is the point? It’s not even rude here.

Then he also said things that were not entirely true. Or true for a certain value of true. In his defence of Dane behaving in a xenophobic way, he said that the Danish culture has been homogeneous for a long time so they are catching up to the multi-culture thing everyone else has going on.

He defended this point of view with the stats that in a period during the 1800s, there were only 20 foreigners a year settling in Denmark.

Not counting the Swedes or the Germans.

And, presumably, not the slaves. And not counting the foreigners already here, like the second gen French in Fredericia and the Dutch in Amager who were just beginning to assimilate in that period.

Not counting the Swedes? Honestly, if you are going to argue from authority and bring up a historical context, you better have done your reading, boy.  The Swedes were hated in the 1800s. The Danes thought they were lazy and thieves and they deported them without so much as a by-your-leave. If you want to make the case that Denmark didn’t have to deal with problems around immigration until the 20th Century, you really ought to draw a veil over the state of play in the 1800s.

Guys, this ‘we have always been homogenous’ get out of jail free card has been revoked. Danish society is xenophobic because there is no consequence for being so. My country had a lot of immigration for its entire history but it did not stop us being pricks throughout and we are still unwelcoming to certain groups. No one has any excuse, not even Denmark.

Now, maybe what he was saying was helpful to short-termers and I should shut the fuck up. Maybe being told ‘it’s just culture, don’t be sad’ is useful for people. Maybe it helps the culture shock process?

But if I had been a newbie and heard his talk, I think it would have upset me. So, I can’t help thinking it is kind of cruel. Also, casting Danes into noble savages that don’t know any better? Give me a fucking break. There are so many polite Danes, it is possible to be kind and show empathy here. I can imagine the cognitive dissonance of being simultaneously upset by selfish or anti-social behaviour and thinking ‘it’s just their culture’ and I don’t think it is fair to put people through that.

I hold onto the fact that other Danes have had enough of the assholes running ting. Thomas Skov and Lars AP would like Danes to be more courteous and friendly. They are Danes. They are part of the culture. So when people are mean to me, I think ‘they are just ignorant peasants and they have major problems with social skills’

I guess he’s right though. People on three year contracts are never going to burst through and fix Danish culture to their tastes and so lowering their expectations will help their psychic balance. And any cultural change will be very slow, so lowering your expectations is a good idea for anyone.

But. I do wish he had kept his interpretations to himself or at least not pretended they were objectively justified.  Because what he was doing wasn’t anthropology, it was travel writing.

The Logic of the Lockout

Danish education is expensive.

We want to save money.

Salaries are the most expensive part of running a school.

If teachers take more lessons on, we can fire surplus teachers and save on salaries.

If teachers are not paid for the time they spend preparing for and assessing lessons, we can save on salaries.

If we close down special needs units, we can put those students in the classes that were already there, we can fire special needs teachers (who get paid extra), and save on salaries.

If we say class sizes should be larger than they are now, we can fire surplus teachers and save on salaries.

Let’s pretend we are putting special needs students in larger classes with teachers who have had no extra training, to help them. So the voters don’t get angry. Let’s claim, when teachers fail to reach a significant minority of their students under these conditions, it is because they are bad teachers.

Let’s bring up that some studies have claimed Danish schoolchildren are underachieving.

Let’s ignore studies that are ambiguous or claim that Danish schoolchildren have been improving recently.

Let’s ignore studies that say teacher quality is the factor that most affects achievement (increasing teacher quality might mean increases in salary)

Let’s say:-

If Danish schoolchildren were in school longer, they wouldn’t underachieve anymore.

Let’s avoid:-

International studies do not suggest there is a relationship between contact hours and achievement.

Let’s suggest that teachers have a working time agreement in place where there is no upper limit of lessons they teach a week and some lessons will have no paid time to prepare or assess.

Let’s say no other job has paid preparation time. (And ignore that soldiers de-brief, lawyers research, politicians consult with civil servants, doctors write and read medical notes, plumbers get supplies from the wholesaler). Let’s pretend preparation time means deciding what topic to teach each morning.

Let’s claim that the plan is in the best interests of the students.

If the unions refuse, let’s make the teachers have a month or two with no income and the parents have a month or two with no (or a lot fewer) lessons for their children.

Every time someone complains this is bullying or unacceptable behaviour or unfair on students, claim that the unions can stop this any time they want.

Claim that the changes are for the students. Not the budget. The students. Keep claiming it.

Run national slur campaigns in the press and online. Make a lot of claims that put teachers in a bad light.

Ignore that children and adult learners who do not attend state schools are affected by the lockout (but already have different outcomes at the end of their education and will not be affected by the folkeskole reforms that are the ‘reason’ for the lockout.)

Ignore that losing the goodwill of your staff does not improve productivity or work quality.

Ignore that students missing out on these weeks will not get this time back. Ignore that a twilight session or a summer school or a Saturday cannot undo the damage of an indefinite number of weeks away from school. Do not address that students and teachers may be unavailable for the catchup hours.

Save millions on salaries every day the teachers are punished for being in a union that is fighting to have their value recognised.

Praise yourself repeatedly for using a model of negotiation where, through cooperation, both parties reach a mutually satisfactory outcome.

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?

Dear Amy

A single review of my blog on expatsblogs.com

“This blogger seems very angry, and incredibly unhappy to live in Denmark. I really wanted to ask her what her reasons for staying are, but it seems like she has disabled comments. I can’t imagine which part of this blog would be useful to someone interested in being an expat in this particular country.”

The comment policy on expatsblogs.com is “Please note: only positive or constructive comments will be published. Unnecessary, negative comments won’t be published.”

**EDIT** They removed it! Anyway, I spent ages writing this, so here we go**END EDIT**

Apparently, calling a stranger “very angry” and “incredibly unhappy” is constructive somehow? This comment is not seen as either unnecessary nor negative. What a world.

Let’s take it from the top.

“This blogger seems very angry”

My last few “angry” posts have been about forced terminations for underprivileged women, a lack of support in intercultural adoptions leading to emotional neglect of vulnerable children and the nature of racism in this country.

If that sort of thing does not make you angry, Amy, what would? What on earth could?

“and incredibly unhappy to live in Denmark”

This confuses me because, hell, the rest of my “non-angry” “this is an outrage!” “political” posts have been pretty light hearted and gentle. The non-mouth breathing peasant Dane has nothing to fear from me. (In fact, some of my best friends are non-mouth breathing non-peasant Danes. And anyone who says any different is a fucking LIAR.)

“LOL,” I exclaim, “Danes, eh? With their foibles? Hmm? How about them, eh? Nah, they’re alright… Everybody, let’s give it up for the Danes! They sure have given up on themselves. Only joking. Remember to tip your waitress. Here all week.”

Incredibly unhappy. Wow. Amy, I see I am going to have to introduce you to my good friend Mr. Projection and his common-law wife Ms. Defensiveness.

“I really wanted to ask her what her reasons for staying are”

Did you? Did you in-fucking-deed? You “really” wanted to ask me? What my reasons? For staying are?

Who do you think you are? Louis Theroux? Going around wanting to ask people to justify themselves to you.

If you read back through my archives, you can see that I have gone through cycles as I have integrated into Denmark and am currently in quite a positive, accepting phase. Indeed, in my last post, I wrote “Denmark is probably ok”. Do you have to LOVE where you live to not have to justify why you live there?

“but it seems like she has disabled comments.”

I haven’t disabled comments. I just have them open only for a short time after a new post. This is to reduce my comment moderating workload. And your comment would have been moderated because it breaks my “no attributing emotions” rule. Twice.

“I can’t imagine which part of this blog would be useful to someone interested in being an expat in this particular country.”

Perhaps it is your lack of imagination which hampers you? Maybe it causes problems in your wider life, too?

I think expats considering Denmark are exposed to an extraordinary amount of hype. A little pre-emptive bubble bursting is meant as a kindness. Being an immigrant in Denmark is incredibly hard and just being told “everything is lovely, you’ll have a great time, here’s how to deal with practical problems, here’s a picture of something quaint” is not enough.

My regular readership is around 100, not counting readers who check out one or two posts and decide I am not their cup of tea. No doubt a few of my 100 or so regulars hate-read me but I would not put their numbers above a dozen. So, there are scores of people who keep coming back to read this site. I am humbled (and a little unnerved), by that knowledge. (Sorry I have not been writing more, Regular Readers!)

I assume what they are finding useful is:-

  1. The idea that they are not alone in finding Denmark difficult
  2. News stories translated into English
  3. An archive of posts showing one person’s integration process
  4. Another voice on issues that affect them and are of interest
  5. The concept that you can think “wow, mouthbreathing peasant scumbags are the WORST” and still go on to have a happy and successful life in a country which enables mouthbreathing peasant scumbags to go about their business of being a scumbag entirely unhindered.

Furthermore, Amy, I expect they find it refreshing that someone can have a laugh and enjoy life outside of the narrow constraints of “THOU SHALT NOT BE NEGATIVE”. The cult of positivity is cruel, it is unrealistic and it is unnecessary. It is possible to look at the culture you are living in, identify its faults and continue to live a contented life.

I am living proof.

You will not be the exception

Or maybe you will. But I am so sick of telling everyone what goes on in Denmark, only for it to be repeated by a newbie as in “Now I see what all the negative blogs were talking about!” Yes, motherfucker, NOW you see it.

When I stopped this blog that time, a friend asked me to make the resource about “Should I Move to Denmark?” available so I put it on tumblr for everyone.

One important thing that all “expat” immigrant workers need to realise is

“Whatever you are told in the interview about English being the language of your workplace and that how all your colleagues speak English, bear this in mind, informal meetings around coffee and water coolers are in Danish. These meetings are massively important and you will not take part in them. Also, there will be gossip and team strengthening chats around coffee. You will not be part of this.”

And I know you very well, now you are thinking “This is their country, Danish is their language. I don’t expect them to change for me!” and when it actually happens to you at your new workplace and you realise how socially isolating it is to literally not know what your colleagues are chatting about. And when you feel tired because your brain will try to learn Danish (even without your permission), because you are surrounded by it. And when you have situations at work where you are on the backfoot because no one thought to tell you because you were sat right there when they were talking about it. And when  you realise you have effectively been left out of the decision making/problem solving process. And when you get the impression that people around you are better friends with each other than with you. And when you start to notice you only are spoken to when it is time to tell you what to do.  You will say “I don’t mind that they do this but it sort of bums me out all the same.”

Great. Now we are on the same page. So, you see. It wasn’t “negativity”, it was “giving you a heads-up”. It’s natural that your psychological immune system tricked you into thinking you would be an exception or your colleagues would be different from mine. But newbies (and people planning to be newbies), need to get things in place right from the start.

You will start out being all “nice” and thinking charitable thoughts about your colleagues. You will try to see the good. You will try to persuade yourself it is your shitty attitude that is at fault. This does not work. They will not suddenly begin to treat you better because you were super nice and professional the whole time.

You need to be an English language imperialist.  You need to act like one of those 80 year old women on buses who no longer give a fuck and just call it as they see it. You need to wipe the “It’s okay that they speak Danish, this workplace is in Denmark after all” thoughts. Those bastards TOLD you at the interview “Everyone speaks English.” They TOLD you “The official language is English here”. You need to start enforcing it, guerilla style. Obviously your colleagues are just normal people and so they are probably quite nice (except for vinegar dicks all workplaces seem to pick up), and would be mortified that they have put you in this position. If you are serious about wanting to be the exception, you need to start acting like it. You need to say things like “WHAT?” and “WHAT DID YOU SAY?” and “I DON’T SPEAK DANISH” all the frigging time. You need to say it when they’re having a joke over coffee. You need to say it when they are having a discussion about holiday plans.

You can even say “HAHAHAH YOU ARE LEAVING ME OUT OF THE CONVERSATION.”

and “AM I INVISIBLE?”

or “I GUESS I AM GLAD I CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE SAYING BECAUSE I BET IT IS REALLY FUCKING BORING AND JUST ABOUT MEAT BALLS OR SOMETHING, RIGHT?”

It’s okay, because remember, you are not really going to stay in Denmark longer than about three to seven years, so if they think “What an English language imperialistic DICK” you’re never going to see them again when you move home. Also, it’s not as if they were ever going to invite you to a dinner party for real. They were just saying that to be polite that one time.

These techniques work, by the way. I have been trialling them at my workplace, saying things like that actually gets you a level of grudging respect because you’re at dangerously Danish levels of directness and they like that. (Obvs I don’t say “I DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE SAYING!” because I do know what they are saying, I am calling them out on other bullshit they do)

Best of luck, “expats”, no need to thank me/apologise when you have your road to Damascus conversion and you realise that I was not being “negative” but just not sugar coating the turd for you. You are welcome but I would have done it for anyone.