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?


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.

Danish Hype

Denmark is very “in” right now. It often tops (or almost tops), lists of the Happiest Countries. Foreign journalists have been invited on lots of wonderful trips to Copenhagen after the hype from excellent Danish drama series; and they report back breathlessly about their experiences.

Something curious happens as soon as I blog about something that is not so good in Denmark, even if all I do is translate the news:

Danes think I am picking on Denmark. And they get the hump with me.

When I make the point that Denmark is no better than a lot of countries; they read that as Denmark is worse than other countries. And they tell me that Denmark is no better than a lot of countries.

They dismiss my concerns about privacy, fairness and rule of law as hopeless idealism. As if no other country in the world managed to give depressed people sickness benefits without threatening them with a treatment that their doctor has recommended against. As if no other country in the world managed to balance the different needs of a child in a custody case so that they did not end up full time with an abuser.

If I go too far with them, for example saying that I am afraid of starting a family in this country; they scream at me to go back where I came from.

If you are serious about moving to Denmark, you need to read those comments carefully. Because these attitudes are quite uniform and Denmark is never going to change. You will have to find a way to live with it until you can arrange the shipping container back to where you came from.