An Observation…

In The Main Beef on 02/09/2007 at 20:23

I’ve been keeping up on an ongoing conversation in a forum I visit, and the direction it’s taken has been interesting, to say the least. It’s actually kind of miffed me, because the impression I’ve gotten from what some posters have said is that really, no matter what you do, if you are a foreigner in Denmark you might as well give it up because there’s no way to succeed. The Danes won’t accept you, you’ll never learn the language well enough to fit in, no one will ever hire you to do more than clean, you’re just stuck in a little country full of xenophobes who will deny you success at every turn. Is that possible? Is an entire country able to keep someone down, unable to succeed, unable to move ahead, because they might not be just like everyone else? And if so, what does that mean for other, larger countries? If Denmark can shut out their foreign immigrants, what could America do? I decided I needed to weigh in, even if it means nothing to anyone else but me. Below you can see what I wrote, then I’ll follow that with a few other choice thoughts.

From the Coconut Club Forum:
“No one should be treated as a second class citizen, no matter where they come from, how much of the native language they know, or by the color of their skin. At the same time, the best way to fit yourself into a place is by doing what the natives do. Learn the language, work, pay taxes, all that fun stuff. And doing that takes time, great effort, and no little amount of toughing out the things that one may have otherwise been used to where they came from. Is it supposed to be a struggle for the entire time one is in their newly adopted country? Well, that depends… is one actively being blocked from making their way, or is it that the effort being put forth isn’t quite as much as it could be because one thinks that they shouldn’t have to struggle quite so much? For me, I expect that it’s probably going to take at least a year to really get the language down, and build up enough of a network that finding the kind of work that I’m good at doing will be easier than it is at the moment. But that’s just me. I have a bit of a framework to help with support until that time, including a wonderful husband who stands beside me through thick or thin.

In the States, I’ve dealt with stupid people all of my life. Just because I’m black, they seem to think that means that somehow I’m not quite like them. Some have even attempted to make me a second class citizen because of the glorious color of my skin. To which I have laughed, given them a look expressing disdain for their lack of intelligence, and ignored them as being either unwilling or unable to learn that people are pretty much the same, no matter the outward appearance. I intend to do that here as well, if I run into someone blatant enough to bring up my color as some kind of problem. I discovered that the place doesn’t matter, but the people do. I work accordingly within that. Again, that’s just me. My background has been fairly diversified from the get-go, so perhaps it colors how I view things.

Now, my views all may very well change after I’ve been here another few months, or years, but as of yet I haven’t seen any of the problems that I have seen in the States happen here. Maybe it’s a side effect of my new marriage and my whole-hearted acceptance that ‘when in Denmark, at least attempt to do as the Danes do, with a little American flare’ and maybe that will pass after the millionth time I’ve attempted to congratulate someone on their birthday and instead end up cursing them by my butchery of the middle Ds, Ås, and Øs liberally sprinkled throughout the language. Maybe I’ve been lucky so far, and if that’s the case then may that luck hold, and maybe I can spread it around a little. Because I too have thought about going back to the States, and wondered if this was such a good move because it’s such a little country, barely bigger than some cities I’ve spent time in. There are few people who look like me, can I find someone to cut my hair, or a shop with good skin care products? Can I deal with a country where everyone is either as pale as the paint on my walls, or fake-baked into golden color? Then I just remember where I come from and laugh at how much alike people are, no matter where you find them.

Are the people and institutions in Denmark any more racist or xenophobic than in the States or other countries? Obviously, for some, yes. For me, time will tell. I think, in the end, it will be here much like it is anywhere else… exactly what I make of it. Should be an interesting ride. I hope the Danes are ready…”

Having said all of that, what still bothers me about the trend of the recent forum posts, is that rather than people coming in and saying ‘I disagree’ (though there was one, which was greatly appreciated) or ‘well, this is how I dealt with issues’ I hear more about how people are wishing they could leave. That they would leave if… The impression I get from all of those posts is that somehow Denmark has managed to bottle and instill in its citizenry a desire to avoid immigration at all costs, to treat foreigners as less than acceptable, and to make sure that only Danes move ahead in this little corner of the world. So somehow, Denmark has managed to put into action all the things that numerous groups in America, Germany, Israel, Africa, and various other places around the globe have been attempting to do for decades. Denmark has cornered the market on xenophobic behavior, and managed to find a way to hold back anyone not danish from succeeding. I find this amazing, somehow impressive, and yet not totally believable. Of course, everyone deals with things in their own way, and many find ways to make lemonade out of the lemons they’re dealt. Sort of like me, though I don’t know how to make lemonade. Do make a mean cheesecake, though. 😀 So some, feeling the lemons here in Denmark won’t translate to a decent lemonade or even lemon meringue pie, or good lemon bars, decide to go for the lemons presented by countries that they are used to, lemons they have dealt with before. Which is absolutely fine. I just happen to disagree with how they are presenting things.

Maybe that’s because this Wren is inherently an optimist, believing that life will be what she makes of it, no matter what the outside world might try and throw at her. Because we all know that it definitely throws all sorts of things at us, each and every day. And we rise, or fall, based more on how we deal with the curves, than that we get tossed those curves in the first place. I guess I believe that I determine my destiny, rather than letting someone else do it. Ok, maybe that makes me an incurable optimist, and a bit more of a dreamer than a realist. Maybe, when the world wants to smack me down, I ought to know when to just accept it and fold. Or adjust my plans to accept it as just the way life goes. Guess I still have a bit to learn… Another day, maybe. I have a language to learn and a country to conquer.

  1. I am familiar with that string on the Coconut Club. I may have even been a contributor:) Can’t remember. There’s also the Foreigners in Denmark forum, which I quit after becoming fed up with some of the brutal attacks inflicted on others for expressing any grievances about this country. I started a new forum ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/edvg/ ) for people who’d like to kvetch without attacking others. One guy from the foreigners in Denmark forum actually followed me onto my forum to tell me “you’re full of shit” and “go back to America”, and that “Americans are the loudest, rudest, most narrow minded people in the whole world”.

    Anyway I digress. Your post here is a thoughtful one and I agree that people should strive to make lemonade of lemons. BUT – this is a phenomenon I have not seen the likes of anywhere else. OK, untrue. There are plenty of immigrants in the States who feel marginalized in similar ways, only there are plenty of American citizens who feel just as marginalized. The poor ones. At times minorities. I’m not sure what the differences are, but they exist. Maybe it’s the size of Denmark and the sameness. Perhaps it does help to find a vast pool of foreigners to commiserate with or really connect with and that’s difficult to find here. Maybe a bit in Copenhagen, but other places? Hmm. I live in Ribe and, while there is a small community of immigrants here, we are not quite together for some reason.

    I have more empathy now for the immigrants back home (U.S.) then ever before. I don’t have an answer to why people feel so shitty here and left out, but there are valid reasons. Some people have the ability to “rise above” and succeed. Others might be more prone to defeat. Depression. Lots of reasons why many people have not been up to the noble challenge of being happy here. Perhaps for many people, the achievement of happiness was never considered such a challenge. Maybe takes a bit of adjustment. There must be something, though that is very real about the fact that so many people are down in the dumps about living here.

    I was very positive several years ago when I arrived. When I got my residency I thought everything would require work, but I’d pull through. Well. After 9 straight months of being rejected by every single job center, employment agency and company I started to lose a little steam. The problem was not my lack of credentials. The problem was people’s unwillingness to even review my credentials. I mean showing up at an office and immediately being told no. No by employment agencies who need a work force.

    I have since worked several non-glamorous jobs including factory work, newspaper delivery and peddling chinese toys. I’m currently studying again and in my last semester. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of those people who initially entered Denmark for work. It was based on marriage. I have been trying to blend in since. From the doctor’s office, to prospective employers to daily community I have been trying to break into this tribe. I have always been a social person and feel myself becoming withdrawn more and more each day.

    People I have contact with on a daily basis act as if we’d never met before. My Danish started splendidly and has diminished gradually. I think it’s a psychological resistance.

    Copenhagen was easier. I made friends with people at sprogskole and eventually became part of a studio in vesterbro (I paint), which really made me feel included. But we left Copenhagen at the end of 2005.

    I wish you luck with your outlook, and understand how you might disagree with people’s attitudes. I wish my attitude were better. I wish I could smile every time someone threw shit in my face. It’s hard. Believe me…for some of us it is hard. We can’t help it. We have good days, but on the bad days we need to vent. As my friends in the government offices, telecommunication companies, job centers etc. say – “That’s just the way it is”.

  2. JD –

    Thank you for your thoughtful and informative post. As I said in my observation, I may well change my mind after running into some of the blocks that I do believe are there. Part of me hopes that I will be lucky, but part of me also doesn’t believe that will be the case. I take the particular viewpoint above, however, to offset what I recognize in myself, and to let anyone else, who might be interested in another, differing expression, know that I’m not giving up. That even though I do see this country as a small, roped off, VIP-only room as some of its folks may think, I intend to get beyond the red ropes and add a splash of color. My biggest problem with some of the attitudes is that, like me, I assume many of the folks came here of their own choice. Not all, I know that, but probably more than not. For all that I may find many things confusing, irritating, otherwise disconcerting, I chose this situation. If I can’t make it work, no matter the odds, then I need to find someplace I can. But, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again, that’s just me. My opinion is my opinion, whether I’m sprouting roses or raging against the machine. It’s not gospel, no matter how high an opinion I may have of myself. *laughs softly*

    I fully believe in people needing to vent, believe me. That’s what I do here, in one way, shape or form. And I encourage it from anyone who reads my blog, to agree, disagree, offer up a completely different viewpoint, or even tell me I’m full of shit. Of course, those I will delete, but they’re still welcome to spout. 😀 I also know that that is one of the reasons forums such as Foreigners in Denmark and the Coconut Club exist. People need a place to vent. In all ways.

    You are always welcome to come vent here, any time you see something that raises your ire, tweaks an ear, or makes you laugh.

  3. Hahaha! Well I certainly have not given up either. I am still here aren’t I? Yes by choice and also because I am not one. We are four. Children really drive the nail into the coffin. KIDDING!!! Sort of.

    There are plenty of people who are content here and who have made it. Sure some of them find it to be bland at worst, but people have a tendency to be vocal about bad crap. Who ever vents, “God I just love it here. Oh the weather is always perfect and….”


  4. Hang in there, luvvie. 🙂

  5. Hey darlin’! Oh yes, I am hanging in there, believe me. It’s like moving to any city, there will always be adjustment periods. I have patience. I’m not going anywhere, except for vacation. 😀

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