Sunday, July 03, 2016

to be or not to be (danish)

a friend on facebook shared an interesting article yesterday. it's an interview with a german journalist who has lived in denmark for 15 years, is married to a dane and is raising danish-german children. unfortunately for most of my readers, it's in danish. but, i'll tell you the gist of it. the rhetoric in today's denmark is much like that in the uk, which recently precipitated their brexit vote - anti-immigration, anti-foreigner. when i came to denmark 18 years ago, it was easier, today, you have to put an obscene amount of money in a bank account and pass a high level danish test to achieve permanent residence. in my day, you married a dane, met up once a year at the immigration office for two years and then after three years, you were a permanent resident. in those days, there was talk of integration, not assimilation. that's all changed. the danish justice minister recently said that anyone coming here should "adopt danishness," with the implication that our original cultures should be obliterated and we should just give ourselves over to being danish (he's a bit thin on what exactly that entails, but it has something to do with paying taxes, eating pork and thinking christmas is december 24).

and like marc-christoph wagner, the german in the article, i think "no way!" i am, in many ways, less american than i once was, in the sense of being less loud, outgoing and open to talking to strangers. but where i was raised is imprinted in me in ways that i can never change. i just have to hear a cars song and i am transported to teenage summer nights, driving around with friends, singing along, the radio glowing green in the wide front seat of the car, windows open. talking about everything and nothing. sometimes all it takes is a scent to touch something deep inside me, triggering a flood of memories and a sense of who i was and where i grew up. while i have memories and songs and scents from denmark that do that for me as well after all these years, i can never and never want to, be free of the ones that stem from the culture where i grew up. to want to take that away and replace it with pork rinds and thinking that christmas is the 24th would be to try to erase who i am. not to mention that i don't even think it's possible.

i was thinking the other day, as i biked 16km across copenhagen (the stuff of another blog post), that denmark has changed a lot in the 18 years i've been here. when i came, people were more open, more prone to public nudity (sprawling out in their underwear in the parks and cemeteries at the first rays of sunshine), more rebellious (they had the highest percentage of women smokers in the developed world). it was ok to be proud of what you did for a living, whether you worked in an office or on an assembly line. that's all changed. now it's scandalous to go topless on a beach, men are hardly allowed to work in kindergartens for fear that if they hugged a crying child to comfort them, they would be seen as pedophiles. and everyone wants a career and not just a job. and there's a big rise in nationalist rhetoric and xenophobia. a few months ago, it was perfectly ok to stand on an overpass and spit down on the refugees as they come in, as some danes did down at the border with germany.

i realize it's not just denmark. it seems that the zeitgeist of the moment is right wing extremist madness. those with less education and less money are frightened and pressured all over the world and they are speaking out with their bigoted viewpoints and votes. it's what caused the brexit vote and the rise of a clown like donald trump. and it's why even politicians who once seemed sensible are saying increasingly awful things in the interest of remaining in power.

and as usual, i find myself out in the middle of the atlantic, wanting to feel neither danish nor american.


Feisty Harriet said...

I really appreciate this post, even if I don't identify much with it (being a born-and-bred American who has always lived in America), but I do appreciate the point of view.


Susanne said...

That makes me very sad.