My posts about Norway are popular. And people leave all sorts of comments on all channels: private emails, FB, blogspot, and others. Today the secretary with the English program suggested on Facebook that perhaps it's time that I got Norwegian citizenship. I wanted to say, 'why would that make a difference to the way I feel for Norway?', but I said instead that I was actually considering doing just that. Another asked me if I could offer thoughts on why I thought the Danes are purportedly the happiest people on the planet. I told her about an episode not long ago. Some Danes wanted to know what I've learned from Denmark after all these years here. I shocked them by telling them that I learned to complain a lot. As it happens, I actually do believe that what makes the Danes happy is the fact that they can voice their grumpiness (even when it's not justified) to just about anybody. It makes the Danes really happy to know that they have an audience onto which they can project their feelings of being appalled at everything. There is however a paradox somewhere in it. For, while voicing your dissatisfaction can be seen as a sign of directness—which many Danes will tell you that they like to profess—in my experience, if you are direct and bold with the Danes, they take offense much faster than the rest of the world.

Today, after playing bride by the waterfalls at the Per Nilse gorge, and then getting the ride on Nicolai's tractor that I coveted—he even let me drive by myself—I came back to catch Vincent on Controversy while debating Danishess. What makes a Dane Dane, he asked and also offered himself as an example that may be ambiguous, what with his pedigree: half Dane, half African American. The only woman on the show, a Lutheran priest and a journalist was talking nonsense most of the time, yet she was quite genuine in her expressing her unease about Vincent. “I don't know about you, Vincent,” she said, “but you don't strike me as very Danish, you know.” Right. She was voicing the segment in the Danish population who believes in assimilation by encouraging the foreigners in Denmark to make an effort and try to look as much Danish as possible.

Now, I don't know about this, and God only knows, I make an effort, and sometimes I think that I even look better than the Danes. I'm much more fashionable, I try not to have stupid red hair, or wear high heels like a slut, who's trying to pass for a virtuous Danish subject all the time. And yet, and yet, there isn't a single Dane who falls for my act. No matter what I do, the first thing that happens in my encounter with Danes is meeting a lot of suspicion. We don't trust each other. Trust is the thing that keeps a nation together, some of the other people on the show agreed. They were a culture researcher, the conservative Iranian actor whom we've had before on the show—and who was also talking nonsense again—an anthropologist, and a writer. I liked the writer the best. He claimed that Danishness is a phony thing that the Danes like to tell each other about each other and that it has nothing to do with any of the bullshit values that most Danes are so enamored in talking about, such as the freedom of speech, for instance, which, by the way, is not even so Danish, but more of a universal thing that no one ever dreams about challenging in terms of its positive value.

One can, of course, argue to what extent Danish meat, Danish strawberries, Danish design, and so on, is the best on the planet, and then extrapolate that the reason why it's the best is because it has to do with the inventiveness, creativity, and snappiness in business that the Danes are so unmatched at. Ah, things, of course, and possessiveness, even better, and all that talk about trust. It's true what the say, that people have very short memories, very short indeed. For what do we need to bring in the foreigners for, in the assessment of national values? Why not look 50 years back, or at neighbor feuds, and the mistrust between small communities of people who share the exact same shit? Oh, the stories that Nicolai's gaze told me, while looking at the neighbor getting a new facade, and all that. He had to have his own house painted on, as we spoke. And is Vincent an American just because his father is one, or because he likes to listen to Ray Charles? "What'd I say?" Ray said it well, and we all get the picture.

But this is getting too long, and I'm tempted to launch into a much more interesting discussion about food here. However, let's make one point clear. If Vincent wanted some really interesting thoughts on the table on the discussion of what Danishness means, he would have invited exclusively foreigners who live in Denmark to debate it. He didn't. And the only reason why he didn't is because he didn't ask the right people for their opinion. Which is all the same. On identity issues and issues of belonging we really do what we've got to do, and it doesn't even matter whether we can do better than that, better than saying that we do the best we can. Belonging is, after all, not nearly as abstract as love, nor as beautiful.


Dovile Budryte said…
Dear Camelia, I really think that you could try red hair for a day. Or green. You would get so much more attention! In ANY country. And especially if you decided to wear high heeled wooden clogs!
On a slightly more serious note, I really like your insight that if one wants to get "really interesting thoughts" about what Danishness (or any other ...ness) means, one should invite/consult the foreigners. Yesterday I listened to a fascinating "international" seminar (full of foreigners and Lithuanians, whatever that means) touching upon the themes of tolerance and Lithuanian-ness. One idea that I had listening to this seminar (which kept coming back to me as I was reading your essay) was that there must be a relationship between being able to compare and ability to tolerate. Perhaps only "foreigners" can say, well...oh well... the Lithuanians (or the Danes) or whoever are not that special. After all, we all like to complain, laugh, etc. I guess it's just that some of us (because of historical conditions) are likely to do "it" in public and more directly/openly than others.
Pia Grønbæk Pedersen said…
Being Danish and living abroad - while making a living writing about Danes - has made me think a lot about Denmark and Danishness. I'm often asked, "do you miss Denmark?" I do, sometimes. But then I realise it's not the place itself. More than anything else, it's some idea of it in my mind that I still can't quite get rid of, even though, when I go back, my idea doesn't always sync up with what I experience there. I thought about applying for British citizenship, but in the end I didn't feel ready. It would mean giving up my Danish one, and somehow I felt I'd lose something, if I did. When asked I couldn't properly explain what that 'something' was.

This is getting way too long, but I hope you'll forgive my rambling. I will find that episode of Kontrovers. The priest in the programme, was she called Sørine something-or-other? I remember her from another debate, during which she talked nonsense.
Camelia said…
Dovile, the only problem is that not all of us want all that attention. If we did, we might just as well bank on a career with the circus. But funny as it may sound, and as much as I actually like Denmark--if I didn't I'd be back in Romania--as a foreigner here you have two options: to be invisible or to be 'different', be that through hair--and mind you, hair is actually a very significant marker of your ethnicity--or through political views that no one endorses first hand even when they are solidly sound first hand. So, if you ask me, in the long run you just get tired of explanations, and pointing the finger to yourself, asking: er, don't you think that my statement makes more sense than your statement? And then have the first reaction one of recognition of topos rather than ideas, as in, er, right, you're here, what did you just say, sorry, I missed that, can you repeat it please? And so fucking on.

And Pia, yes, the ineffable in the 'feeling' Danish, or that which cannot be explained should be more explored, for feelings are also learned behaviors, and can therefore be accounted for in terms that we can all relate to. But it takes time and effort to make such forays into your gut and innermost thoughts, and time is the biggest luxury that we cannot afford. Along these lines, what I most like to tell people about my own belonging in terms of where and what my feelings about it are, is that I am 'nothing', and that I feel 'nothing' for a specific territory. In fact, if I could afford the luxury of money as well as time, i'd simply elect to disappear. Such desire is not even very original, but then again, thinking of the alternatives, perhaps it is a slightly more genuine undertaking than having to pretend all the time. When it comes down to it, we're all the sum of what we pretend to be. This can be good as well as bad, depending also on what position you assume vis-a-vis metaphysical concerns. I've been accused of being a nihilist, and these days I'm actually thinking of all the implications of such belonging to nothingness for the rest, which desires itself to be 'something'.

And yes, it was Sørine Gottfredsen on the show. Lord have mercy on us all.
Dovile Budryte said…
Camelia, as always, many thanks for your fascinating posts and an interesting answer!!! They make my lazy brain work in this summer heat.
Of course many of "us" do not want attention, especially if we are in "foreign" settings (I can't help but think about the ways in which immigrants from some places, e.g., the Middle East or the Caucasus feel in Northern Europe, including the Baltic states, as well as the way that I have felt in some places that I have visited in the past, e.g. the Middle East and/or the Caucasus and parts of USA)--that attention is far from pleasant... but analyzing similar situations is crucial identity studies.
Furthermore, as I think about the current debates related to the immigration reform in the US and discussions related to tolerance in the post-communist sphere, I think that your insight about the political views held by the "others" in DK may in fact be applicable to the other contexts... and it is also interesting how many of "us" regularly feel that we have to say "I really like it in ________"--why? for fear of expulsion?
Apologies for going on and on... just one last remark--it seems to me that what you are describing as "nihilism", some of us could perceive as cosmopolitanism, maybe a la Virginia Woolf... "as a woman, I have no country"... (Yet some countries are more likely to "stick in our minds" than others...)
Camelia said…
Dovile, right on, and thanks for reminding me of virginia Woolf. Wonderful correlation to cosmopolitanism. It makes me laugh all the more, as I'm reminded of the stupid comment from the Iranian on the show who, while insisting that he is a citizen of the world, was also adamant in his supporting the assimilation view, and the 'do as the Danes do' injunction voiced by the woman on the show. So, so much for his pluralism. I have no problem with assimilation, and God only know, again, that in Denmark it's definitely better to look Western than Middle Eastern, but if the foreign subject elects to emulate one or the other look, it should be done on his or her terms, and because he or she might think that it's a good strategy for integration, and NOT because the indigenous people think it's a good idea.
Camryn Thomas said…
Having been a foreigner in Denmark for only 4 years, my comments shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But I agree with your point, Camelia, about that Danish penchant for complaining. I often puff up my chest and tell my family back in California how Denmark has taught me to be more direct. To speak my mind. But what my mind and mouth articulate — when I catch myself — is often whiney stuff. About the weather. About the challenges of life in Denmark. About how annoying things can be.

So if I could complain for a moment!!...what perturbs me about living there is the fact that — according to a large portion of the population — there is this prescribed list of Danishness, of what it means to be “Danish” that is so polarizing, divisive and a diversity-killer. Is that at the root of this overwhelming sense of distrust and suspicion that fills the nation? People have been known to call Americans naïve, indirect and even dumb; but I’ll take that any day over smart, jaded and mean.

And the rules in Denmark are enough to drive a girl mad. I’ve had my hand slapped at breakfast for reaching for the rumsnegl before I’ve eaten my “healthy rugbrød.” How can a nation that prides itself on being so open-minded and rebellious be so hell-bent on bloody rules of bread? And lamps and furniture. On how to become a Dane. And how to learn Danish.

There are rules on how to eat, how to work, how to hyggelize your home, but as far as I can tell, the rules I’d love to see reigning down – on things like how to board a bus, or how to politely let someone change lanes in front of you – don’t exist. The only rule I’ve gleaned as far as showing civil respect and manners is “don’t look at others, don’t smile at others,” lest the others think that YOU think you’re entitled to be something more than invisible. Or a weirdo in slutty heels.
Camelia said…
Camryn, right on. And it seems to me that you've captured Danishness very well after only 4 years. Or maybe the 'mysterious' Danes aren't' really that mysterious when it comes down to it. They are more transparent than they like to think, which is also the reason why I suggested that we ask foreigners to comment on Danishness. That would have been hilarious and perhaps much more revealing of Danishness than what we've got. Why were't you on the show, for instance? As to the slapping of hands, or other body parts, oh, hell, now there's a precious Danish gesture! A lot can be said of that alone, and not only from a cultural angle. I can imagine relishing some psychoanalytical insights... my own or others'...

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