Category Archives: Migration

Home and November

The Mitchelton Pony Club in November. Photo: Mick. 2015.

The Mitchelton Pony Club in November. Photo: Mick. 2015.

It has been a week now. A whole week since we came home from Copenhagen. Home to our two gorgeous sons, our familiar house, our green garden, our neighbourhood in our suburb in Brisbane.

It was a good time to leave Copenhagen. October was mild and full of sunshine, blue skies, red ivy blazing on old brick buildings, brown chestnuts falling into the lakes and green treetops fading to yellow to brown. You would still see the odd person in shorts and singlet in the sunshine on Dronning Louises Bro. Granted, the sight was much rarer than in spring, when the Danes seemed to strip at the slightest ray of sunshine. But November was, well, rather Northern European November-like: Colder, wetter, grayer, windier, darker. Not quite cold enough for snow, not quite warm enough for comfort: just that miserable in-between. And our tenancy was up. Yes, it was time to leave.

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Reflections on the gap

Mind the gap. Photo: Lone. 2015.

Mind the gap. Photo: Lone. 2015.

Normally, the gap year is reserved for the young, fresh out of high school, ready to conquer the world. But like youth, the gap year really is wasted on the young.

For starters, at that age you have very limited means. This means you have to work a shitty job in a shitty café – or worse – to fund your fun year out. At 48, I have accumulated a certain amount of wealth from many years of working really hard and living quite frugally, as well as an amount of long service leave I could use sensibly for the purpose. I compare this with the time when I as a 16 year old also took a gap year to attend an English language course at Cardiff University for three months. I really had very limited means and no steady income. I am sure Cardiff would have been much more fun with dosh.

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Life imitates art

Image credit: REUTERS/Nilufer Demir/DHA

Image credit: REUTERS/Nilufer Demir/DHA

When the image of the drowned boy on a Turkish beach first came onto my screen I thought it was an art work. An artist highlighting the tragedy playing out in the mediterranean with thousands and thousands of ‘boat people’ crossing the waters away from chaos and conflict in search of asylum and peace in Europe. The porcelain coloured skin against the absurdly bright red t-shirt, the soles of his shoes and that pasty colour of his ear seemed to me surreal, artistic, not real life. I did not pay a great deal of attention at first.

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Danish diversity

Provocatively, Hassan Preissler is depicted dressed as Helen Bannermann's Little Black Sambo - the story of the Indian boy who cheats the tigers so they turn to butter and his mother, Mumbo, makes pancakes from the butter for Sambo and his father, Jumbo. Photo: Lone. 2015.

Provocatively, Hassan Preisler is depicted dressed as Helen Bannermann’s Little Black Sambo – the story of the Indian boy who cheats the tigers so they turn to butter and his mother, Mumbo, makes pancakes from the butter for Sambo and his father, Jumbo. Photo: Lone. 2015.

Since I have been back in Denmark I have noticed things about the Danes that I would probably not have had second thoughts about had I not lived half my life away from this small country. Some are great, like the love of the bicycle for transportation – which I simply took for granted during the first half of my life, but had to shelve in hilly Brisbane with its high density of bike-hating drivers. Some are less charming, like the absolute rudeness of cyclists to each other and to pedestrians – like not stopping for the red light to let a pedestrian cross, riding out right in front of the unaware pedestrian on the foot path or on the pedestrian crossing or blocking the footpath with rows and rows of parked bikes.

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Identity and stereotypes

Like some Aladdin with his Open Sesame, we suddenly have all the offers and riches of Club Denmark available to us once we had our address registered. Crown jewels in Rosenborg Slot. Photo: Mick. 2015.

Like some Aladdin with his Open Sesame, we suddenly have all the offers and riches of Club Denmark available to us once we had our address registered. Crown jewels in Rosenborg Slot. Photo: Mick. 2015.

After all this time of worrying and fretting, we suddenly hold the Open Sesame that lets us access the multitude of riches and offers of Club Denmark. While it took some waiting at International House, wondering if we were in the right place for the right purpose, suddenly we were registered in the Central Person Register with our bohemian address and assigned to a doctor.

My residence card runs out in December 2019 and I am required to send it back should I leave the country to take up residence in another country. My husband, as an EU citizen, is not required to even have a residence card or return anything. Smugly, I swear to myself that I will not return the card: on the commencement of new laws enabling dual citizenship on 1 September 2015 I will reclaim my Danish citizenship without losing my Australian one. I hope.

Aside from the judicial technicalities involved in being a former Danish citizen wanting to be let back into my country, there is also the question of welcome. We have received an overwhelming welcome from the people we know – who seem genuinely excited that we are in Denmark – but what do other Danes think about us staying?

Nørrebro, our new neighbourhood, is quite multicultural. On the street I hear a multitude of languages spoken by people from all over the world. The food stores, restaurants and even fashion stores signal origins from the Middle East, Africa, India and Asia. Around the corner is Copenhagen’s Verdenskultur Center or World Culture Centre, a place for growing cultural projects, with particular emphasis on people from ethnic backgrounds other than Danish.

On Monday night we were stopped in our path. We were walking home from the inner city and were stopped by a demonstration. It turned out that Pegida-dk held their first demonstration in Copenhagen. A spin-off group from the German Pegida – which stands for Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (patriotic Europeans against Islamisation of the West), their message is against the influence of Islam in Denmark and easily builds on a fear that Christian indigenous Danes will become a minority. The leader, Nicolai Sennels, claims to be the middle class and this fits with Pegida’s slogan, We are the people. This seems to parallel the Occupy movement’s We are the 99%. It claims a space for ordinary people, who are concerned about the impact of muslim immigrants and fundamental Islamism on Danish society. The 10-year-old Danish Mohammad drawings and the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo are also somehow mixed into it as Danish support of the publication of the Mohammad drawings has grown larger than in 2005.

Right next to our flat, a counter demonstration started. It was a group labelling themselves Revolutionary Antifascists. You are not the people rang through the air and placards advised that refugees and muslims are welcome here. Given the nature of our neighbourhood, it is probably not strange that such a counter demonstration should start here.

An exclusion message in Copenhagen? What is wrong with Jutland? Photo: Lone. 2015.

An exclusion message in Copenhagen? What is wrong with Jutland? Photo: Lone. 2015.

In our street is a rather puzzling message of apparent prejudice on the garage door that protects the entry to the very busy lolly shop when it is closed. The message reads: Hvad er der galt med Jylland? (What is wrong with Jutland?) The intention of this message is not at all clear, but the best interpretation I can think of is that it is a manifestation of an age-old power struggle between the main land and Copenhagen.

According to H.C. Andersen’s lyrics Jutland is Hovedlandet (the head or main land). During the earliest mentions of Denmark as a country in the 10th century, the locus of power and control was in Jelling in Jutland. To this day, the Danish legal system takes it root in Jydske Lov – the law of the Jutes – a codification of the laws of Jutland from 1241. Around the same time Copenhagen was established as part of the Bishop of Roskilde’s jurisdiction and grew in importance over the next centuries. By the 16th century King Christian IV expanded the city and made it the centre of power for all of the Nordic countries.

But why would a lolly shop owner in a small street just outside the lakes in Copenhagen think it ok to remind people of this old rivalry? I think it is a way of constructing identity by differentiating oneself from others: Copenhageners defining themselves in juxtaposition to their fellow Danes, the Jutes, perhaps feeling that the migration from Jutland to Copenhagen is cramping their style and their claim to ancestral lands? Why are you all coming here – why not stay in Jutland?

The exclusion message was given graffiti treatment. Anyone understands its meaning? Photo: Lone. 2015.

The exclusion message was given graffiti treatment. Anyone understands its meaning? Photo: Lone. 2015.

The sign of the lolly shop somehow reminds me that my ‘real’ identity and roots are not here in Copenhagen, but in the sandy soils of Midtjylland. Just like the judicial difficulties associated with my loss of Danish citizenship, it questions whether I belong here. While I admire graffiti artists whose work is humorous or thought provoking, I am not for graffiti of the destructive sort. But I must say I was secretly pleased when one morning the security door’s message had been obscured by another message.

Perhaps it is symbolic that it is a message in a language I do not understand.

Immigration and bureaucracy

Still not sorted, but at least for the time it takes to process my 'family reunification' application, I have permission to stay in my birth country. Photo: Lone. 2014.

Still not sorted, but at least for the time it takes to process my ‘family reunification’ application, I have permission to stay in my birth country. Photo: Lone. 2014.

Travelling half-way around the world and shifting 10 time zones in 24 hours turns day into night and night into day, playing serious havoc with sleep patterns. But possibly what has kept me awake in the middle of the night is the long list of things we need to achieve as quickly as possible so that we can become part of Danish society.

You see, Danish society is like a closed and exclusive club, nervously assessing the worthiness of potential new members. Denmark’s tracking of its members is streamlined across many public and private systems – a veritable dream for the Australian bureaucrat, whose cross-agency work is stymied by the absence of a single unique identity number and further complicated by privacy legislation. The key to Danish efficiency is the CPR number, a unique number made up of your birth date and four additional numbers, under which you are registered in the Central Person Register.

Admission into Club Denmark requires registration of your address with the local government of your residence, using your CPR number. Once you have this Open Sesame, an abundance of possibilities emerge, which are otherwise unattainable to the outsider. We quickly found out that without a registered address you cannot get a Danish mobile phone account; you cannot set up a bank account in a reasonable time period and you cannot get NemID, the digital identity system in Denmark required for online transactions, including buying the best value Rejsekort for discounted public transport. You cannot access services that Danes take for granted.

Luckily, we both have CPR numbers – I was allocated mine when born and my husband got his when we married in Denmark in 1991. But to register an address we also have to have lawful permission to stay in the country. As a citizen of the United Kingdom, all my husband needed to do was to register as a EU citizen wanting to reside in Denmark. Because I am no longer a Danish citizen, my situation was more complicated: I could apply for permission to stay based on my former Danish citizenship or apply for family reunification with my husband. I baulked at the latter: why should I, born and bred Dane, rely on a foreigner to get into my own country?

We followed the instructions online – nyidanmark.dk. We are both university educated and I have native command of Danish. Yet when we stood in Furesø local council service centre, we realised nothing is straight forward. Firstly, the take-a-number system we know in Australia from delicatessen counters are omnipresent in public administration and retail in Denmark. The lack of queue culture in other areas of Danish life is amply compensated for by these machines – provided you know about them. You can almost hear the snickering by people jumping in front of you in the queue, while you wait and wait for your turn which will never come until you discover the number system. Secondly, it turned out that we needed to go to a government department, Statsforvaltningen, rather than the local council to register as an EU citizen first.

Statsforvaltingen is out of the way and not particularly inviting, like they don't actually want your inquiries and applications.

Statsforvaltingen is out of the way and not particulary inviting, like they don’t actually want your inquiries and applications.

So the next day we travelled out to the department – a strangely out-of-the-way anonymous-looking building, with poor signage and an unwelcoming entry. Now wisened to the take-a-number culture, we quickly claimed our place in the queue with a diverse bunch of folk in a cacophony of different languages.

Unfortunately, our documentation to demonstrate Mick’s financial self-sufficiency was inadequate since the currency of our Australian bank holdings were not identified. I guess it could have been Indian Rupees or Russian Rubles. So we were sent away again to get acceptable documentation. They also clarified that I would be best off to apply for family reunification, rather than rely on my former Danish citizenship. In spite of my initial misgivings, I saw the sense: it saved us from dealing with yet another public service entity.

Third time lucky, by day 4 in Denmark, I got a stamp in my Australian passport that I have lodged my application for permission to stay, so I will not be deported when the three month holiday available to Australians expires. The application may take up to six months to process – while my UK husband will have his registration card in a couple of days.

All this anxiety and humiliation associated with reclaiming ones birth right will soon be a thing of the past. On Thursday 18 December 2014, Danish Parliament passed a law to permit dual citizenship. This law is expected to commence on 1 September 2015 and has transition provisions for people like me, who had to relinquish our judicial Danishness because we wanted to be part of the country we happened to live in. I will be first in the queue on 1 September 2015.

Citizenship seems a formality – a judicial technicality – but as my experience with returning to Denmark demonstrates, it has real and significant consequences not to belong to Club Denmark, quite aside from the emotional effect of feeling locked out of one’s birth country.

I love and belong in both Denmark and Australia and I look forward to being able to be formally recognised by both exclusive clubs. Then I can worry about other stuff in the middle of the night – like a cure for jetlag.

We have arrived in Copenhagen. Photo: Mick. 2014.

We have arrived in Copenhagen. Photo: Mick. 2014.

Home of part of the heart

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Ready, set go. Photo: Lone 2014.

Passports – check, Credit card – check, Tickets – check, Place to stay – check, Dreams – check, Sense of adventure – check

This week, in the muggy Brisbane heat, we’ve put it all together and are very close to ready to leave for cold Copenhagen, Denmark.

At times, exhilarating, at others terrifying for the lack of a set plan. I am not particularly good at not knowing exactly what will happen next.

You see, I have planned for this for a long time. Since at least 2012, when finally I realised that the magic of sunny Queensland, Australia, could wear off. Experiencing the Brisbane floods at the beginning of the year did not at all help. It was bizarre to be in the middle of civilisation and feel so helpless against the rage of nature, the mass of water – water of life and water of destruction. And these last few week we have again seen the fury – hail the size of golf balls rained down on Brisbane inner city, and on level 16 in the office building, we felt how it shivered in fear of the furious winds that spun around like a washing machine on its final spin cycle. Cyclonic conditions in an area below the cyclone line. Nature cares little for bureaucrats’ convenient categorisations, for houses lost their rooves and windows exploded into splinters of tiny glass, spraying terrified occupants. At least no people lost their lives in the 2014 storm of Brisbane. But it is a sign of things to come, of that I am certain.

Though the real reason for the plans is nothing to do with the climate. It is simply: a part of my heart is somewhere else, back in my mother country, where people I love live. Like my sister, two brothers and their partners and children. Like university friends and school friends. Like aunts and uncles and cousins and their families. I want to reconnect with my culture and the Denmark that exists today. No doubt it is a very different Denmark from the country I left in 1991, but then I am a different person to the 24 year old that immigrated to Australia in 1991. I look forward to seeing how the me of today will fit into Denmark of today.

It helps that my most excellent man is excited and supportive of the venture, too. He has been admitted to study at Københavns Universitet and has applied to study Danish Cinema and European Art Film as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts he is working toward here in Brisbane. He will attend a three weeks Danish course and perhaps finally be able to converse in my language.

Will I miss Brisbane? Yes of course. Not just will I miss the climate and familiarity, I will miss my adorable, lovely, great boys, who will stay in our home while we are off. Thank heavens for skype and social media.

I hope to write about my experience, right here on this blog. A reverse migrant experience, I guess. I hope you will join me on the journey.