As the human population becomes increasingly mobile in a global world, more people will experience feeling home in two or more cultures or places. This can create a deep personal split, but can also be a source of immense strength. After my sabbatical year in Denmark, I am sure I belong as much in my native Denmark as I do in Australia, though I am still waiting for return of my Danish citizenship after making my application on 1 September and must still stand in the longer non-EU passport lines when entering the country.
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.
Today is election day in Denmark. The Danes residing here will decide who should lead Denmark for the next four years. It is a great day for democracy, the day when people can exercise their democratic right to influence the society they wish to live in. A society better for people, better for the planet.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Diogenes (404-323 BC) was a Cynic and even though he lived in a dog house, he called himself ‘citizen of the world’. In today’s increased mobility and connectivity, we can all be citizens of the world, virtually and actually. Except reality is that we are citizens of one country, maybe two, but always only one if you are Danish.
Sometimes I wonder what it would feel like to take a wrong step on a ledge high up and plummet through the air to the earth? Don’t worry, I am not suicidal and I don’t have a death wish, but what of the adrenalin rush, when the foot steps onto nothing and the hands grasp and clutch at free air, that moment before you let go and gravity makes the inevitable happen. I can almost feel the chemistry of the shock.