It is said that it is always hardest for the fish to describe the aquarium it swims in. Whether that is so, being at a distance away from Australia, I am able to see my adopted country through different eyes. In northern Europe, the image of Australia is typically one of dangerous wildlife and the foolhardy larrikins who laugh in the face of such danger, pop open another beer can and throw another shrimp on the barbie. It may be one of bronzed, muscular surfers on white sandy beaches and it may involve red dirt and Aboriginal people living in harmony with country. It is a happy-go-lucky place where people speak English, the climate is warm and nature is stunning.
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.