Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Animal farm revisited

Yesterday's post left me ruminating on the concept of equality, and its impact struck me more profoundly than I initially realised, beneath the veneer of my flippant tone.

For any immigrant in Denmark, especially during their initial decade of residency, the foremost stressor is often the instability stemming from the lack of either permanent residency or citizenship. Let's juxtapose the journeys of two couples. It starts out along the same path:

  • one partner is born in 1968, the other in 1972
  • he is a Dane, she is a UK citizen or a dual UK/Aussie citizen
  • they meet in the home of the non-Danish partner in the early 2000s
  • they have a few kids together and stay married till at least 2024, with no plans to change that
So far so good but things diverge then...

In couple one, they marry and the non-Dane is granted full citizenship on the day of their marriage just four years after their first meeting and less than two years after arriving permanently in Denmark. Hey, the government even rewrites the immigration rules for her and has the Monarch okay the change and it's given the cutesy title 'Mary's law', because after all it only applies to one person, Mary. 

Let's look at the other couple now... 

With only eight weeks preparation they move to Denmark in 2019 unimaginably stressed because of how precarious their predicament has become in the UK, where they had set up home together in 2006, four years after they first met. They are up against the Brexit clock because moving after the UK's exit would have huge repercussions. The date for Brexit keeps changing so they have no idea what they are up against. She has just undergone a full hysterectomy because of two pre-cancerous grapefruit-sized tumours on her ovaries so can barely stand up but be that as it may they have no option but to move before Brexit to be ensured a future as a family. After the magical, yet illusory Brexit date:
  • She wouldn't be allowed to own a house in Denmark for the first five years as she would have lost her EU citizenship
  • Her rights to stay with her family wouldn't be covered by the UK's EU withdrawal agreement
  • Her driving licence wouldn't be valid any more
Thanks Britain, just thanks!

So in a rush, they arrive in Denmark in early 2019. She finds out that to obtain a guaranteed secure future in the country of her husband and children's citizenship, she needs to go through the following steps:

  • Live in Denmark continuously for 5 years to apply for permanent residence (it's usually 8 if you're Australian)
  • Apply for no money from the Danish state, and therefore remain ineligible for all help in finding employment for the first five years. You're on your own with that task.
  • Be fully self-sufficient
  • Have no breaks in your residence in Denmark
  • Pass a C1 Danish language exam
  • Pass the knowledge of Denmark Naturalisation exam
  • Have no criminal convictions
  • Live in Denmark a further 2+ years after the 5 you needed for your permanent residency card before attempting to get citizenship
  • Have a full-time job for at least 3 years and 6 months within the 4 years prior to applying for citizenship*... lose it for 7 months and you're back to square one requiring a further 3.5 years work. Non-EU citizens must earn a minimum of DKK 487,000. (Covid getting you laid off is not a valid excuse, neither is serious illness!) It's like playing a grotesque game of snakes and ladders with your life and future.
  • Swear allegiance to the state and the monarch (I guess the two couples converge again here momentarily!)
  • Sign up for a naturalisation ceremony
  • Pay DKK 3,800
The journey becomes even more stressful with changes in government over the course of that decade often moving the goalposts after years of diligent effort.

Finding and sustaining full-time employment in one's mid to late 50s poses a significant challenge, particularly when seeking further training or assistance from the local job centre would nullify the terms of your residency for the first five years. So far I am no closer to my goal as I can only find freelance jobs, and as I turn 56 next month I suspect the insurmountable 3.5 year rule will be the hurdle at which my ability to ever gain the same citizenship as my husband and children ultimately falls. And with that goal goes all hope of security and a guarantee of a future no state can remove from us at a whim.🙁

Reflecting on the divergent trajectories of these initially parallel paths, I'm compelled to acknowledge that the concept of equality seems to have slipped through the cracks. Fully 22 years after I met my Dane and five years after our move, I am no closer to what she magically achieved in four short years than I have ever been. Her family matters much more than mine; the trauma they would suffer if she was no longer allowed to reside with her husband and kids is considered somehow greater and more important than the trauma my kids and husband would feel in the same situation...  It all feels kinda sucky. 🙁 

I come from a country where even Royal foreigners are made to jump through hideous hoops to be allowed the peace of mind that lets them stay with their partner, married or not, parent of a UK citizen or not. Don't get me wrong, I am not part of the school that adheres to the idea that I had to suffer so you bloody well should too. I am more someone who thinks that this modern situation where parents do not have an automatic right to live in the country where there kids have citizenship or with their partner of many years, without fearing which whim of the current administration will potentially send them into a tailspin of terror is a sad place to be. 

Eighteen years and several kids down the line, ours obviously wasn't a marriage of convenience, so it would be nice if one of our governments saw us as human beings rather than just statistics.

*Education doesn't count towards citizenship, so if like Léon you came here at 13, you can only start to work towards your 3.5 years of work requirement once you finish your uni degree at the age of 25, so in his case citizenship will have taken much more than half his lifetime to achieve: Arriving at 13, working till 28.5 (15.5 years later).  

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Queen out, King in

It would appear Denmark has a new monarch. 

Back on New Year's Eve I happened to see the Queen's speech. Normally I don't make a habit of watching it, but I'd been ill all Xmas with some flu-like thing and hadn't been outside so I was lying on the couch when it came on so I just let it roll. It's actually quite a compliment that I bothered given I have never, not even once in my life, seen the UK monarch's Christmas speech! As a good Scottish republican family, I was brought up to know that the one thing you really must never do is sit down to watch old Lizzie address the nation, though I guess it is probably Charlie these days. 

I saw the Danish one the first year after I arrived here as my homework for Danish class was to listen to it to see what I understood. Unlike most Danes the old Queen speaks very slowly and clearly and is positively a delight if you're a foreigner, from a comprehension point of view anyway, even if you have your reservations constitutionally! Most foreigners coming here really struggle to understand spoken Danish more than any other form of the language as Danes mumble, swallow the ends of their words and speak quickly. Given I learnt Danish passively by hearing it over many years, understanding spoken Danish is what I find easiest, even today. It definitely outstripped my ability to speak the language back then for sure, but I followed the teacher's instructions as my first lesson on arrival here was the last one before Xmas, only to find out that when I went back in January that I had been moved into a whole different class with a different teacher and completely different homework!

So, there it was running in the background when two minutes from the end of a fairly long and not overly riveting speech she nonchalantly announced she was going to abdicate in a fortnight. This was a bit of a shocker given no one has abdicated in Denmark for 878 years. Denmark went into meltdown. First there was a half hour of shocked silence where people acted like she'd upped and died during her speech but they all seem to worship her the way bees do their queen, so within half and hour the hive mind had collectively decided that if their beloved Daisy had decided to resign then that must be the most wonderful event ever to befall the Danish people and not only would it be ideal for her to step down but it would also be just perfect to see her son and his wife take over the throne two weeks later and they would turn their love and adoration to him as well/instead. Polls on the day said support for the monarchy was up at 80% 😮 (wtaf!) with only one in five Danes having any reservations about spending their hard-earned tax money on this family's luxurious lifestyle, oops I mean service to the nation. Wow, what an interesting take from a country that professes to prize equality over most things. I guess some really are more equal than others...

So last Sunday was the day. I figured I should get into the spirit of being Danish by buying a cake to celebrate the big event. Unfortunately the whole of Funen had the same idea and my favourite prize-winning bakery had already tweeted this before I woke up!

But when it comes to cake I am not that easily defeated, so off to the big Coop bakery in Søndersø I went instead. It was a ghost town, not to mention almost sold out too. There were maybe two cars in the car park, while the rest of Denmark sat glued to the telly or better still in the courtyard of their parliament building waiting for the new monarch to be presented.

There's nothing quite like a change of the head of state in one's new country to make you feel reeeeally foreign in your adopted home...

There were flags up in people's gardens, kids wearing crowns looking like they'd been on a mass outing to Burger King, folk waving flags galore, weeping pensioners, 90 000 people on parliament square in the freezing cold chanting 'hurrah' in unison with the Prime Minister in some vaguely culty manner! They were even all over TikTok sharing this kind of thing: 

Watching their traditions, for example that the monarch has to ride in some golden horse-drawn carriage presumably without the heated seats and comfortable suspension of the car used to transport the rest of the entourage seemed a bit to me like they'd drawn the short straw. No wonder the old girl decided to resign if it got her out the carriage into the limo! One thing I could never have in Northern Europe is a car without heated seats in the winter!

Nor have I ever been overly comfortable with all the deferential curtsying and bowing. There was King Frederik bowing to his own mother. What?! My kids sure don't so that when I'm around! It's just plain weird. And as she stood up to leave the room she proclaimed 'Gud bevare Kongen!' (God save the King). Again, it's just not something my mother ever said leaving me or my brother to go into another room! It's just all kind of unrelatable! Maybe it's actually monarchies in general rather than specifically this one that I struggle with. 

This is a little country and seems to function more like a clan than a nation. As a foreigner, I could see how they all felt, but I couldn't feel it. I didn't know how to. What makes this family different to any other here? The new King was born the same year as me, has four kids instead of five. Are we really that different? Apparently, so, but I am not sure why! I definitely felt very much an outsider watching this national family party that I felt I just hadn't been invited to, mentally at least! I secretly wonder whether the new Queen herself, a fellow foreigner, felt just a tiny bit on the outside of all this too, or maybe it's easier to feel part of it all when the crowd is going wild for you, the state is filling your bank account and instead of a ten year plus battle for Danish citizenship, you're simply given it as a freebie on your marriage!

Interestingly, when the kids went into school on Monday morning, Léon whose Gymnasium class is in their final year and full of 19-20 year olds, said that to a man they were gushing over the weekend as if a member of their own family had married and thrown the best party ever. Anna whose class is two years younger and still in the first year of Gym were on the whole the same, though a few were more neutral, however Amaia who is in her first year of the 3-year middle school, surrounded by 14 year olds, said no one mentioned it and when the history teacher tried to engage them on the topic of the historical occasion from the day before no one showed the slightest interest in any of it! Come to think of it the kids in the crowd at the actual event were all very much younger than Amaia. Maybe it is cool to rebel at 14, but by 20 you are back securely in the fold of this enormous family.

I suspect this is all very familiar to those who watched Charles' do last year in England but you see I was way too busy washing my hair that day to catch any of the footage. 😉

Anna summed it up on the day for this house succinctly... 
Anna: You see that crowd of people waiting outside in the cold to greet the new king of Denmark, mum?
Me: Yes.
Anna: I can guarantee you one thing... My future husband is not in that crowd!🤣

Monday, January 15, 2024

Flores de Pascua?

I know I know a language or two, but I wouldn't say my Spanish is quite up there at the level of some of the others I've learnt, though I am attempting to get better at it given my daughter seems to have moved there! I could probably write a short blogpost in it, even if I still find it harder to converse with the natives as yet.

When I was over for a week just before Xmas, I noticed the festive decorations in Madrid seemed unlike those I was used to from other countries I have spent Christmas in: Scotland, France, Germany and Denmark. The predominant white and cream lights I was used to were replaced by spring flowers in myriad colours. I asked Lots if this was traditional all over Spain and she admitted she was puzzled. She'd been in Barcelona a week earlier and also in Segovia and their lights were more what she was expecting.

Madrid had daffodils, tulips, fuchsias and snowdrops above the road on the Gran Vía! I happened to remark that it all felt a little more like Easter flowers than Xmas ones. Charlotte started to laugh. Do you think they maybe used a foreign contractor to manufacture and provide this year's lights? she asked. Why? I wondered. 

Well for some strange reason the Spanish word for poinsettias is flores de Pascua, or Easter flowers, so if they had asked for poinsettias, a non-Spanish contractor could easily have thought they meant tulips or daffodils! And once they arrived the mayor would have had the choice of no lights or these unexpectedly fancy ones.

An interesting and amusing theory, but I'm definitely leaning towards it!