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Pernickety Dicky | Can a foreigner ever become a Dane?


English by nature – Danish at heart. Freelance journalist Richard Steed has lived in Copenhagen for nearly five years now. “I love this city and want Copenhagen to be a shining example to the rest of the world.”

April 1, 2012
00:54

by Richard Steed


I recently met a lovely Asian cleaning lady who has lived in Copenhagen for 17 years now. She originally comes from Pakistan, speaks fluent Danish and is married to a Danish man, yet still describes herself as a foreigner. She believes that because of the colour of her skin and her different cultural customs, she doesn’t feel part of Danish society and eventually hopes to return to Pakistan to live.

It made me think: firstly can a foreigner ever become Danish, and secondly, why after 17 years does this lady still feel like an outsider? Obviously firstly determining what Danish means would be a good start. So in simple terms, the description would be a person native to Denmark who speaks Danish. So the answer is no, a foreigner can never become a true Dane unless they are born here! And like in many other countries around the world, if you choose to live in a foreign land, you will always be seen as a non-native.

So to the second part of the question: why does she still feel like an outsider after 17 years? The reason I am interested in this integration issue is because of the whole foreigner/Danish debate that has dogged Denmark for many years. In the late 1970s, Denmark had the most welcoming immigration laws in the whole of Europe. Yet by 2010, it was the total opposite and Denmark had one of the most stringent immigration policies anywhere in the developed world. Especially over the last ten years, Denmark has become well known internationally for its anti-immigration and anti-foreigner stance and was definitely NOT the destination of choice for many searching for a better life.

I think this negative rhetoric and language towards immigration and foreigners must have had some effect on those already settled here. Today, thankfully, the influence of Pia Kjærsgaard is on the wane, so Denmark can finally allow itself to wake up to the realities of the 21st century. We are living in a global world and Denmark needs immigration to keep the economy turning.  

Any foreigner married to a Dane, who has children born here, will hopefully have a good chance of successful integration as they become part of the fabric of society here. Hopefully foreigners will also want to keep their own cultural identity as well and so promote a fusion of two cultures. For example, in Britain you often hear the terms Asian British or Black British. Does the same thing apply here: do terms like Arab Danish or Asian Danish exist?

Does it also matter which part of the world you come from, or are all of us foreigners put in the same boat? Do white foreigners have a better chance of integration than non-whites? I am white and European, yet I still sometimes feel like an alien here. I’m starting to wonder if, because of this Danish tendency towards an insular and provincial outlook, I will always be seen as an outsider. So if I feel like an outsider, goodness knows how others from Africa, Asia and the Middle East must feel when they come to live and work here.

So to embrace this new global world, it would be a healthy start if Danes started to review the language used to describe foreigners and those immigrants already born here. Why do I still hear terms like second-generation and third-generation immigrants? These people are born and bred in Denmark so they are Danish!

Maybe it’s time to come up with some new and positive phrases and progressive words to describe all these potential new exotic global friends that we will hopefully encounter and see them as a positive influence, enriching all our lives.

Illustration provided by Mormor.