You’re still here: Left cuddling thin air

Coming to terms with our increasingly electronic era

On a cost-cutting mission, the Danish authorities are switching over to communicating almost entirely with their people electronically. The Danish word for red tape is papirnusseri or ‘paper cuddles’. But what happens if you have no paper left to cuddle?

The age of self-service
More and more public services are becoming ‘self-service’ only. That is to say, if you want help from the municipality, you need to do it yourself on a computer with internet access. If you need help from the municipality to get help from the municipality, don’t worry, there are helplines. These helplines cannot help you with your particular case or your situation, mind you, they are only there to help you access the system.

While there are a few people who have an exemption and may be helped by a real person, the overwhelming majority have to tough it out online. I don’t suppose the bureaucracy involved in getting such an exemption is minimal, or a lot more people would have exemptions.

‘Contacting’ you
Another growing area of this digitalisation is how the authorities get in contact with you. Everyone in Denmark has an e-boks – a secure sort of email. The messages you receive are a bit of a hodgepodge: letters from the municipality, some hospital departments (but not all and not your GP), your employer maybe, and some service providers, but not all of them. You can sign up for some letters to be delivered electronically, while for others you have no choice.

Many of these digital missives go unread all over the country. A quarter of a million people living in Denmark do not log into their e-boks. You can set up your e-boks to email and/or text message you about a new message, but that still requires you to log in to set that up. Sometimes you receive a physical letter in the post that only contains a request that you access your e-boks, but not a copy of the letter that they would like you to see. Efficiency!

Calamity Janne
Usually the messages can be safely ignored, but some require replies and no response can be calamitous. Sometimes they are bills or tax demands, and sometimes they are essential paperwork in which you must confirm some detail or another.

If you are used to receiving this paperwork in the post and have never accessed your e-boks, then you will not respond in time. It’s a rude awakening for sure if filling this form out is the only way to get the rate of student or child support that your circumstances entitle you to.

Paper over the cracks
If you have fantasies of government departments looking at your case with pity, then you must give them up now. There is simply no way that you can have a do-over. If you missed the deadline for a quarterly assessment, you must wait until the next quarter. Never mind that your circumstances have not changed all year.
Paperwork is all that separates us from the beasts, even when it is digital. If you did not even know you had any to fill out, that is your problem. So much for nusseri.

Kelly Draper is a British teacher who came to Denmark for work. She acts informally as a critical friend to Denmark. This has not gone down particularly well with Danes, who often tell her she should like it or leave it. Her blog is at