Brick by Brick: Choices and compulsions
And then there’s my friend Tia,” said Mo. “She’s half-Danish and half-Lebanese, so people often don’t realise she’s a person of colour.”
Sergio Rossi’s to blame!
“Being half-Lebanese doesn’t make you a person of colour,” I protest. I only met Tia once, but she’s definitely a petite platinum blonde.
“And Lebanon is Mediterranean.” I’m going into a bit of a rant now.
“If you put ten Italians and ten Lebanese together, I would challenge anyone to tell the difference. Except that you can always tell Italians by their shoes … okay, ten barefoot Italians and ten barefoot Lebanese.”
We are digressing and Mo is looking shifty at this point.
“Where does this leave people from the north of Israel, who are really close to the Lebanese border?” I continue.
“Are they people of colour too?”
I sense that Mo wants to say no to that one, but he can’t quite find a way. “Well she identifies as a person of colour,” he says decisively.
“Well I’m going to be a person of colour too then,” I say.
“But you can’t … you’re white.”
Fitting in and in your skin
Mo is looking uncomfortable, yet he made the most dramatic volte-face of them all. When I first met Mo he was an unhappy woman, and now he’s a happy, confident, twinkly-eyed man, and I applaud his decision as I know it took a lot of courage.
Later I muse on whether I could ever identify as Danish. I could probably get a passport after a few more years if I really tried, but could I ever feel Danish? Physically it would be feasible, despite being a bit on the short side, but linguistically I would fail instantly and I don’t like sausages. Also, why would I bother? It’s not expected. I’m welcome anyway.
When it comes to hanging on to your ethnic identity, it seems there are different rules for different people. When a second generation Danish-Turkish family still speaks Turkish at home it’s frowned upon, yet I doubt anyone would reproach my family for continuing to speak English at home.
Lately our TV screens have shown image after image of desperate migrants, crammed up against fences, frantically trying to board trains, mourning drowned loved ones. How will it be for those who arrive in Denmark? Once the relief of escape has worn off, will they be disappointed if they never completely fit in? Or, like me, will they never want to fit in completely.
Blind leading the blind?
I am seized by an urge to make them all cups of tea. I go online to look for volunteering opportunities – I just want to do something to help, something more human than giving a donation. It’s called ‘Frivillig’ – who knew? It’s not a film about a whale or the Danish word for promiscuity – it’s the word for voluntary.
There are opportunities to teach Danish and help people integrate, but tea is not mentioned. I wonder if I will be any use to them at all, I don’t even have a car to go and fetch someone from the German border and give them a lift to Sweden, and besides, I’m so badly integrated myself I have so far failed to get the hang of driving on the wrong side of the road.
I fill out a volunteering form online and call Mum to break the news to her that I’m a woman of colour.
Find out more about volunteering options at bit.ly/1KN3IXS, a Meetup group run by the Copenhagen International Volunteers Club.
Stephanie Brickman made the hop across the North Sea from Scotland to live in Denmark with her distinctly un-Danish family. This 40-something mother, wife and superstar is delighted to share her learning curve, rich as it is with laughs, blunders and expert witnesses.