A foreigner’s perspective: Dual citizenship in Denmark

In June of this year, a majority of parties in the Danish parliament (Folketinget) entered in an agreement that will allow dual citizenship in Denmark. The agreement is being turned into a law proposal this fall, and the law will come into effect in the summer of 2015. This means that foreigners no longer have to give up their own country’s citizenship if they want to become Danish, and that Danes living abroad who had given up their citizenship to acquire another one will be able to reclaim it.

The agreement was based on a report created by a task force that investigated how dual citizenship could be implemented in Danish law. The report has its starting point in the government’s declaration (regeringsgrundlaget) from 2011, which states that “Denmark is a modern society in an international world. Therefore, it shall be possible to have dual citizenship.” The report then goes on to investigate current laws, arguments for and against dual citizenship, and recommendations for how it could be implemented in Denmark. If you’re interested and fluent in Danish, you can read the full report here.

As is to be expected, the agreement was preceeded by a huge debate among politicians and in the media, with arguments for and against dual citizenship presented by both sides of the discussion. I just thought I’d give my point of view as well, as a foreigner living in Denmark.

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The only two parties that did not enter the agreement were Dansk Folkeparti (as to be expected) and Konservative, which came as a surprise to some. The main arguments brought forward against dual citizenship were that it would “devalue” Danish citizenship if it wasn’t exclusive any longer. Some politicians and editorials also warned not to “just let anyone in”, completely ignoring the fact that the requirements to acquire Danish citizenship would not be affected by this new law and, in fact, remain completely unchanged. Dansk Folkeparti wrote in a press release that dual citizenship would “hollow out” the value of being a Danish citizen, and that citizenship is very much about declaring your loyalty to a single country. They acknowledge that Danes living abroad may feel Danish, but ultimately, every individual must decide where their loyalties lie.

Konservative are a little more differentiated, and point out that they do endorse dual citizenship in some cases, for example for minorities in the border region between Southern Jutland and Nothern Germany. However, they want to restrict the possibility to acquire dual citizenship to those countries that Denmark has good diplomatic relationships with, so that potential problems could be solved more easily. While I can somewhat understand that reasoning, it is always very difficult to try and apply double standards, and there will always be cases where this is unfair.

Apparently a politician for Dansk Folkeparti used to say that “you can’t love two women”, meaning, you have to decide where your loyalties really are. I’ve come across a wonderful counter-argument for this, saying that you can love both your mother and your wife. I think this really hits the nail on the head, because just because you’ve fallen in love and want to get married (read: moved to a different country and want to become a citizen) doesn’t mean you stop loving your mother (read: your home country).

Of course, this is the more emotionally charged side of the discussion. There’s also the very practical side. In Denmark, you can’t vote for parliament unless you are a citizen. This means that, even though you live here and might have done so for years, you only have limited rights to have a say in how your country of residence is going to be run (all the while paying the full same taxes as Danish citizens). Further, citizens from non-EU countries can gain more benefits, for example for travelling.

It is in the nature of this issue that the practical and emotional side of the discussion can’t be fully separated. Personally, I would consider applying for Danish citizenship when I meet the requirements. If I decide to stay here indefinitely (which is a possibility - sorry mom!), then I want to be able to vote and I want to feel a real part of society. But I was born and raised in Germany, and I will always be German at heart, for better or worse. I will always get goosebumps when I hear the German anthem played before a soccer match, and I have a black-red-and-gold Hawaii necklace hanging from my desk lamp in the office. I would never want to be not German, even if I should want to become Danish, too.

Another expat’s opinion can be found on the How to Live in Denmark podcast by Kay Xander Mellish here.

I’d love to hear from you - would you consider applying for Danish citizenship, and are you glad you’ll be able to keep your own? Or as a Dane, what do you think about dual citizenship? Please share in the comments below!

A foreigner’s perspective: Learning Danish

I’ve recently read quite a few articles and blog posts about experiences with learning Danish, and then speaking it in the presence of Danes. It seems that most foreigners actually don’t have very positive experiences in how their attempts to speak Danish are received by native Danes. Many recount being patronized, getting sentences repeated back to them in a singy-sangy voice as if teaching a child how to speak, or being told that they really need to learn Danish (which they obviously already were).

I have to say, my own experiences with this part have been quite positive. I reached fluency in Danish relatively quickly, but (a) I absolutely think that being German helps tremendously, as the grammar is pretty much the same and many words have common roots, and (b) I’m a language person, meaning I’m quite good at hearing how a language is supposed to sound and picking up on things relatively quickly (on the other hand, if you tried to teach me the basic laws of physics or how to throw a ball further than 5m, I would fail miserably). So that naturally helped me, but I also enjoyed learning a new language. I’m already on the lookout for a new one to start once complete my last Danish course at the end of the year. When I speak Danish to Danes, I don’t get those kind of reactions, luckily. If I get any reaction to my Danish, it’s usually a positive one, and people express that they really like that someone is learning their language. They also usually acknowledge that Danish is a difficult language to learn, so they don’t have crazy high expectations.

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When you come to Denmark as an immigrant and you register with the municipality, get your CPR number and all that, you are also entitled to up to three years of Danish language education - for free! I strongly encourage anyone moving to Denmark to take advantage of this offer, for these very simple reasons:

  • Common courtesy. You chose to live in this society, so I think it’s only fair to make an effort to become a part of it.
  • Integration. It’s a common theme among expats that it can be very hard to penetrate the Danish society, get Danish friend groups, etc. Dating or being married to a Dane usually helps, but for me, the biggest difference was when I started to be able to speak Danish with them. It made me part of the conversation more easily, since people didn’t have to switch to English to address me.
  • More courtesy. In the beginning, when I was only able to express very simple sentences and didn’t understand one hundred percent of what was said to me, I was often a bit embarassed to actually try my Danish. I wanted to wait until it was completely perfect so that I wouldn’t make any mistakes. At some point, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was just pushing my discomfort on to the Danish people I was talking to, who had to switch to English, a language they themselves might not have been fully comfortable with! So once I’d made that connection in my head, it was much easier to try my Danish. With English being so readily available everywhere here, I think it’s easy to forget that someone might feel the same way about English as you do Danish, but we’re taking the choice and leaving them none.
  • Jobs. Like probably the case in any other country, the job market is much more friendly towards those who speak the local language. Obviously, there are some international firms here, too, and my job didn’t require any Danish per se. But you will learn relatively quickly that it’s definitely not a disadvantage to speak Danish.
  • Fun! Okay, maybe this one isn’t for everyone, but I actually enjoy learning Danish. I think it’s a cute language, a bit peculiar, sure, but I really like it. Plus, language school will put you in touch with others in the same situation as you, and I’ve made a couple of really good friends there.

But, it remains a subject that’s not always easy for foreigners - much like learning the language itself. We might already feel a bit vulnerable as we’re far from perfect in Danish, so we feel more easily offended or patronized if a Dane doesn’t react in a way we would like them to. So, here are my kind requests to the Danes:

  • Correct us - politely. We want to learn, so any corrections are welcome, but please try not to be condescending about it. To us, the word you’re repeating sounds exactly like what we were trying to pronounce. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference (pro tip: ask a Dane to say the words for “toothpick” and “match” (as in the thing to light a candle) - they will sound EXACTLY the same, I promise)
  • Be patient. We’re trying, so unless you really, hands down can’t understand what we’re saying, don’t switch to English. I know you believe this is helpful, but it only tells us we suck really bad.
  • Don’t make us say “rød grød med fløde”. Seriously. We know we’ll never be able to say it perfectly, and we don’t want to be the joke of the party.
  • Don’t tell us it’s important to learn Danish. We understand that - which is why we’re learning Danish!

Finally, I’m leaving you with this hilarious video, made by a Norwegian comedy group, which pokes fun at the fact that even Danes often don’t understand each other! But I’d love to hear from you: What are your experiences with learning Danish? Did you find it hard to learn, or are you still struggling? How do Danes react to you?

A foreigner’s perspective: Venstre’s immigration reform proposal

Now, this is a slightly unusual post, as I normally don’t comment on political discussion on the blog. But this topic is close to my heart, and as a foreigner in Denmark, I am personally affected, so I’m making an exception. If you’re interested, keep reading!

Immigration and integration of foreigners in Denmark is always a prominent topic of public debate, or at least that’s what it seems like to me. With immigration to Denmark reaching new record highs, this is hardly surprising. And while I personally have never experienced any sort of discrimination, hostility or different treatment (at least not openly), there seems to be a general reservation towards foreigners among many Danes. For example, in a recent study, about half of the respondents thought that Danish companies had a moral responsibility to hire Danes ahead of foreigners. Some public figures, such as right-wing nut case Pia Kjærsgaard from Dansk Folkeparti, regularly promote an anti-immigrant platform, for example by accusing especially non-Western foreigners of not being able or willing to integrate. But even politicians from more moderate parties are making controversial statements regarding immigration, for example Inger Støjberg, a spokesperson for conservative-liberal Venstre, who recently demanded stricter rules for immigrants from non-Western countries, as they allegedly create more problems in Denmark.

This debate was fuelled again when Venstre introduced their new immigration program at the end of July. At the core of Venstre’s proposal is the assumption that immigrants from some countries integrate better than those from other countries, and therefore, different requirements should be made for immigration. The idea behind this is that, ideally, you only want to accept people into the country that are able and willing to meaningfully contribute to society, and you don’t want “moochers” that just come for the social benefits. So far, I can at least follow the logic (note that the proposal focuses on immigration, which is not to be confused with asylum). But Venstre’s suggested solution is where things go wrong in my opinion (and experts have since stated that it might even be against international conventions). As far as I understand, these are the key points:

  • Countries are segmented into a list of “desirable” and “less desirable” (my choice of words, they call it the “positive list”) countries, based on the UN’s Human Development Index
  • Certain income thresholds are set, above which immigration is made easier (e.g. applicants with an annual income of over 400,000 DKK – ca. 55,000 EUR – are easily accepted).
  • These income thresholds are lower for “desirable” countries.

Now, this excludes EU countries, of course, since Denmark as an member state is bound to the EU rules of free movement. But even as a not directly affected foreigner from an EU country, I don’t agree with the proposal. Here’s what I think is wrong with it:

  1. It has serious methodology flaws. While Venstre hide behind the objectivity of the HDI – after all, the UN is an undisputed authority, right?! – the index itself has been subject to criticism, for example for favoring so-called Western models of development. This point is especially interesting in light of the statements made by Inger Støjberg, and one could even go so far as to say they picked this indicator on purpose because it neatly fits their views on non-Western immigrants. But even if we accept the index as objective and fair, a decision still needs to be made on where the “cut-off” should be, i.e. which score a nation needs to have to rank on the “positive list”. Is 7 good enough, or should we aim for 8? This threshold is purely arbitrary.
  2. It is one-dimensional and discriminating. Even if we humor Venstre here and accept the premise of needing to somehow find a way to separate the “good” immigrants from the “bad” ones, this approach is so one-dimensional. Who is to say that a waitress from Brazil is less able and willing to integrate than a highly paid engineer from Scotland? Maybe the engineer works in an English-speaking company and mainly sticks to an expat friend group, whereas the waitress learns Danish for her job and volunteers at a soup kitchen. Integration is, in my opinion, a highly personal topic and should not be reduced to nationalities.
  3. It’s not based on evidence. As far as I am aware, no studies have been made regarding the ability and willingness of foreigners from different countries to integrate and contribute to society in Denmark. The only studies available are crime statistics, in which immigrants and their descendants seem to be overrepresented (for example here and here), but that’s again very one-dimensional. Other factors need to be considered as well.
  4. It makes immigrants feel bad. This not only applies to immigrants wanting to move to Denmark, but also the ones that are already living here. How would it make you feel to hear that you’re not “desired” in Denmark because of your home country? Wouldn’t this make you even less willing to integrate, if you felt like “they don’t want me here anyways”? And finally, is this really how Danes want to come across towards foreigners?

Now, in light of the ever-increasing stream of immigrants coming to Denmark, I see the necessity in dealing with the issue. I personally don’t have a great solution, I just don’t think Venstre’s proposal is the right approach either.

Five things I wish I had known when moving to Denmark

I am not a total newbie here in Denmark, but I’m by no means a veteran, either. I first moved here almost two years ago, but the first year and a half, I had a job that required me to travel during the week, so I was more of a weekend-tourist than a real Copenhagener. Here are a couple of things I learned over time and that might come in handy to someone new to Denmark!

Tipping not required

I was always astonished why people were so super friendly to me, especially after I had paid in a restaurant. Until I was told that tipping is not required in Denmark - a service charge is already included in the price. However, it’s of course always nice to show that you appreciated good service, but be aware that you don’t have to tip 20% or more, as for example in the USA.

You can shop on Sundays

As a German, this was completely unthinkable for me - I’m used to planning all of my shopping needs in advance, since even supermarkets close around 6pm on Saturdays and don’t open again until Monday. How happy was I to learn that in Denmark, this is not the case! Pretty much everything is open on Sunday. Awesome!

Bikes are always right

Unless you have lived under a rock until now, you will be aware about the bike culture in Denmark and Copenhagen in particular. But be aware if you are getting from A to B using any other method of transportations, because cyclists tend to believe that they are always right and they always have the right of way. Cars have to break for them, and if you’re on foot, chances are that you’ve had to jump out of a bike’s way more than once. The best ones are equipped with annoying little bells and will ring aggressively if they think you’re in their way. In the winter, bikeways are cleared of snow first thing in the morning, whereas normal sidewalks remain untouched.

In Denmark, left is right

… in politics, that is. One of the biggest parties is called “Venstre” (i.e. “the Left”), even though they are center-right. Apparently this has historic reasons, as the party was founded to oppose the party “Højre” (“the Right”), which was supporting the interests of aristocracy. Still, slightly confusing when you hear it for the first time!

Copenhagen bathrooms are tiny

Personally, this was my biggest issue when I came here! Classic, old-school Copenhagen city apartments, as beautiful as they otherwise are, have tiny, tiny bathrooms. I have been in apartments that had no shower (or bathtub) - the bathroom was literally a tiny room with a toilet and a small sink! Others, like the one in the picture, have been renovated and now have a shower head up on the wall, but you have to stand right next to the toilet - no shower curtain or anything, the bathroom is completely flooded every time you take a shower. Even in new apartment buildings, such as the one I live in, the bathroom is very small (though it has a real shower with curtain, you can actually turn around in it, and it has a washing machine). Out of all the apartments and houses in the wider Copenhagen area that I have seen, only one (!) had a bathtub.

What do you wish you knew when you moved here (or before)?

This post first appeared on my blog on Denmark.dk - the official website of Denmark. Come visit here!

What we can learn about the Danes from TV commercials

(Warning: Not to be taken entirely seriously!)

As mentioned before, I’ve been off from work for one and a half weeks now for medical reasons, and for the same reasons, I need to spend most of my days lying on the couch. I try to split my time between the computer, books and napping, but of course, I also watch TV - a lot! I’ve basically watched every first and second round game of the Madrid tennis tournament, and I’m not even that interested in tennis! Anyway, this extended exposure to Danish tv and especially commercials has given me the idea to write up a character study of the Danes, based on what is being advertised to them. So, what can we learn about the Danes from their TV commercials?

1) Danes like to gamble and bet on sports.

There are a multitude of gambling and sports betting websites (spillehallen, danskespil, oddset, bet365, …). Of course, ads vary between channels (there’s a women’s channel with series like Grey’s Anatomy, and a guy’s channel with shows like Top Gear), but there is no commercial break without at least two or three different ads for those sites. My favorite ones are are series of slightly sexist commercials for sports betting site, under the theme “there’s so much that women don’t understand”, which make fun of sports slang that is taken literally by confused women. The one below is about a guy really wanting to score a goal (“kasse”, which also means box), and he finally succeeds in making one.


2) Danes date online

Even though there are only about 5.5 million Danes, there are tons of online dating sites. I’m glad I already secured my Dane, because it seems like the Danish dating life is quite confusing and frustrating at times! There’s a funny column on the English news site CPH Post, written by a New Zealand expat, called Dating the Danes, which deals with all the problems she runs into in the Danish dating world. My favorite spot is by the dating site “Partner med Niveau” (snobby, right?!), I just love how creepy the guy smiles in the end (“I want to meet a woman who’s fun but who can also challenge me intellectually … AND THEN I WILL MURDER HER IN HER SLEEP”).


3) Danes are crazy about birthdays

I’ve mentioned in before in my post about flags, Danes love to put their “dannebrog” on everything, and what better opportunity to do so than a birthday? Birthdays are big, and a lot of stores have jumped on the bandwagon and use birthdays as a welcome occasion to throw out some discouts and special sales. Every week, some super market chain or bed specialist store (I’m looking at you, Jysk!) is celebrating their birthday. I swear, it’s more than once a year for each of them (still looking at you, Jysk!)!


4) Danes love their characters

Most commercials are actually small series, re-using the same characters and some even building a storyline. There’s Luffe and Jeanne from electronics leasing company L’easy, there’s Poul, who builds his own gambling hall in his garage, and his neighbor Torben, and the owner of aforementioned bedding company Jysk, who talks weird - not sure if that’s just a heavy jutlandish accent or already counts as a speech impediment?


How about you? What have you noticed about ads and tv spots in Denmark (or any other country, for that matter)?