Becoming Danish is hard

It is increasingly hard to become Danish. Even though I am born in Denmark to a Danish mother, have lived in Denmark for most of my life, and am married to a Dane and have two Danish children, my post-Brexit application for Danish citizenship was rejected.

“You have not documented your knowledge and understanding of Danish society, culture and history,” I was told in a letter from the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration. I received this letter nearly two years after I had applied for Danish citizenship.

I was dumbfounded. I have gone to school in Denmark since the age of seven, taken two degrees (in teaching and Social Science) in Denmark and have worked in Denmark as a teacher, journalist and academic.

I therefore believed that I was both well-suited and entitled to make my mark as a full member of Danish society.

But if I am not even eligible for Danish citizenship, as I apparently haven’t proven my Danishness, what does it take to become a Dane both formally, culturally and spiritually?

One of the reasons that I applied for Danish citizenship in the first place was that Brexit will make me a non-EU citizen living in the EU soon. Another reason was that it recently became possible to become a Danish citizen whilst retaining my British passport. But the main reason is that I feel that I belong here.

I had become British almost by accident. I was born in Copenhagen in 1972 to a Danish mother and a British father, but at the time children of British fathers automatically became British citizens, my mother has told me.

Perspective from pluralism
In Denmark and the UK (and elsewhere), nationalism is on the rise and is increasingly becoming the yardstick for measuring who we are. Many on the Right in the UK argued that Brexit would enable them to “win back our country” for “true” (White?) Brits like me. Many people in Denmark argue and vote along the same lines.

I see myself as English and Danish, but mostly as a person who would rather not be defined by others. In Denmark today, the trend nevertheless seems to be to categorize people and focus on our differences and divisions instead of what unites us.

I have lived in two countries (and travelled in many more), and my family have lived for decades in China and South Africa. This gives me a sense of perspective that enables me to better comprehend the society and cultural setting that I live in.

I believe that the world would be a far better place if more people had a similar sense of perspective, while at the same time following their own voice and not that of an increasingly closed group or nation.

Cultures are dynamic
Otherwise we seem to end up mentally bound to our respective nations, whilst cutting the umbilical cord to our humanity by believing ourselves to be better than people with a different nationality (or colour or creed), simply because they were born somewhere else.

Cultures are dynamic, multi-layered and absorbent. What is British or Danish today will change tomorrow according to circumstances and according to those who define it.

A hundred years ago it was part of both British and Danish culture that women were not equal to men and did not even have the vote. Today this seems ludicrous, although a sense of inequality and discrimination seems to be creeping back into our cultures as our nations build mental walls around themselves.

Becoming a Dane
So what does being Danish really mean and how do I become a Dane, culturally? And how do I ensure that I and other “new” Danes can help keep Danish culture vibrant and relevant?

One way is to demand the right to be part of defining and forming the culture of the society that I live in and to demand that Danish culture is not cast in stone.

Here I can look to the many other Danes with foreign names and upbringing who have helped define Danish culture:

Oehlenschläger the poet, Reventlow, Monrad and Khader the politicians, Pio the unionist, Schmeichel and Nadim the footballers, Wozniacki the tennisplayer, Björkstrand the ice hockey player, and Mahmoud and Krasnik the journalists.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: