In Denmark there exists a cultural diaspora that numbers in the thousands. These people often come here to take advantage of the generous welfare system, free schooling, educational grants and childcare, all of which are more generous than where they came from. This group has its own networks separate from general society, its own bars and culture houses and it takes great pride in the heritage of its native country.
On their members-only Facebook pages, this group discusses how to get benefits from the Danish state. Despite living in the country for years, many don’t even speak Danish. They speak their native tongue to their children and teach them to be patriotic towards their homeland.
Ingrained into them is a historic suspicion towards Denmark and the Danes – a suspicion that usually manifests itself during overheated sporting events. Last April, three residents from this group were handed lengthy prison sentences for smuggling large amounts of drugs into Denmark.
I know this because I am one of these people: the Icelanders.
Now I’m certain most of you thought I was talking about Muslims, Eastern Europeans or other groups often discussed in the media as “undesirables” for committing crimes and assaulting people in the streets. You know, people with radically different cultures and ideas about the world. The others.
But after almost seven years in Denmark, I know of only one person to be brutally assaulted in the streets of Copenhagen. The perpetrator was Icelandic. The incident didn’t incite an eruption of vile hatred and calls for the construction of an Atlantic Wall to keep these dangerous foreign elements out. To the best of my knowledge there are no Facebook groups called “Stop the Icelandisation of Denmark”, or “Fuck your dried fish, I want flæskesvær.”
Hardly. Rather, me and my fellow Icelanders with our blonde hair and blue eyes manage to blend in pretty well. When someone from this group commits a horrible crime, it’s excused as merely a bad apple, rather than proof that these uncivilised barbarians streaming in from the north have no place in the country.
Once, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, a very nice girl I met asked me why we “fucking Icelanders don’t just go back home”. Other than that, my stay here has been without incident. But I don’t feel Danish, I hate stægt flæsk med persillesovs, I have never read a book by Karen Blixen, I dislike all forms of monarchy and I would hardly be considered a good Christian. Also, what is with all the terrible reality TV shows?
But I love it here, as do most of the Icelanders I’ve met. Many of them look fondly to the incredibly stable social structure that so often seems lacking back in Iceland. They love that people are never completely left out in the cold by the state and that people in power are held accountable for their misdeeds and corruption. As far as I’m concerned, Copenhagen is one of the best and prettiest places I’ve ever been to.
Maintaining your identity, religion or patriotism to the country you left and keeping ties with the people that come from your native country isn’t a sign of being an alien and hostile element to society, but of just being human. It is very hard to change the identity that has shaped you from childhood.
Moving to a new country is also incredibly difficult. You are basically ripping up the life you know for a life that is new. You are far away from family and friends, and everybody speaks a language that is not yours. So holding on to what you know, with people you know and understand, helps make this transition easier, more doable.
And despite me listing all these horrible things about the Icelandic diaspora at the beginning (and believe me it is a diaspora), most of it is just people that come here, settle down, pay taxes, have families, make Danish friends and speak the language. However, it is easy to forget these people if we only hear about the bad elements. If you were to search for news about Icelanders in Ekstra Bladet, you would think we were some kind of violent handball hooligans (which maybe is not that far off?).
A basic guiding principle in journalism holds that it is not news when a dog bites a man, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news. That is because nobody reports on the mundane. People being decent to each other and living a fine, respectable life is not news – it is the norm. Therefore, our reality is often shaped by what are in truth rarities.
Religious scholar Reza Aslan explained this novelty syndrome pretty well when he said that if the only thing you knew about planes was based on news about plane crashes, you would probably be terrified of them. I think there is a nice element of truth in that.
So, all I ask is that if you are going to hate groups for being terrible citizens, for not conforming to society, for not blending in or swearing allegiance to Dannebrog and Dronningen, then be even handed – hate everyone equally. M