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Being ginger in the land of the Vikings

Conrad Molden's guide to red hair woes.

Photograph: iStock

Text: Conrad Molden

It's 2016, and I was back visiting my home country of England. It was cold, rainy and bleak. A typical day in Britain - no surprises there. I was walking down a busy road, holding two heavy plastic bags filled with shopping, and suddenly I heard a voice. An ugly teenager puts his head out of a car window and shouts "Ginger!" as he cruises past. I am left standing there. Wet and embarrassed. Almost thirty years old and feeling like a bullied school kid. This can be an unfortunate reality for people with red hair in Great Britain.

Feeling like red hair is normal was actually one of my great pleasures moving to Denmark. It is even something celebrated in their history. The Viking explorer Erik the Red would never have been mocked from the window of a Citroën C3. Instead, he would have dropped his bags of Aldi shopping, chased down the car and cut the dude in half with an axe.

As you may expect, I genuinely went to an all-boys Hogwarts-style school. Except instead of witchcraft or wizardry, they had funding issues and social problems. There was lots of bullying there, of everyone, but especially the gingers. There is even an unofficial "Punch a Ginger" day. I remember being hit in the face whilst waiting for a bus outside my school. What a charming place Britain has become. And we wonder why our continental European neighbours don't miss us.

These experiences had some lifelong outcomes for me. They did make me come to hate my appearance, but they also led me to a passion for comedy. I used humour as a defence and began to entertain my bullies. It is hard for someone to insult you when you have already done it for them. There is no truth that those with "fire hair" have naturally bad tempers – it is a childhood of bullying which has left us just slightly p*ssed off.

There was also no solidarity amongst the kids with red hair. Other minority groups form social movements and groups determined to end prejudice and enforce rights. Gingers, however, just try to avoid each other. We are not a race or ethnicity. Nothing holds us together. We are just a random group, two percent of the global population, constantly told we look like Prince Harry or Ron Weasley (because apparently, these are insults).

Until I came to Denmark, I felt like the whole world was against me, made to feel utterly abnormal in my own skin. Then, in Aarhus, I suddenly realised that the world is not as cruel and judgmental as a South London all-boys public school. I spoke with Danes, made new friends, and suddenly there was a kindness and a warmth in attitudes to different appearances.

I vividly remember walking past the "Boardgame Café" and seeing the happy faces of misfits, geeks and nerds. In England, these people were ridiculed; here in Denmark, they happily played Dungeons & Dragons in plain sight. Smiling, laughing and sharing big bags of Matador Mix. I must say, I wanted to be a part of it.

“There is something so refreshing about tolerance in Danish society.”

There is something so refreshing about tolerance in Danish society. Not feeling told to "treat all people the same" but rather understanding that it is precisely our weird appearances that bring us all together. We are all abnormal in our own little ways. The terrible climate surrounding differences during my adolescence was so painful at the time. Looking back, I don't want to see red and cut that Citroën C3 guy in half with an axe. Instead, I see a scared young man who probably did not have a lot going on in his life. A product of the slightly broken and dysfunctional South London I also grew up in. He probably needs a hug and some love - I think we all do.

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