A column devoted to deconstructing and demystifying immigration and integration in Denmark, one disruptively uncomfortable and embarrassingly trivial emotional meltdown at a time.
Text: Antesa Jensen
I wish I could tell you that I bounced back quickly.
I wish I could tell you that Danish pragmatism swiftly wore off on me and seeped in through my skin and smoothed it all out and that I immediately overcame the wind (not the thing) and got a glimpse of what was going on underneath the hood (where the real thing was).
I didn’t. It didn’t.
I eventually felt so defeated by the weather (and the cyclists with rush hour bike rage that I always seemed to encounter and piss off no matter how hard I tried to follow the rules) that I started taking the S-Tog and Metro to work every day. Even though it took me longer. Even though it was more expensive.
I did it to preserve what remained of my pride (and my wardrobe). I did it to avoid being constantly triggered by an element no one else seemed to mind but which was making me feel crazy.
Here’s something important I learned during those years: when you know what you need is compassion, pragmatism feels dismissive. When you don’t know you need compassion, pragmatism feels invalidating.
Why does it work like that? I don’t know, but that’s how most people experience it, even if they can’t really articulate it that way. And that’s how I experienced it.
I wish I could tell you that I didn’t spend years generally feeling invalidated for who I was here, but I’d be lying. Because I didn’t know I needed compassion, and because I had never really been on the receiving end of the sort of compassion I needed, I just kept trying to stubbornly steamroll my feelings with pragmatism, and letting everyone else do it, too. It felt like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole at every opportunity: frustrating!
No one would’ve ever known though, because I was incredibly skilful at appearing as though all was well when all was very much so not.
"I came here to live out my Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and become the self-proclaimed Queen of The Hygge."
I came here to live out my Hans Christian Andersen fairytale and become the self-proclaimed Queen of The Hygge — to live amongst and be with, The Happiest People in the World — and so help me, come wind and come rain, that was what I was going to get, and I was willing to fake it ‘til I made it.
Attempting to maintain that facade was quite possibly the most self-destructive thing I could do in those circumstances, but I guess I needed to go there because that’s where I went with it. Maybe if I pretended like my life wasn’t falling apart at the seams, it wouldn’t happen (spoiler alert: it eventually did. See future article: “The hygge can’t save you from an existential crisis”).
The thing about upholding a facade is that there’s a part of you that knows you’re doing it. And here’s a clue: it’s the same part of you that knows how ridiculous it is to feel totally defeated by something as trivial as the wind.
That part of me knew the earnest, pragmatic Danes were right: something about holding onto these great expectations was holding me back.
It was that classic both and situation where I was clear I had an unmet need and I was also clear that the pathway to meeting that unmet need was to stop expecting it to be met by some source outside of myself. Even and especially in a social welfare state where the literal design of the society is that an outside source is going to meet all of your needs.
I needed to learn how to have compassion for myself.
THIS. Was the ultimate life conundrum.
And until I figured that out, I had to stick around. After all, more than anywhere else in the world, this society, and this social welfare state, were the most likely contenders for setting me up for success precisely because of the same reasons Denmark is consistently named the Happiest Place on Earth. Because when a society’s needs are met to the extent that the people as a whole feel physically comfortable and secure, there is energetic surplus to explore emotional and spiritual security (which is where compassion lives). Denmark is the perfect incubator.
Even though it would be years before I had the words to articulate any of this, I chose to throw caution to the wind, and lean in.