Weekly “Pick on Denmark” Post

Today is Friday, and I have decided every Friday is “Pick on Denmark Day”. I might change the name, but yeah. I need a venue for bitching and this is it.

What happened this week? Well… I will go back to last Saturday. I met a lovely woman who, like me, is an American ex-pat trying to stay in Denmark. She has a job, she is married, she has an education, she speaks Danish… in other words, she meets all of the qualifications. And yet, she has NOT been granted a green card, and in fact, she was recently imprisoned for staying here illegally. Of course she is not here illegally… it is just a ruse to scare her so she leaves. Denmark has no choice but to grant her the green card as she meets their own standards… but she is black. So… we’ll see how it shakes out.

My own situation is a bit more precarious than my new friend’s. I do NOT have a Master’s degree, and I am still in the very early stages of learning the language. To make matters worse, they ALSO said I was here illegally. According to our legal advisor, I am definitely here legally… and they are willing to back us all the way to court, if necessary… but yeah. It sucks. We got a letter the other day that says they will try to make a determination regarding my legal status in the next 5-6 weeks. At that point, if they determine that I was legal when we submitted the application, it will take 3-7 months for them to process the application.

Denmark is quickly climbing the list of countries least friendly to foreigners. It is not just Immigration, which is horrendous all by itself. Just read a few columns in Copenhagen Post and you will get an idea of the strain put on foreigners just to stay here. Not to live here permanently, not to become part of society… just to go to school, or work, or whatever. Even businessmen have had to miss parts of conferences just to meet the odd and ever-changing immigration rules of when you can enter and how long you can stay. It is maddening.  But it not JUST Immigration.

Asking if someone speaks English is often followed by an “Of course.” No smile. Of course… the English that is spoken is likely barely comprehensible. No matter. I have friends from all parts of the globe and manage to understand most of what is said to me. But the demeanor instantly changes from merely cold and indifferent (the standard of customer service here, as far as I can tell) to outright rude.  Other times, however, the answer is “No!”, and I have been refused service.

The other day, I wanted to cash a money order my father had sent me for Christmas. It was drawn on Danske Bank, and in my name. My husband went with me. Since he is a Danske Bank account holder, we figured it would be no problem.

First, we waited in line. THAT is also standard. It is not unusual to have to take a number (everywhere, take a number), and then wait in line at least 10-20 minutes, for anything. Post a letter, buy a loaf of break, talk to a city worker… take a number, and wait.

I have to interrupt myself here. The reason we waited until now, nearly a month past Christmas, is because the line was too long other times we went by. People were lined up out of the branch into the hallway. So this time… waiting 15 numbers was NOT too long. So, yeah. Efficiency at work.   When our number was called, the cashier spoke to us only in Danish. When I asked her to speak English, she just looked at me. Whatever, Henning was there. She first said the check was not valid. It didn’t look the way she expected it to. She went back, showed it to her manager, and they photocopied it, and then the cashier made a phone call. The manager went to the back offices and conferred with at least two other people.

The cashier came back to us after quite a long time, and said it was missing numbers. I explained it was a money order, so it was not a standard check. She went back to her manager, they made another phone call, and again went to the back offices. She came back and asked if I had a CPR number. Of course I don’t. I am officially still a tourist here.

I signed it over to Henning, so he could just deposit in into his account. After all, once a check or money order is signed, it belongs to the bearer, no questions asked. Right? Wrong. Again she conferred with the manager, and the boys in the back, and again the check, along with the photocopy and a growing pile of notes accompanied them.  When she came back, she said I needed to have a CPR number to do any business there.

And that was it. After standing in line for nearly 20 minutes, and then waiting at least 20-30 more while they all went back and forth, we left with just the check, which was now signed and, to me, pretty vulnerable.

I called my embassy in Copenhagen, and they suggested I contact the bank’s main branch (where the check was issued). It was after 4:00pm, so I had to wait until the next day.

I did call Danske Bank’s main branch the next day, and spoke with a lovely man who insisted Henning’s branch should have cashed the check. He said his bank (the one in Copenhagen) deals with Americans all the time, and if I so desired, I could come right there and have it deposited. He offered to come take care of it personally if the cashier had any questions.

We did go to Copenhagen that afternoon, and aside from the parking, the cobblestones and the fact that the main branch of Danske Bank has STAIRS and NO ELEVATOR (in other words, is NOT accessible at all) had no issues getting my Christmas gift deposited to my husband’s account. It took about three minutes. Well… three minutes after taking a number and waiting in the foyer at the bottom of the stairs for 20 minutes… but… whatever.

What if I had not been so close to Copenhagen? What if I had relied on the misinformation given to me by Danske Bank employees who said I was unable to effect any transactions? I wonder what other foreigners do, in this situation? I am blessed to have friends here who I’m sure would have been able to help. I am blessed to have had to contact the embassy for a few other matters, so that anxiety of dealing with them has lessened.  I am even more blessed to have such a confident and encouraging husband (although, to be fair, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be here… so there is that).

Why does Denmark hate us so much? Why is it so hard for the country, as a whole, to embrace the idea that we truly are a global community? I don’t know, and honestly, I don’t really care why. I just know that to me, it seems like each and every time I step out of the sanctuary of our little apartment, I must have my guard up, my thick skin in place, and be prepared for any array of insult, misinformation and discrimintation that will be the norm as I go through my day.

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