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The Feminine Traitor Tells All


FORUM/ 15.7.99 My first day in Denmark, we drove up to Helsingør. A male friend of my girlfriend was driving. Noticing that every house we passed was flying the flag; I remarked that this seemed quite nationalistic. He replied that it was not, that it had nothing to do with nationalism. By the way, did I know that the Danish flag was the oldest in the world, a gift from God to the Danish armies fighting in Estonia in the 11th Century? I did not.

The Anglophone man usually comes to Denmark because of a Danish woman. I arrived two years ago. I was surprised by what I found. I had imagined Denmark to be liberal and open minded. It is and it is not! The Danes are complacent. They believe they have achieved serenity. They have strong community ties, a strong sense of nationhood, and an extreme sense of equality. They also have an inferiority complex based on a fear of insignificance. These qualities blend together to make a unique cocktail of liberal-conservatism that is hard to surface. Denmark is not easy on foreign immigrants.

The Anglophone man finds it difficult to integrate. He leaves behind the masculine society he had in his home country. He will find that Danish men isolate him through language and attitude. At times one will concur the other. Anglophones survive urban Denmark by congregating in packs and creating small enclaves within which to build a mythic image of home. These enclaves are Irish pubs - the Alamos of Denmark. All new arrivals will end up in this environment at one point in time. Few escape it entirely. Those that do will find themselves in the more feminine society of their spouse. Those that remain are the Ex-pats (ex-patriots).

'Why haven't you learnt Da-anish yet?' The Englishman did a perfect imitation of a Dane's accent. He had lived in Denmark for five years. He had met a Danish girl in Barcelona - coincidentally the same story as me. Except that his ex-girlfriend was now in Australia. He had expected to join her until he received the phone-call.
He had been ranting about the Danes all night. 'Don't you hate it when they tell you that? "You should speak Da-anish by now!"'
I tried to say that they were not so bad. The words felt false in my mouth. I sympathised with what he said but did not want to. I could count no Danes, except a few of my girlfriend's friends and her family, among my friends.
'Well why don't you fuck off then!' he replied.'You gay or somethin'?'

Ex-pats are 'ex' because they are removed from their country; 'patriot' in the sense that now that they are out of it they love it more than ever. There are a number of generic qualities common to all Ex-pats. Physically they come in all ages, shapes and sizes, with two common features - they are white and have beer bellies on proud display.

They come from a range of social classes and educational backgrounds. They are invariably nationalists and misogynists. They have inflated ideas of their own intelligence and value their own opinions above all else. They are prone to displays of aggressive behaviour and can be dangerous if challenged. Finally, they never learn Danish - they claim that it is an issue of principle.

Ex-pats come from all over the Anglophone world, and national stereotypes are amplified. The Brit ex-pat is the miserable sod at the end of the bar, who cannot walk at the end of the night. The Irish ex-pat is the heaviest drinker who talks and talks and talks - about what nobody knows. The Australian is a highly qualified whinger, a quality he denies strenuously. The American is loud, and full of bluff about the US of A. He is also the most liberal of his contemporaries. None of the former takes him seriously.

The ex-pat's girlfriend will often end up leaving him. He remains in the country and frequent the Irish pub on a daily basis to air his grievances. His favourite topic is how Denmark ruined his life, with a special disregard reserved for Danish men - Lars.

'Can't you change the ra-adio? We can't co-oncentrate on our poo-ol game.' I was shocked by the Dane's request. The arrogance. The bravery! The pub owners had installed a satellite pick-up for the major British Pop station especially. They had trumpeted it to all. It was one of the attractions of afternoon drinking. We could listen to news, music and chat from home over a pint of home-brewed beer.
'Of course we can sir' replied the barman. 'What would you prefer, sir?'
'Something Da-anish.' He had the masculine Dane's manner of speaking English - landing on each vowel and expanding it. 'Some Ro-ock.'
'Whatever you say sir.'
The Dane sidled off back to the pool table to finish his game. We looked at each other and laughed. The barman turned the volume up.

Lars, aged 20-30, is intensely competitive and laddish. He moves in a masculine social group to which no outsider can enter unless he can open a bottle with anything except a bottle opener (teeth, tongues and toes included) and carry himself in a manner that suggests he takes himself too seriously. He is a nationalist although only aggressively when drunk
Danish women accuse him of being vain and childish much to the amusement of foreign men.

Lars exemplifies the unique blend of complacence and inferiority complex nascent in Danes. His complex revolves around a belief that size is important. He thinks that foreigners see Denmark as insignificant because it is small. He goes abroad, not to broaden his horizons but to confirm that Denmark truly is the greatest place on earth. He needs to confirm that to himself continually.

Lars's conversation points with foreigners follow distinct paths. He will always bring up the world-domination of the Vikings - including imaginary dominance of the Americas and Australasia. Thus, follows a chronological history lecture that includes the origin of the Danish flag, the royal family - 'the oldest in the world, by the way' - and the British Navy's firebombing of Copenhagen in 1807. The last is a crescendo of theatrical mimesis. The topics form a tactical offensive tacitly agreed between Larses to assert Denmark's international status.

Lars comes into conflict in an Irish Pub, which is why he enters. He invariably orders in Danish - a sin. The use of a language, which ex-pats regard as a symbol of marginalisation is a weapon. When the barman expresses incomprehension, he will add to the insult by asking the inevitable question: 'Why haven't you learnt Da-anish?' There is no acceptable answer, so the barman short-changes him, even spits in his drink.

Conversely, Lars would also refuse to believe that any foreigner could learn his language. The ex-pat's failure is Lars' supremacy. He will ask foreigners studying Danish - 'Why do you study this language? There is no point.' Danish is his sacred tongue, the last vestige of empire. Unlike English, it is untouched by foreign hands. Shutting foreigners out can only maintain purity.

The guy was standing at the bar with beads in his hair. He wore skin-tight jeans and an even tighter t-shirt. He looked like a surfer.
'Hey man, can I have a beer?' He spoke with a Northern California drawl, emphasizing the spaces between the words more than the words themselves.
'Fuu-uuck! Man!' he said to the barman. 'I lost the fucking game, man.' He had been playing pool in the back of the pub with some of the regulars. 'You got any fucking change, man? I wanna have another fucking game, man.'
I leaned over and asked him if he had a light for a cigarette. He lit it and we started talking.
'Hey man, where the fuck you come from, man? You from the States?' I told him I was half-Australian, half-English. That explained my mid-Atlantic accent. I asked where in California he came from. I wanted to impress with my knowledge of US regional accents.
'I don't come from the fucking States, man. I'm a fucking Dane.'

Rogue-Lars is a Lars who feels no qualm in speaking English - he loves speaking English but only with an American accent. British English, or should I say Oxford English (which is in fact a mythic language spoken only by the Queen and Hugh Grant) is associated with British Public Schooling and homosexuality. The complexities of the Irish accent are too much for anyone except the Irish to deal with.

English facilitates movement in an ex-pat enviroment. Rogue-Lars masquerades as an Ex-pat. At the appropriate moment, he reveals himself as a Lars and leaves victorious. He is the enemy within - practically unspottable. His one identifiable weakness is a fondness for the word fuck, which he thinks sounds cool. It is the chink in his armour - he uses it too frequently for someone sporting an American accent. Only the Brits and Irish say 'fuck' so much.

His accent requires an intimate knowledge of the American cultural base - these include being able to expound on sports no-body understands; finding American comedy hilarious and being able to quote profusely from Seinfeld to achieve maximum hilarity; mimicking the London English accent so badly that you actually sound South African. Rogue-Lars can talk louder than anybody else present and is not struck by Danish beliefs about equality, at least not when he speaks English. He believes, in a profoundly American way, that he is the best. He is a sufferer of American masculine narcissism.

Surprising then, that it is the American ex-pat that is the most effective in dealing with Rogue-Lars. His inability to explain where Denmark is in relation to rest of the world, even though he is in it, arouses the Rogue's inferiority complex and sends him careening out of the pub. The American ex-patriot is blissfully unaware that his ignorance is his greatest deterrent.

Anglophone women rarely go to the Irish pub (unless they are American tourists in town for the night), but there are two distinct types of female Danes that can be found - the Bimbo and the Butch Mama.

The Bimbo, in her teens to late-twenties, is quite happy to hang around like an ornament on the bar. She is an object to be talked about, and talked to in small doses. She needs help ordering a packet of crisps. At the end of a normal evening, she will throw herself drunkenly at one or all of the Ex-pats present. She is his image of feminine perfection.

The Butch Mama is quite the reverse. Normally in her mid-forties or older, the Butch Mama will talk with the boys on their own terms. She was formally married to an Anglophone. Now a divorcee, she will hate him but love his country. She will hate Denmark and remark repeatedly that she should never have moved back. Butch Mama will have spent some years abroad. Her children, if she has any, will still live abroad. She adopts the ex-pat language and outlook and marries it with maternal sensibilities. She is a masculine mum to the associated members of the Ex-pat club. They respect her despite her tendency to fall of her stall, blind drunk before 10 o'clock in the evening. This in fact bolsters her honorary membership of this inherently masculine group.

The two girls at the bar giggled girlishly as my friend spoke Danish. He was speaking to a group of men on the other side of the pub. By his own word, he could speak it almost flawlessly. The men seemed only vaguely interested.
I understood very little. Enough to know he was not telling a joke. The girls continued to giggle. They picked out phrases, repeated them to each other and burst into fits of laughter.
'What are you laughing at?' I asked.
'Him,' they motioned towards my friend, 'he speaks like a girl.'

The traitor is the short-term visitor to the Irish Pub - the escapee. He is often a regular at an early stage in his stay in Denmark, changing his lifestyle to keep his girlfriend, study Danish, and look after the home. His adoption of responsibility and attempt to learn the language are seen as betrayal. He breaks the fundamental rule of the ex-pat: make them conform to you rather than you to them. They see him as a househusband, which to a misogynist is tantamount to homosexuality.

Integration involves a step outside the masculine conflict described. The traitor's will be the society of women for a number of reasons. Firstly, his life will revolve around his spouse and her social arrangements. Secondly, he is excluded entrance to the Larses social group as a foreigner. Thirdly, language courses are taught and comprised mostly of women.

Language is the symbol of his predicament. Lars will refuse to believe a traitor can speak Danish unless he is perfectly fluent, which is impossible according to Lars's mandates.The traitor's Danish will remain a source of amusement for it will be feminised. He will learn intonation and vocabulary from his spouse and girlfriends. For example, in greeting someone he will use the feminine form, 'Hiiii-eeeee', rather than the masculine, 'Dav'.

The traitor is the lowest of the low - an outcast to both protagonists and antagonists. An object of amusement, his sporadic returns to the Irish pub will end in abject failure until he finally disappears from view. His sexuality, gender and language in question, he will be redundant. The experience will have re-aligned his notions of masculinity.

'Two years in Denmark,' remarked a visiting English friend, 'two years and you act like a woman now.' I was not offended.

Lloyd Rundle has an MA (Hons) from Edinburgh University. He lives in Copenhagen with his girlfriend.

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