Tag Archives: denmark

The Time My Landlord Ratted Me Out to the Cops

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Originally posted on The Billfold

The door buzzer rings at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday.

“Politi!” the intercom shouts in Danish.

“What?” I say.

“Police!” English this time. The buzzer rings two more times.

I have been renting a room from Inge for four months now. She is in her mid-60s, tall and blond and slender, the glowing grandmother in a Nivea commercial. The only thing that shows her age is her voice, a Beverly D’Angelo baritone that hides consonants behind long vowels. “Be here tomorrow at seven,” she said yesterday. Be hee tomohh at seh-hen. “We need to go over some house things.”

“What is this about?” I ask the intercom. Inge’s not even here, her door is open and her bed is made. She must have slept at her boyfriend’s last night.

“Police!” it says again. “You have to let us in.”

I buzz them in and crack the door.

As I listen to two pairs of footsteps coming up the stairs, I make a mental list of crimes I have committed recently. I bought a bike from a flea market. I downloaded a torrent of Ratatouille. I regularly throw away wine bottles I should recycle. I know Denmark is socialist and everything, but do they really send cops to your house for stuff like this?

We only live on the second floor but they’re panting from the climb, and I can smell that they’ve been outside smoking cigarettes while they waited. They have matching denim jackets and beer bellies, both in their mid-40s, both massive, but one is slightly rounder than the other and has a fake tan. They look like they just came from the stands of a soccer game.

I’m wondering if they’re even cops until they show me their badges. They push past me and  invite me into my kitchen.

“Have a seat,” the one with the fake tan says in Danish.

“Can we do this in English, guys?” I say in English. I’ve only lived in Copenhagen for a year, my Danish vocabulary is somewhere between kindergarten and George of the Jungle.

“Your Danish is fine,” he says in Danish. “You know why we’re here, don’t you.”

“I lost my wallet last week, did someone find it?” I say, struggling to get the words out in Danish.

“You stole credit cards and ordered a bunch of shit online,” fake tan says. “We know it was you.”

“Wait, what?”

This is the point where, later, my coworkers at the human rights NGO where I’m working tell me I should have stopped the conversation. “Why didn’t you ask for a lawyer?” “You had the right to an official translator!” “Did you get their badge numbers?”

But there, at the kitchen table, this accusation is so outlandish, so obviously some sort of misunderstanding, that I forget all about my rights and my shitty Danish and why these cops are even here. I just want to convince them that it wasn’t me and for them to go away.

“… Nuh-uh.” I say.

“Yes you did,” fake tan says. “We traced the crime back to this apartment.”

“We need to confiscate your computer,” the paler one says. It’s clear they’re already convinced I’m guilty. Being here is just a technicality. “Where is it?”

I lead the cops to my room.

“Two computers,” fake tan says like David Caruso. Gotcha. Paleface takes out a notepad just to write that down.

“I bought a new laptop in January,” I say. “I just haven’t gotten rid of the old one yet.”

“You sure about that?” fake tan says, as if I have just told him I can walk through walls.

“What exactly do you think I did?” I ask.

“You’ve been stealing credit cards, ordering movie tickets online and then returning them to the theaters for cash,” he says.

Huh?

“The transaction was done from the wireless network in this apartment.”

“But our wireless network is unsecured,” I say. Inge asked me to put a password on the Wi-Fi ages ago, but I couldn’t read the Danish on the configuration well enough to set it up.

“And you’re the only one who has the password,” paleface says. He might as well have put on shades. Case closed.

“Wait, no, there’s no password,” I say. “Anyone could use it. All of our neighbors, anyone at the café downstairs.” I sit down and open up my laptop. “See, there’s our network. No little padlock icon next to it.”

“No. The internet doesn’t work that way,” fake tan says. “You need a password.”

Their certitude is not cracking. Either this is a tactic, the Danish version of good cop bad cop, or they genuinely don’t know that open Wi-Fi networks exist. I don’t know which possibility is worse.

Our network is unsecured,” I say, trying to italicize as I speak. “Do you guys really not know what an open wireless network is?”

“What were you doing the night of November 15th?” Fake tan says, changing the subject. Paleface makes a kind of “booya!” face. We’ll ask the questions, punk.

“That was four months ago,” I say. “I have no idea.”

“If you can’t prove what you were doing that night, we’re arresting you right now.”

This is where I remember about my rights and stuff.

“No you’re not,” I say. “I am not stealing credit cards online. I have a steady job, a decent salary, savings in the bank. It makes no sense I would go through some amateur-hour scam just to make, what, an extra few days’ pay? I don’t have to prove I didn’t do this. You have to prove I did.”

Except that my Danish was hella shitty, so what came out was more like, “No, you never. I no steal. I have job, lot money. I no prove, you prove.”

The cops looked confused.

“Your whereabouts on November 15 please,” fake tan says.

I sit down to check my e-mails, scrolling through November to find a concert ticket, a dinner invite, something indicating where I was on some random weeknight last year. I’m still hoping I can just make this go away.

The cops are standing behind me, watching my screen.

“Wait,” fake tan says. “You said you bought that computer in January?”

“Yeah.”

So how are you checking your e-mails from last November?” Bam, the jig is up. Paleface starts writing furiously in his notepad.

Oh my god it’s not a tactic.

“Are you kidding?” I say. I try to express the situation, but my Danish isn’t cooperating. “Mail no lives on computer. Lives on Internet.”

“We’re taking these,” he says. “And your router. Now: Where’s Inge’s computer?”

 

Inge.

That’s why they’re here.

I can imagine the conversation: The cops contact her, tell her there’s suspicious activity on her internet. “That’s strange,” she tells them. “The only person with the password is this random 25-year-old immigrant…”

No wonder the cops think it’s an open and shut case. They must have asked her to serve me up to them. That’s why she asked me to be home this morning, why she’s not here now.

“We have Inge’s permission to confiscate her computer.”  Paleface says.

I take the cops into Inge’s room.

“That’s her computer,” I say. She has an old iMac, it’s a lump of pastel blue on her desk.

“Where’s the computer?” fake tan says.

“Right there, on the desk,” I say.

He crouches like he’s about to crawl under the desk. “No, the computer.”

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

“That’s the computer.”

“That’s the screen.”He was using the voice for when you explain appliances to a four-year-old. Mr. Refrigerator makes things cooooooold. Mr. Oven makes them waaaaaarm.

“I’m looking for the compuuuuuter,” he says. “Where the daaaaaata goes. Do you understand?”

“I know what a computer is.” I say. I used mine to hack credit cards, remember?  “The computer is inside the monitor.”

“They put it inside the monitor?” he says. This was February of 2008.

“Yes, it’s all one unit,” I say.

“New technology, huh?” he says. Paleface is nodding, impressed.

I blow the dust off the keyboard and hand it to him. “Do you mind if I get your badge numbers?”

 

They come back two weeks later.

Inge has been sleeping at her boyfriend’s most nights. On the rare occasions when she’s home, we make small talk like nothing happened. The weather, the laundry, how’s work.

Seven a.m., the intercom buzzes again,  this time Inge’s home. The two cops are at the door, holding our computers. I’m confident I’m not going to jail (“If you do, the European Court of Human Rights is going to hear about this!” is a constant refrain at work), but I’m worried they’ll find Ratatouille, as well as some, um, other stuff I would rather not defend my possession of in open court.

“So you know I wasn’t stealing credit cards?” I say in the doorway as paleface hands me my two laptops.

“The case is still open,” fake tan says, putting Inge’s iMac down on our welcome mat. “You’re still a suspect.”

“You know it wasn’t Mike,” Inge says in Danish. “You told me that earlier on the phone. It’s my fault for not having a password on the Wi-Fi.”

“We’ll let you know when we close the case,” fake tan says.

Me and Inge never talk about how she gave me up to the cops. I’m not even all that pissed off about it. She genuinely thought I was the only person with the password. I probably would have given me up too.

As I help her carry the iMac back into her room, I tell her the cops had never seen one before.

“Oh great,” she says, “they should be solving this case any minute now.” We never hear from them again.

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Denmark: The Exit Interview

I've lived in Denmark for the last five and a half years.

My time here encompasses two cities, eight apartments, one dormitory, six bikes, two trips to the emergency room and twice my body weight in misplaced hats, gloves and scarves.

It's impossible to live in a foreign country without developing a love-hate relationship with it. Anything you spend that much time with becomes like a sibling.

You spend years learning how to navigate and survive it, and you only realize later how the effort has changed you, for better or worse.

Denmark's a firmly admirable place.It's the world's example of how the state can deliberately create a culture and administration around social justice.

There's basically no poor people here. The working culture is the best in the world, and my professional experience here has solidified my commitment never to move back to the US.

The density of the cities and the safety of bike-commuting makes a huge impact on quality of life.

Between social benefits, free healthcare, free education and never having to sit in traffic or clamor for a parking space, there's almost nothing to stress out about. Thank God the weather is so shitty.

That said, Denmark has some serious problems.

The world sees Denmark as a model of 'how things are supposed to work', and Danes see themselves like that too.

This 'we are awesome so we don't have to try' attitude translates into a society-wide smugness that can be hard to thaw.

The ethnic discrimination, for example, which is as severe here as anywhere in Europe, is ignored by the popular and political culture. Domestic politicians are more interested in blocking immigration than developing Denmark's international competitiveness.

Homogeneity and social harmony are prized as principles in themselves, and social engagements sometimes feel like you're living in Pleasantville.

This culture of staying silent unless you can think of something to say that no one could disagree with has created a nation of introverts

People have fewer friends here than in the more small-talk-equipped countries I've lived in, and the friendships tend to be the bilateral, rather than networked, kind.

This means that, as a foreigner, it's not hard to meet friends here, it's just hard to meet your friends' friends.

If you're an extrovert when you move here, Denmark will make you an introvert. If you're already an introvert, Denmark will make you a spinster.

I don't know if Berlin is any different. But at least being in a new country gives me an excuse to pretend I don't know the rules.

And enjoy Berlin while it's still an acquaintance.

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Hypothermia and Consequences 

Yesterday I participated in a swimming race through the canals of Copenhagen. I was talking to my buddy online afterwards.

Dave
What are you up to?

Me
I have hypothermia! And jellyfish stings all over! I did a race in the CPH canals today, and it was a bit more of an … undertaking than I had expected

Dave
Jellyfish?!

Me
yeah they’re everywhere here!
fuckin ridiculous. I was literally the only one without a wetsuit.
The doctors practically had to pull me out of the water, and I sat 2 inches away from a heating unit for 30 minutes after the race, unable to move or speak

Dave
Well…

Me
You know that footage of the cow with mad cow disease, where it’s all popping and locking, but it doesn’t fall over? That was me walking to my towel.
I was drooling and moaning and shit. The doctors made me eat a banana, and I couldn’t taste or swallow it, I was just pushing it around with my tongue and making vowel sounds through it. Attractive stuff.

Dave
And jellyfish?!

Me
yeah my nose looks like a penis, all red and angry at the tip
I got one on my cheek, too, and both hands
This city’s uninhabitable, I tellya

Dave
Just the canals!

Me
it’s nuts, I don’t even remember the race.
I do know that I swallowed a lot of saltwater, though, my throat is all scratchy

Dave
I don’t think you won…

Me
I remember swimming through patches of motor oil and some little garbage-islands, I’m glad I retained that.
I swam WAY faster than I expected though! I wanted to get OUT of that water. Crawl stroke for 2km! Personal best!
Though, the rest of the afternoon has been a personal worst. I literally had peanut butter and whip cream on a fork for dinner because I can’t face leaving the house. 19 degrees outside feels like the tundra.

Dave
But you’ve swum in there before sans wetsuit?

Me
Yeah when the water’s been warmer. It was 16 degrees today. I’m used to like 18 or 19, plus only doing it for like 20 mins at a time. Today was more than 45 mins

Dave
Fail

Me
i feel like its hella win
I beat nature
The only one without a wetsuit! buncha pussies in this country

Dave
Riiight

Me
It’s funny how I totally thought there would be no consequences of this. I literally did not think it through at all. Like ‘of COURSE it’ll be fine swimming in urban canals in late summer with no protection. Having never done this before.’
People in the start line were like ‘you’re gonna get hypothermia dude’ and I was like ‘haha right. High five!’
The bike ride home was particularly drastic. My legs were still shaking, and I could barely steer

Dave
Will you be in bed all tomorrow?

Me
Still, I feel rather badass. In spite of cancelling all my non-couch Saturday plans due to my epic win.
haha, nah I’ll be fine after some sleep

And I am! The stings have faded from angry to irritable, and my muscles seem to work again. See you next year, jellyfish!

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I love Copenhagen

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Why the American left drags its feet on gay rights

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One thing I couldn't get over when I first moved here was how politically diverse the gays are. Some of them are left wing, some of them are right wing. Some of them are racist, some of them are patronizingly inclusive. 'Jesus,' I remember saying on one of my first weekends, 'It's like being gay doesn't even mean anything.'

And it doesn't, really. Gay marriage has been legal in Denmark for 20 years, and gayness has been a political non-starter so long that politicians have to be asked about it, and then they all give pretty much the same answer. Anti-gay sentiment isn't completely banished, but you hear it come up about as much as you hear about, say, the flat tax in America. It's there, but it's not a divisive issue in many races or party manifestos.

In other words, gays have no built-in incentive to be left-wing. In America, gays are mainly limited to the blue end of the spectrum because the right wing wants to actively curtail their rights and reduce their quality of life. For gays, self-preservation trumps the economic and social issues that most other citizens vote on.

If gay marriage gets legalized in the States, after a few political aftershocks, I think a lot of gays would start to migrate rightwards. It would be slow, but in the long term gays might even be a reliable Republican voting bloc. Gays tend to be affluent, and eventually, the dimensions of self-preservation would warp to exclude Oppressed Minority and include Yuppie Wealth Preserver.

I wonder if American left wing politicians know this, and this is part of why they don't grant full civil rights to homosexuals. As long as we're second-class citizens and one of the parties is slightly better than the other, they can take us for granted. Giving us full marriage rights would effectively put both parties back at Go, and they would have to compete for our votes.

I've been wondering that this year, as the promises made during the presidential campaign haven't materialized, and as the Democrats face the loss of the majority that would have made pro-gay legislation reasonably easy to enact. It's about time we started asking whether it wasn't the opportunity that passed, but the politicians.   

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The rules of conversation

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A conversation, like dancing, has some rules, although I've never seen them stated anywhere. The objective of conversation is to entertain or inform the other person while not using up all of the talking time. A big part of how you entertain another person is by listening and giving your attention. Ideally, your own enjoyment from conversation comes from the other person doing his or her job of being interesting. If you are entertaining yourself at the other person's expense, you're doing it wrong.

That's Scott Adams, concluding that roughly three-quarters of the world's population doesn't know how to carry on a conversation.

It seems to me that conversational skills, friendship-creation and intimacy-building are the kinds of things that countries should invest in teaching their populations. It sounds silly to systematically teach populations to make small-talk, or welcome someone they don't know, or transition from acquaintance to friend. But our social lives have as great an impact on our happiness as our academic or professional lives. Besides, study after study shows that social support is more important to our health than almost anything else, including things like smoking, poor diet and alcohol consumption.

A population that has the tools to build friendships is more likely to move from city to city, increasing labor market effectiveness. They're also more likely to build steady marriages and social groups once they're there, and less likely to rely on the state. This is a win-win.

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Besides, this really isn't that hard. Adams mentions Dale Carnegie's 'How to Win Friends and Influence People', which apparently has some chapters on this.

A bit of googling took me to this site, which says it's all about smiling, asking questions and active listening. This one identifies a few rules:

The rules of conversation include: Relation (keep your contributions on topic), Quantity (don't say more/less than you should), Quality (don't lie, don't exaggerate, don't mislead), Manner & Tone (be polite and don't be ambiguous), Relations with partner (keep your contributions tailored to the knowledge/beliefs/preferences of your conversational partner), Turn Taking (follow the cues that indicate when it is and is not appropriate to contribute to the conversation), and Rule Violations (clearly signal the reason for violating any of the aforementioned rules, e.g., when using sarcasm, bringing up a difficult subject, or changing the topic).

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I traveled through Italy with five Danish guys a few summers ago. At the airport in Rome, we somehow ended up buying an extra ticket to the central train station. I suggested we find someone to sell the extra ticket to, but the Danes wanted to just get on the train and throw the extra ticket away. Eventually I walked up to someone in line, told them our situation, and they bought our ticket for the same price we paid for it. Problem solved.

On the train, one of the Danish guys said to me 'I could never walk up to some stranger like that.' He would have rather wasted 10 euros on an extra ticket than talk to someone he didn't know.

I'm sorry, but that is a handicap. Small talk, politeness and meeting strangers are learned skills, just like tying your shoes or filling out a job application. Populations that are systematically equipped with these skills will be a better work force and form a healthier society.

Politicians should take this seriously. I really have no idea why countries haven't embarked on pilot projects to beef up conversation skills in the population. And, while we're at it, we could all be better dancers.

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Depression is contagious

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Yesterday I found a fascinating article in Psychology Today:

Epidemiologic evidence also points to the major role of contagion factors in depression. The rate and nature of depression vary dramatically from culture to culture—unlike with schizophrenia, where roughly 1 percent of the population is affected no matter the culture sampled. The World Health Organization recently declared depression the fourth leading cause of human disability and suffering and predicted that by the year 2020 it will be the second leading cause. That's not biology run amok; it reflects the social spread of the kinds of cultural values and social conditions that give rise to depression.

It's funny to think about depression-proneness as a cultural value, but this really isn't all that surprising. Having lived in four countries now, I'm endlessly amazed at how each culture collaborates to create rules and circumstances that actively prevent their citizens from finding happiness.

Long-term epidemiologic studies show that depression intensifies from one generation to the next. Today's parents represent the largest group of depression sufferers raising the fastest-growing group of depression sufferers. We are on average four times more depressed than our parents and ten times more than our grandparents.

Shit, that's dire, and I never would have expected it. You want to read that and say 'what do young people have to be depressed about?! They have it better than any previous generation!' But of course that's not the point. Depression is the telescope, not the view.

[Depression largely] comes from the ways we learn to regulate our own internal experience, which includes our explanatory style (the meaning we attach to life experiences), our cognitive style (how we think and use information), our coping style (how we manage stress and adversity) , our problem-solving style, and our relational style.

All of these are acquired through socialization forces in the family.[...] Every time a child asks, "Why, Mommy?" or "Why, Daddy?" the explanation provided invariably embodies a particular style of thinking and attributions of causality. [...]

"Why didn't Uncle Bob come to the picnic, Mom?" There's a world of difference between "He must be mad at me" and " I don't know, the next time we talk to Uncle Bob let's ask him." There are also the kinds of attributions that reflect a permanently negative perspective: "Mom, I tried to do this and couldn't, would you help me do it?" "No, you'll never be able to do it, it's too hard."

There's a cultural component to this phenomenon, too. Think of how a British person is expected to react to a job loss, for example, compared to how an Italian or a German or an American is expected to react. Think of the support structures built into those societies. Our cultures, to an extent I think we don't realize, are built into our explanations of routine experiences. 

Studies show that such a pattern in interpreting experience is established early in life. In one study, children 8 years old were asked how they would respond if they were out shopping with their mother in a crowded department store 30 miles from home and suddenly found themselves separated from their parent. The anxious children generated scary scenarios of never seeing their parents again and being adopted into families of strangers. But the nonanxious kids said they'd simply go to the store manager and ask that an announcement be made on the public address system. In short, free of inner emotional turmoil, they could focus on and think their way through to solving the problem.

In other words, you shouldn't be telling your kids 'be good' or 'treat others how you want to be treated.' You should be saying 'chill the fuck out' and 'handle your shit'.

Another important element of socialization that operates in families (and other groups) is whether emotions can be expressed or not, what kinds of emotions can be expressed, and to what degree. Children learn quickly from the affective displays within a family or community what will be tolerated and what will not. Many families, for example, prohibit expressions of anger and so teach their children to suppress the emotion. Being devalued with no means of expression modeled, anger can too easily become explosive, a common theme in depressed relationships.

This is another cultural component. I'm consistently amazed at the marathons of emotionally bereft conversations that seem to take place in Danish and British families. Americans, who endlessly focus-group every molecule of their emotional experience, are amazed at how skilled northern Europeans are at inhibiting this impulse. We all learned these strategies somewhere.

It is possible to make people less susceptible to depression by teaching children social and cognitive skills. But there's growing evidence that social skills are deteriorating and that people are less available and less deliberate about building quality relationships. Studies show that young people are becoming more impulsive, more aggressive, more narcissistic, more self-absorbed. The more self-absorbed people are, the more negative feedback they absorb from others, the worse they feel, and the less skilled they are in building relationships.

I'm really skeptical of this. In what way are we 'less available' than we were before we had free, instant, constant communication? The fact that we're less deliberate about building relationships doesn't necessarily mean we have fewer, or that our social skills are deteriorating. Maybe it just means we have access to a much wider range of acquaintances, and we don't have to be as deliberate. 

I could be totally wrong about this. But everything in that paragraph sounds like it's just recycling the conventional wisdom.

Nonetheless, this article makes me wish governments would be a bit more ambitious in experimenting with 'soft' social engineering. We know more about the human experience, and human happiness, now than at any previous time in history. We know that the social structures our traditions have built around us, like our obsession with class-based behavior norms, or our systematic abandonment of our elderly, are making us all less happy and less productive.

Our cultures have changed drastically in the last 50 years, for the better and for the worse. It would be nice to begin a discussion of where we want this to lead, and how our cultures can build values that help us cope with each other in an emotionally sustainable way. Otherwise, we're all just that kid in the grocery store, waiting for our foster parents to rescue us.

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Let a thousand cartoon crises bloom

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One of my coworkers is having an issue at his son's elementary school. One of the mothers sent this e-mail to all the other parents:

Kære til alle forældre for (…). Idag kommer min søn hjem fra skole ked af det, fordi nogle, af børnene fra hans klasse legede med at tegnede Profet Muhammad (Guds fred og velsignelse være med ham). Ikke kun det, men de tegnede også gud. Det kan være I hader Islam, uden at I ved hvad Islam egentlig går ud på eller har ingen viden om hvad religionen betyder vores for os, som troende muslimer. Vil I ikke tage en ærlig snak med jeres børn at man tager hensyn til hvad andre tror på og at man ikke krænker hinandens tro. Jeg håber virkelig at I vil snakke med jeres børn.

I JERES EGEN LOV SIGES DET:
Straffelovens §266b omtales i daglig tale som racismeparagraffen. Dens ordlyd er:
Den, der offentligt eller med forsæt til udbredelse i en videre kreds fremsætter udtalelse eller anden meddelelse, ved hvilken en gruppe af personer trues, forhånes eller nedværdiges på grund af sin race, hudfarve, nationale eller etniske oprindelse, tro eller seksuelle orientering, straffes med bøde hæfte eller fængsel indtil 2 år.
Stk. 2. Ved straffens udmåling skal det betragtes som en skærpende omstændighed, at forholdet har karakter af propagandavirksomhed.

Straffelovens §140 omtales i daglig tale som blasfemiparagraffen. Dens ordlyd er:
Den, der offentlig driver spot med eller forhåner noget her i landet lovligt bestående religionssamfunds troslærdomme eller gudsdyrkelse, straffes med bøde eller fængsel indtil 4 måneder.

Med venlig hilsen.

English version:

Dear parents,
Today my son came home from school upset because some of the kids in his class played around by drawing the Prophet Mohammad (peace be unto him). They didn't just draw him, they also drew God. It could be that you all hate Islam without knowing what Islam is really all about, or you don't know what the religion means for us Muslims. Could you all please have an honest conversation with your children about showing consideration for what others believe and not violating their beliefs. I really hope that you'll talk to your children.

IN YOUR OWN LAW IT SAYS:
[text of Danish hate speech law]

Best regards,
[Mother's name]

This strikes me as precisely the kind of conflict that is probably very common in the daily life of Western Europe in 2010, and one for which the politics and media of Western Europe in 2010 are wholly unequipped.

If this made it to the newspapers, it would probably be framed as a symptom of a societal trend leading, in some mysterious yet inevitable way, toward either Germany '39 or Iran '79. The right wing parties, panties firmly bunched, would issue statements that the Muslims have gone too far in asking Christians to bend to their whims. The left wing parties would issue proposals to ban chalkboard-based hate speech.

I told my colleage, look, we really don't know what happened here. Maybe these kids drew Muhammad on the wall specifically because they knew it would upset the Muslim kid. Or maybe they were just doodling a bunch of random shit. We have no idea if this is a phenomenon or an anecdote.

Cases like this are hardly new. Religious and ethnic tolerance in formerly homogeneous societies is a genuine challenge, and we can't will it away by shouting 'racist!' and 'pre-Enlightenment!' at each other.

In a Mobius-strippy way, the current political climate creates both this mother's anger and my colleague's oversensitivity. Islam, whether we agree with it or not, is a Big Political Issue. If this was an overweight kid, or a short kid, who felt hurt and attacked for being different, we would look at what happened and address the case on its own merits. It wouldn't be the tip of an iceberg. 

If a kid is being bullied, the content of the bullying is beside the point, and the bullies should be punished. If these kids accidentally offended the Muslim kid (the only one in their class, according to my colleague), then they should apologize, the same way they would in any other case of misdemeanor youthful shitheadery. The mother's e-mail was a little strong, yes, but it's not going to help the situation to get all how-dare-she about it.  

Cases like this are only going to proliferate in the next few decades. We need a politics, and a discourse, that can actually address the individual complexity of each case. Right now, whenever something like this comes up, we just retreat to our barracks and fetch our megaphones.

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Sing that can’t be sung etc.

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My first trip to Denmark!

My parents sent me a DVD with a bunch of pictures they salvaged from old slide canisters. In the middle of birthday parties, Halloweens and two surprisingly robust and glowing young people who resemble my parents was this:

That's the caption that came with the photo. I'm on the left.

When I was four, my family lived in Sweden for a year (Linkoping, represent!) and apparently we took a weekend trip or whatever down to Denmark once. I knew this when I moved here, in a vague sort of way, but I didn't know that I would be staring at the photoevidence of this trip 23 years later in a rented room in a chavvy apartment in a yuppie neighborhood in Copenhagen.

Things haven't changed much. That castle is still there, same as the vikings and Shakespeare left it. My brother still photographs better than I do. The beanie-hoodie-elastic-pants combo is still alive in near-daily implementation. With the exception of my aging, slightly less Verbal Kint posture, that picture could have been taken last week.

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