Tag Archives: denmark

The Time My Landlord Ratted Me Out to the Cops


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.


“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?”


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?”



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.


Filed under Denmark, Funny, Personal

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.


Filed under Denmark, Pictures, Serious

Hypothermia and Consequences 

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

What are you up to?

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


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


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.

And jellyfish?!

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

Just the canals!

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

I don’t think you won…

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.

But you’ve swum in there before sans wetsuit?

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


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


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

Will you be in bed all tomorrow?

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!

1 Comment

Filed under Denmark, Personal

Why the American left drags its feet on gay rights


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.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend


Filed under Random, Serious

The rules of conversation



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.


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).



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.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

1 Comment

Filed under Random