When you think you’re talking to the authorities in Denmark, you’re often not talking to the authorities. If it’s about bus service, train service, unemployment compensation, homeless shelters, even fire protection and ambulance services – you will be talking to a private company hired by the authorities.
Denmark has a really high level of privatization. Of course, these companies get subsidies from the government to provide transport service, or to counsel to the unemployed, or to put out the fire you started while trying to barbecue, but their employees are not civil servants. They can be hired and fired and trained and promoted – they work for private companies.
That said, some things are still run directly by the government, like the immigration service and local affairs. So there are some times when you do need to speak to civil servants in Denmark. There is a way to do this.
How to approach Danish civil servants
First of all, plan in advance. You have find out their ‘telephone time.’ Civil servants often only take the phone for three or four hours each day, or sometimes only on specific days of the week. Tuesdays from 10-2 or something like that. And, of course, never on the weekend.
So, find out your civil servant’s telephone time, and put at least a half an hour aside, since you may have to wait in a telephone queue. When it’s your turn, the first thing you do is identify yourself by name. ‘Hi, this is Kay Xander Mellish.” And then calmly state your business. “A graffiti artist has drawn a giant penis on the city-owned wall right outside my living room window. Could you send someone to remove it?” That’s an actual case, by the way.
When you speak to the Danish civil servant, tone is really important. You want to go in there with a positive, we can do it together! spirit. Danes respond very badly to anger or conflict, but very well to a spirit of co-operation.
It may be shocking to people from other countries, but most state workers in Denmark are pretty competent. Working for the state is paid well, and they never ask for bribes. Like most Danes, they want to do their job well, within the time they’re paid for it, and they feel that they do. Civil servants in Denmark have pride in their work.
That said, it still took six months and several phone calls to get that giant penis graffiti removed.
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Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2023