Are you a good foreigner or a bad foreigner? How the Danes categorize newcomers to Denmark


Have you ever seen the movie The Wizard of Oz? It’s a classic. When Dorothy arrives in the land of Oz, the first thing she’s asked is – are you a good witch, or a bad witch?

I was having lunch with a friend this week. Over club sandwiches she said, its a shame there’s only one word for foreigner in Danish, when actually there are two types of foreigner here.

I got her point, even though I think there’s only one word for ‘foreigner’ in most languages. What she was really saying is, there’s no single way in Danish to say, Are you a good foreigner, or a bad foreigner?

Smiling, young, healthy, industrious, good foreigners

If you’ve been to Danish dinner parties, often later on in the evening,when wine has been consumed, you’ll hear a Dane complaining about foreigners in Denmark. They come here just to take advantage of the our system. All they want is free education, free health care and welfare payments. They don’t contribute to Danish society at all. And then, at some point, someone will turn to you and say, Oh, but we don’t mean your kind of foreigner.

You know, a good foreigner. The kind who works or studies. The kind who is an engineer, or a doctor. The kind who open restaurants with unfamiliar but unchallenging food. Smiling, young, healthy, industrious, good foreigners.

Good foreigners are highly sought after at the moment. This week, for example, one of the big business groups said that Denmark should aim for at least 150,000 new immigrants in the next 20 years.

Making good foreigners feel welcome

The Danish population is aging, so the country needs younger workers to drive Denmark’s economy. The business group held a conference on ways to attract them, and make them feel welcome. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schimidt came by to offer more international schools and less red tape. These are things Denmark can do to attract good foreigners.

On the other hand, in just the past couple of months, more than 20,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Denmark. But no one’s too worried about how to attract more refugees or make them feel more welcome. In fact, some Danish political parties are trying to change the asylum conditions and send as many of these people as possible back home to the battlefield.

It reminds me sometimes of an old fashioned faucet, with the hot and cold knobs. Denmark is trying to turn one knob on, and the other one off.

Kay Xander Mellish books

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Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2024

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