There has been much talk in the Danish media in recent years, and by Danish politicians, about how important it is to attract foreign talent into Denmark since there is a growing labour shortage. Particularly, but not exclusively, in the area of maths and sciences and especially those with PhD's.
Of course, it's one thing to toss around lofty rhetoric about how welcome foreigners are in Denmark and so forth (at least, the well educated fully westernised ones), it's another thing to bring your army of bureaucrats in line with this thinking. Which brings me to this story I am about to share - which I will do by sharing the email exchange that took place around it.
It's a series of email a good (non-Danish) friend was involved in, which he forwarded to me, between himself and a hopeless bureaucrat at the Danish tax office, while trying to deal with some tax (skat, in Danish) problems that resulted from him going abroad to work. Apparently the memo that foreigners were now welcome in Denmark didn't quite reach this particular bureaucrat.
Incidentally (as he writes in his email) this work abroad, which my friend is doing, is actually funded by the Danish Research Council (who at least seem to understand the value a foreigner can be to the country)!
I should also add (not that it matters) that this friend of mine, who has been living in Denmark nearly as long as I have (he completed a PhD here, before becoming an Assistant Professor), genuinely loves the country - especially Copenhagen. He regularly refers to the city (in all seriousness) as 'his paradise'. In fact, I once wrote a post entitled 'Why Copenhagen is a happening place these days' that was somewhat inspired by his views, which I tend to share. Unfortunately, his Danish has not advanced terribly far during this time here (as often happens when you're working full-time...).
Well, even in paradise there is bureaucracy. And where there is bureaucracy, there are bureaucrats. And sometimes this means dealing with a live person...and here the problems so often begin.
Read the exchange for yourself below, it's rather breathtaking. In fact, it could be straight out of a manual written by the highly xenophobic Dansk Folkparti entitled 'how to deal with pesky foreigners in Denmark asking questions'.
"Sometimes they can really piss me off in my paradise.....", wrote my friend in forwarding this set of emails. Indeed, indeed - as you read through this exchange, you can almost feel the emotional explosion as my dear friend loses it...
Sendt: 18. februar 2008 14:30
Emne: VS: Problem Salary Abroad
My name is GP (CPR-nr. xxxxxx-xxxx), I am working at the Denmark Technical University for the past several years.
I am currently an assistant professor with a contract until November of 2009 and I have attached my contract. I am spending 12 months to Tokyo University (Japan) with a starting date 1/1/2008.
I visited the SKAT office before I leave for Tokyo because I was informed that I will be in a beneficial tax status since I will spend a period of more than 6 months abroad. I submitted the necessary documents and everything seemed to be fine. However when I received the salary of January this was very low. As you see in the email below the administration office of DTU reported to me that my allowance for 2008 is significant lower.
Allowance 2007 = 7.841 pr. month
Allowance 2008 = 3.685 pr. month
I don't see anything beneficial until now and my salary has decreased instead of increased, so could you please help me, what is wrong and how could we fix it? As you understand living in Tokyo makes difficult every other type of communication than email. Thank you in advance for your help.
Sent: 27. februar 2008 10:33:06
Subject: VS: Problem Salary Abroad
I keep taking no respond even though I have mail you several times. Please let me know if this problem is taking care from someone in your department.
Fra: email@example.com [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sendt: 3. marts 2008 11:52
Emne: FW: Problem Salery Abroad.
The official language in Denmark is Danish and that is why we write to you in Danish. However, you are of course welcome to come to the nearest SKAT Centre where we in English could explain the contents of your letter from SKAT.
Der er lavet et skattekort til dig for 2008, med et månedtligt fradag på xx.xxx. Dette skattekort skulle være sendt til DTU. Skattekortet er gældende fra 1. januar 2008. For at være helt sikker på at DTU får skattekortet, sendes skattekortet igen til DTU.
Med venlig hilsen
Helle June Frederiksen [Ed. note: name changed]
SKAT Kundecentret Tlf. 7222 1818
Sendt: 3. marts 2008 12:31
Emne: SV: Problem Salery Abroad.
Dear Helle June Frederiksen
what do you mean ´welcome to come to the nearest SKAT Center´? I am in Tokyo, Japan where I will stay for 12 months because the Danish Research Council fund me to do so. And their letter with the decision of obtaining knowledge in Japan and bring it back to Denmark came to me in English. How come now that I am experiencing a problem abroad the best you can do is to send me an ironic email after 34 days informing me about the official language of Denmark? I know which is the official language because I am working and offering in your country from the very responsible position of the academic professor for 5 years now.
I feel sorry about you.
Med venlig hilsen since Best wishes maybe will not satisfy you.
Ouch! That hurt!