My dear reader
This is a zine.
It is a possibility to share stories
learn about different cultures and reflect on your own.
It is made with passion and openness for you
to touch read discuss.
My name is Alice
I am an Italian volunteer at Nicolai.
I like to ask questions, listen
and learn
and that is what this zine is all about.


Interview with Vijay Kumar

This article is a part of PERCEPTIONS – issue 3, written by Alice. It is made with passion and openness for you to touch read discuss.

Vijay has been living in Denmark for ten years. He’s originally from Hyberabad, a big city in the southern part of India. He moved here with his wife because the company he was working for offered him a job in Fredericia. After two years he moved to Kolding, a bigger, more international town, which made it easier for him to adjust after living in more chaotic cities in India and America. He is an IT architect at Bankdata, a firm that delivers IT solutions to local banks. Vijay is a member of the Indian Community of Southern Denmark, an association founded in 2008 that counts at the moment around 50 people – but the number fluctuates a lot, as he tells me, because most Indian workers here are temporary. I chatted with Vijay about cultural shocks, learning Danish, racism, and making new friends in a foreign country.

Alice: Hi Vijay. Why did you move to Denmark ten years ago?

Vijay: I got offered a job here. I’ve never lived in Europe before, only in India and in the States. To be honest, England would’ve been easier with the language and the culture, but my company at that time couldn’t find a job for me there. And I thought, “Let’s be adventurous, let’s try something else”. It was a temporary plan, but it became ten years.

A: What made you decide to stay?

V: Well, there are a lot of things I like about Denmark. The work culture, the work-life balance, the safety – especially for women – the respect you get as a human. In India, we have the caste system – which I am very tired of – so depending on your job and where you are from, you get a lot of respect, or you don’t. There is less hierarchy here, it’s more equal. And I also really like the independency. You are not waiting for someone to come and help you, you just do it yourself.

A: I also like that, but I have to admit it’s something I had a hard time to adapt to, because in Italy we help each other a lot more. It’s interesting to talk to you because I’m staying only for a few months, but you settled down here. Do you remember how you felt in the beginning? Did you experience a cultural shock – were you disorientated by the new environment?

V: It was a shock, because every country has its own culture. I remember that a few years ago the shops closed early and were closed on the weekend, and that was very weird for me coming from India. Also in Chicago, you know, shops are always open and there is a lot of people walking around. Here, not so many!

A: About your family: you have two kids who are 6 and 3. What about the oldest, does she consider Denmark her home?

V: She knows we’re from India. If someone asks “Where are you from?” she says “We are from India”. But she feels more Danish. She was born here, she’s growing up here, she goes to school here. She speaks Danish.

A: I’m curious, which language do you speak at home?

V: I speak Indi with my wife and Indi and English with my kids. They speak mostly Danish, but I think it’s really important that they also learn Indi.

A: I understand that, I would want the same. And I’m pretty sure I would speak Italian whenever I could! Back to the “what is home” question: I am starting to think that for me home is not a fixed place, but more where the people you love are. What about you?

V: It’s a very difficult question to answer. Look, I’ve been away from India for ten years. I go back for vacation sometimes and I have big respect for my home country.

But for me, home is where I’m living. Right now, my home is Kolding. You miss people in your country, I do too, but at some point in your life you need to go forward.

A: I read an interesting article that divided cultures in relationship-orientated and individualistic. In relationship-orientated cultures, people strive to build a relationship, and only then will they start doing business. They are common in India and in Central Europe, for example (Italy included). Individualistic countries like America and Denmark are mostly focused on “making deals” – they won’t show much interest in building a relationship in order to do business with someone. Do you agree with this? How is it to bond with Danes?

V: It’s a challenge. In countries like this, it’s really important that you build your network. That’s why in Denmark there a lot of clubs – sports clubs, darts club, etc. You need to find some activity that is interesting to you, join the community, and then make friends over there. It’s usually true that colleagues are colleagues and friends are friends. There are some colleagues that you invite over sometimes. I have not many, but others do. Maybe if I were a Dane I would have more, maybe if I were white I would have more. I don’t know, it’s a theory. It is a small country, people are more reserved.

A: How important is it to know Danish to make friends? How did you learn it?

V: I think it’s very important. I never went to the sprogskolen, I learnt it by using it in everyday life. It was a big challenge and I wouldn’t say I’m very fluent, but I learnt it.

A: You said that you would be invited to more family parties if you were white. One of the things that I wanted to talk to you about is racism. People here are polite. Maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like when they think something about you that may not be really nice, they won’t tell you to your face. Did you ever feel people doing that to you? Is racism subtle over here?

V: It happened to me many times. Not only by Danes. But that’s life. If they have a problem they should come to me and tell me. Look, if you ask me directly if there is racism in Denmark, I would say yes, I think there is. And as you say, people want to be politically correct and they don’t want to look bad, but they also don’t want to promise anything to you. But I think that you need to understand the Danish humor, which is very sarcastic. You can feel offended if you don’t know that. And I have learnt it the hard way.

A: Do you have and example of that?

V: The other day I was at the gymnastics hall with some of my friends – Danes and non-Danes – and we had to clean the hall. While we were cleaning, we were asked to do different things. So basically all the non-Danish people, they are sitting on the floor cleaning, while the Danes were standing and talking. So one of my leaders asked, “What’s happening? All the blacks are working and all the whites are looking.” And the Danes laughed and one of them said, joking, “This is how it works in Denmark!”. It’s a kind of humor right? But I don’t take it personally. That’s how it works.
A: I think that if you put it on that level, anybody can be offensive and then say “I was joking”. Then suddenly it’s my fault if I’m offended because I cannot take a joke? It’s like when men are inappropriate and then they say to me, “you should smile more”. No, I don’t, you should shut up more.

V: I think for me it depends on how much close the person who’s joking is to you. And what the joke is, and how you take it. You can get angry, it’s up to you. I am not a black person, I am a brown person, maybe it’s different. I speak Danish and I’ve been living here for a long time. Maybe black people get more racism, I don’t know. But for me, it’s about perception.

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