Gender Troubles during Fieldwork in India

Bandra train station (Mumbai) was busy and there were long queues to purchase tickets. Brett, who I was to interview that day, told me the train journey would be about 40 minutes so I bought a ticket for the first class carriage as I did not want to arrive all hot and sweaty. It was 31 degrees Celsius that day. When I arrived at the platform however, I was informed by conductors that there was no first class carriage, so I took my place in the ordinary carriage, which was very simple, mostly old steel and the ceiling was lined with small fans. It was very charming somehow, as it was a familiar scene from television and just nice to be with a bunch of ordinary people. I was dressed very discreetly with long cream cotton trousers and a long‒sleeved brown linen shirt. Nevertheless some men did not stop staring. I did not mind at all and I simply tried to avoid their stare. At some of the stations men herded in, literally like cattle, shoving each other out of the way to get their desired position on the train, but I held my ground: second person in from the doorway – I needed the breeze. I was fortunate that there were two, twenty‒something, quite well‒dressed young men standing in that doorway for the duration of my journey. At some point I asked them which stop we were at, and I had the feeling they were really looking out for me. A few beggars got on and one of them, a pregnant lady with her child, would not leave my side and persistently tapped my wrist. I don’t mind, and am very good at simply looking away. One of the boys ended up giving her a coin and told her to leave me alone (in non‒aggressive, Indian body and sign language). Another time when the train was packed with a herd, the other lad nudged a man away from me as he kept on leaning on me because there were so many people in the carriage. Really kind chaps – they did it all so gallantly, not looking at me once for a thank-you or any form of appreciation. Of course they also told me when my stop arrived and all I could do was give them a big smile and a big thank you, which I hope they understood meant ‘thank you very much for everything’.

On another train journey to the same destination two days later, I found myself in a carriage full of only females. It also seemed to me that on this day it was a majority of women on the platform as well. It was about 6pm, and many traders bundled on to the train as well, selling food, hair clips, purses – lots of plastic. I took my position by the doorway and found it so curious that today it was all women so I asked a young woman standing next to me. She began by telling me that it was because everyone was leaving work, and this was a crowded train to be on etc. and I said to her that two days ago it had been only men at around 3.30pm. Then she smiled and said that that was because I was in the male carriage! Whenever I visit India I forget about this differential treatment of men and women on public transport and in public spaces. Similar situations arose at airport security check, where there are different queues for men and women, as well as on the bus where the seats at the front are prioritized for women.

***

On my third field trip, I had arranged a pre‒interview with a male German informant who I had spoken to about my project at a regular Friday meet‒up for the Bangalore Expatriate Club. We had arranged to meet at a restaurant in a district that was approximately 25km from where I was staying, which is a long distance to travel in evening traffic. I had great communication problems with the auto‒rickshaw driver, who, in short, did not understand at all where I was asking him to go, but kept on saying ‘yes’ and driving in different directions. I called my informant, Jan, in the hope that he could explain more, but he did not have any greater luck. After about one hour, I deserted the auto‒rickshaw after paying him, and then took two different buses (and one more hour) to reach where I needed to go. When I arrived, one and a half hours late, Jan had left as he thought I was not coming, even though when we spoke I emphasized that I was. I called him and he came back again. The meeting was supposed to be for me to brief Jan more about the project, however Jan seemed to be more interested in me personally than in the project. After a very short time, I decided to abandon the attempt to recruit him as a key informant, remained polite, ate a snack and made the journey home. I felt frustrated on my way home because the journey I had made to meet with Jan was very exhausting, and then I came home with ‘nothing’. In fact, I came home with a great number of different encounters from which I learned a great deal about myself and my research sites and subjects.

***

On a follow‒up trip I took in 2012, I stayed for five nights at hotel in Bangalore. I booked through airbnb.com and had thought that I had booked private accommodation. I was surprised to find that I had booked a hotel and thankfully the staff were very friendly and the hotel itself was of a standard that met all of my needs (cleanliness, comfort and internet access) for the time that I would be there. All of the staff were male. On several occasions the service staff would knock on the door and enter my room without waiting for me to respond. The third time this happened, I called down to speak to reception to ask them to ask the staff to wait for a response from me before they entered as it was making me feel uncomfortable. The phonecall had the desired affect and the staff would wait for a response after knocking thereafter.

At the same hotel towards the end of my stay, an employee came to my room one the evening. It was reasonably late as I had had dinner and was getting ready for bed. As a result of our language barriers it took me a couple of minutes to understand that this young man was asking me for my telephone number. When I understood this, I became slightly angry and felt a little exposed. At the same time, I tried to respond in a way that showed my dissatisfaction without being aggressive, as the man was very humble and polite. After he left, I was not sure of what to do because I did not want to get the man into trouble as he may have risked losing his job, yet at the same time, I felt it important to let the management know that this was happening. I decided to wait until the morning and speak to the hotel manager face to face. When I did, I did not tell him exactly what happened, but explained that as a single woman travelling alone, I found it very uncomfortable having male staff in my room and perhaps he could inform his staff that they should be more considerate to this.

***

These are some of the stories from my fieldwork which appear as an appendix in my PhD thesis. You are welcome to read more of the thesis here.

I have not been great at writing up recipes and will try to change that! I shall share a couple of vegetarian dishes from the wonderful cookbook by Vidhu Mittal, Pure and Simple, very soon.

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The New Face of Immigration & Danish Language Acquisition

G is being brought up with three languages. Mamma speaks English with him and this is by far his strongest language so far, daddy speaks Italian with him, and he has Danish at the nursery which he attends five days a week (mostly). When we are with Danish friends I ask them to stick to speaking one language, Danish, with him. What a great start, not only from a communcation perspective but apparently also from the 'exercise' his brain gets when switching between the three … according to some experts.

Apparently one of the important aspects of language acquisition when children grow up in multilingual environments is that grown-ups stick to one language when they communicate with the child, and preferably their mother tongue. It has surprised me how difficult some adults find it to do just that. On several occasions I have had to ask carers and acquaintances to refrain from switching to English with Giulian if Danish is their mother tongue. I have thought a lot about why it is so challenging.

It seems that many just want to communicate with the little man immediately (because they like him), in other words, things should not take too long, and it should not be taxing for G. Part of the challenge here is that almost everybody in Copenhagen speaks English confidently and well – it is very, very easy for most Copenhageners to switch. If G’s first language was Croatian or Thai the same people would have a totally different mindset and be entirely focused on making themselves understood and on helping him to acquire Danish, which would be entirely to his benefit. I do not get the impression at all from G that he finds it challenging being at the nursery, so there is no reason it should be taxing being spoken to in Danish by others. The pedagogues report that he speaks in Danish there and he has a level that is very normal for children for whom Danish is a second language. I am trying to raise G to approach challenge pragmatically – there is always a way to solve things. In general, I think that some personalities, maybe even children in general, instinctively approach challenge very differently. Perhaps it is society that teaches us that challenges are problems.

Another issue which appears to confuse and complicate things is that even when we are in Danish speaking environments (e.g. the nursery, birthday parties etc.) I continue to communicate with G in English even though I speak Danish very well. Other strange things happen in those situations too such as people responding to me in English when I speak Danish to them! I may of course be entirely wrong, but it seems that people think I speak English to him because that is what he understands better, rather than because English is my mother tongue. At this point I must note that, if I may generalize, Danes tend to focus a great deal on foreigners learning Danish when they come here, whether they need it in their daily lives or not. I am not necessarily against this, however, I find it ironic that I, or rather, G is having challenges with getting Danes to speak Danish to him in Danish-speaking environments. The end result is that G has less exposure to Danish and therefore fewer opportunities to acquire and practise the language, which will be to his great disadvantage at school start.  

I am quite language focused so there is no doubt that G will learn English grammar and all from me at home. The experts also say that it if multilingual children have a very solid foundation in one language, they will learn the other ones well, in good time. In a way then I should not be too concerned about what is happening right now. I made the decision that I just need to be quite persistent and insistent with people and it will be fine. I also have a few friends for whom neither English nor Danish are their mother tongue – there I am able to understand easier why they would switch between the two, yet I still try to gently encourage them to stick to one.

There seems to be so little awareness and understanding about bi- and multi-linguistic children’s language learning and language acquisition among parents of such children and, more surprisingly, among practitioners who are responsible for educating them. This is very worrying if one considers that we are in an age of migration and people are moving and mixing like never before. One of the concerns I have from my experiences in Denmark is that bi- and multi-ligualism is often treated like an illness rather than an asset. Perhaps because Denmark has been used to many of the bilingual children in schools in previous years coming from families with lower levels of education, the term ‘tosproget’ (which literally translates to ‘two-languaged’) has acquired negative connotations and is used to pejoratively define descendants from particular migrant groups … even when language is not the topic of conversation!

Denmark has taken great strides to attract highly educated foreign labour to its shores, and it is succeeding. However, family-related challenges, such as the care and schooling of children result in many of the migrants moving on to other traditional migrant-receiving countries which have an infra-structure that matches the needs of their mobile, multi-lingual families. This immigrant group has a choice about whether to stay here or not, and that differentiates them greatly from the previous waves of migrants. I hope for Denmark that its institutional structures and people who work within them will be able to adapt to the new ‘face’ of immigration, which shines very brightly indeed.

I went to academia when I was pregnant to find out more about multiple language acquisition, but here are a few links to resources (I have not read much of) if you waned to browse yourself: 

A website dedicated to multilingual children

Books on Amazon about raising global children

Books on Amazon about raising multilingual children

This evening a Danish colleague has invited us over for soup dinner. She is married to a Dane and they have two kids. There will be a mix of nationalities present and our interest in India is what brings us together. The language of the evening will I suppose be English. So my recipe for today will be written up tomorrow, once I have tasted my soup and gotten permission from my host to share the method and ingredients with you.

Have a great day!

And so this is the reply that my friend sent me when I asked for the recipe – making this soup requires that you have some knowledge of the ingredients. I would suggest trying different combinations of measurements to find the taste and consistency that you prefer. The version I ate was absolutely delicious!

Fry onion in oil with curry leaves, garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, a little chili add some of the vegetables you have e.g. (carrot, beet root, tomato), add more vegetables after a  while (e.g. squash, cauliflower, broccoli) as well as lentils (e.g. red lentils or mung dhal), add plenty of water, some vegetable bouillon, a pinch asofoatida (hing poweder) the yellow coloring stuff (tumeric I guess), salt pepper, cook for a long time. Blend it with a hand mixer add lemon and maybe soy yogurt…

 

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Doing the CanCan

According to the World Health Organization around 147 million people worldwide use cannabis; that is 2.5% of the world population. It seems that there are many opportunities to fight illness with cannabis, but predictably much opposition from those making a lot of money through the main stream medical industry. On the other hand, there are also lots of people making money and earning their living from this green revolution. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to completely legalize marijuana.  There is such fierce debate and division about this pretty plant, so I thought I would share a few facts about the drug and the trade with you from around the world:

CHINA
It may come as no surprise that China apparently holds 309 of the 606 patents relating to marijuana. China is world famous for its traditional medicine which includes herb-based medicines and so it seems fitting that, according to an article in the Independent, China is set to dominate trade in this drug which they were using in medicinal treatments as much as 5000 years ago. Read more here.

ISRAEL
Israel has been called the ‘marijuana research capital of the world’. In 2014, a government-backed Israeli start-up developed the first device of its kind to administer cannabis as a pharmaceutical. The Syqe (pronounced psyche) Inhaler enables patients to inhale metered doses of vaporized cannabis granules. Today, around 20,000 Israelis take doctor-prescribed cannabis. See the documentary: Cannabis Research Studies. Read more about the inhaler here and here.

JAMAICA
On 25 February 2015 Jamaica legalized the recreational use of marijuana and established a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical marijuana industry. That is right, it was illegal to smoke before then, in spite of the Rastafari movement, born in Jamaica in the 1930s, which regards the herb to have religious significance. The use of marijuana by Rastafarians is a spiritual act and is highly ritualized; the following prayer is said before its use: ‘Glory be to the father and to the maker of creation. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be World without end: Jah Rastafari: Eternal God Selassie I.’ Read more on the Rastafari here.

NETHERLANDS
Probably the most famous place in the world for smoking weed in public spaces, yet cannabis is actually an illegal class II drug in the Netherlands. The tolerance towards the ‘soft drug’ had been very high since the 1970s but in the 2000s things changed. There was a move to make the notorious coffee shops for Dutch people only with the introduction of a ‘weed pass’ (!!), but that idea has not yet been officially introduced. Nonetheless, one source reports that 193 coffee shops have closed in Amsterdam since 1999 and the mayor of Amsterdam has decided that he will close 70 more in 2015. Read more here.

USA
Absolutely the most baffling, promising and scary country of all regarding this plant in my eyes. It is decriminalized but not legal in many states; Washington and Colorado legalized the recreational use of marijuana for 21s and over on 26 February 2015 (see an amusing story here); medical marijuana has been legalized in several states and municipalities, generating jobs and saving and improving ‘s thousands of people’s quality of life. Meanwhile young people (of course much higher numbers of black kids) are being arrested and imprisoned for possession which is both expensive and socially destructive; billions of dollars are being spent on the ‘war’ on drugs and at the same time the US is supplying arms to Mexican drug cartels. Watch this brilliant documentary to see a critique of the US involvement in the cannabis trade: The Culture High

Oh and by the way, cannibis and marijuana mean the same thing when talking about the drug, but the plant is called cannibis. Read more about the plant and drug here.

Here are a few more articles and websites for you to browse:

A Vogue Editor Cooks With Pot

Heavy cannabis use ‘linked to lower GCSE results at 16’

7 Stunning Figures that Sum Up Colorado’s Marijuana Market

Teen Challenge UK (help for teens with addictions in UK)

 

And my recipe today … no, I am not going to make anything using the herb. Instead I will give due attention to my Jamaican roots and share with you my method of cooking Rice and Peas. I cooked it at the weekend to eat together with a vegetarian coconut based curry. It goes well together with all Carribean dishes, but also Indian food and many Thai dishes too.

4 large spring onions
2 large cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 6 sprigs of fresh thyme)
2 tins of kidney beans (or two cups of dried beans soaked and stewed until soft)
1 tin coconut milk
300ml of stock  (chicken is good, but vegetable is fine)
200g basmati rice
generous pinch of salt

Cut off and discard the ends of the spring onion. Squash the remaining stems using the palm of your had and the side of a large knife (if you dare not do this then use a large, reasonably flat wooden spoon)  and cut them into 2.5cm (1 inch) pieces. Peel and similarly squash the garlic cloves. Add them to the stock together with the thyme, kidney beans and coconut milk. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. Wash and rinse the basmati rice and then add to the mixture. Increase the heat keeping the lid off and stir intermittently. Once the rice mix starts to boil again reduce to a low heat and put on the lid. The liquid should be around one centimetres above the level of the solids at this stage. Cooking time can vary drastically between different brands of basmati, so the remaining cooking time could be anything between 10 and 20 minutes. If in doubt, check the packet for instructions.

There are so many different ways to cook Rice and Peas, and mine is by no means the best, but it is pretty simple and tastes good. The best is to use dried beans, and actually my favourite is with black-eyed beans, but I have not tried making it often enough to share with you here. Here is an alternative method from BBC GoodFood accompanied by what looks to be a delicious recipe for Jerk Chicken … I might well try this one out at the weekend rather than relying on my Jerk mix!

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Food, glorious food

The other day I saw a post on Facebook about the chemicals used to keep ready-to-eat (i.e. chopped and pealed) fruit looking ‘fresh’. I found the post interesting mostly because I had thought it was, for want of a better word, obvious that this fruit was treated with something to be able to stay so bright and perky all day long. (By the way, a tip for removing the unwanted chemical stuff from your fresh whole fruit and veg is to soak them in water that has a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in for 15mins, then scrub them a little and rinse them off.) There is an astronomical amount of information available nowadays on how the food industry ‘prepares’ food for us, the negative effects of ‘sugar-free’ and ‘fat-free’ products, the relationship between the food and pharmaceutical industries and government, but it is seemingly not far-reaching enough. And perhaps, even if it does 'reach far', the machinery of global capitalism is so strong that changing eating patterns and the content of one’s diet is not a particularly easy thing to do, and is often not economically viable for many, many people. One good tip that Michael Pollan gives which I think is particularly useful for those with a wide range of products to choose from yet have budgetary constraints is that no matter what food it is that you eat, it is always better to cook it yourself (see How Cooking Can Change Your Life). But then there is the modern-day challenge of time which must be saved for another blog post.

At the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) where I currently have an office space, food is a major part of our day, so much so that when NIAS moved to the new premises, the kitchen was redesigned so that it resembled more a ‘proper’ kitchen than a ‘staff’ kitchen: there is an oven, two induction hobs, a microwave, two fridge-freezers, pots, pans, cutlery, cooking utensils etc. … everything to facilitate a DIY lunch. And the fridges are packed! Many of us love food and it is visible at mealtimes. Most days everyone comes together for lunch at 12.30 and the colours and diversity of the food can be quite amazing. It is rare to see people eating pre-packed food (apart from sweet stuff!). In fact in four years I think the most I have witnessed is pre-packed salads and 3-minute noodles. But this can also make people uncomfortable. I remember one person saying that when she started she would just heat her food up in the microwave and bring it to the table and eat from her Tupperware. But, she said, she became a little bit self-conscious because everyone ate their ‘good looking’ meals on plates, so she started to do the same. I have to say, I enjoy eating every day with seemingly healthy eaters … I am not a food saint: I love fish and chips, well, chips in general, I love pizza and I am by no means a food snob. If microwave lasagne is all that is available, I will polish it off no problem! I am and have always been food and health conscious, and nowadays (it has happened with the more sedentary lifestyle that has come with age, change in work environments and change in family life) if I eat such ‘fast’ foods, I do have some kind of adverse reaction afterwards.

In the so-called advanced industrial societies, most people have access to the resources they need to address issues of diet, nutrition and weight gain/loss, however there are many who are not aware of the options that are open to them, such as free or low-cost advice, guidance, classes etc. at public institutions, community centres and churches. This is often not the case in other countries, regions and communities that are at different stages of development, which have been infected by the bad consumption practices of the so-called ‘developed’ world.  In reading around for today’s post I came across the term ‘New World Syndrome’. The term was first used by Weiss et al. (1984) to describe something that was happening in American indian tribes: they experienced major dietary changes from traditional high protein, low carbohydrate diets to diets consisting high refined carbohydrates and high saturated fats, and (coupled with living more sedntary lives) suffered/are suffering severe health consequences as a result. New World Syndrome is now characterized by obesity, type-2 diabetes and gall bladder diseases, and cardio-vascular diseases and a resultant short life span. The sedentary lifestyles of so-called ‘advanced’ and ‘developed’ societies also contribute greatly to the onset of NWS, and the speed with which this is infecting societies around the world is such that it is common to refer to it as an epidemic (see more on the role of capitalism in the obesity epidemic here). Reference is also made to the ‘obesity-malnutrition paradox’ that exists in countries whatever their stage of development (see examples from the US here and India here).

One article that I looked at by Prentice (2005: 96-97) highlights another interesting point about social stigma:

‘In the Western world social stigmatism against obesity and a widespread (though usually unsuccessful) obsession with trying to remain lean have probably helped limit to some extent the rate of rise in obesity. In many developing countries this psychological brake has been absent. The classic example comes from Polynesian islanders who associate large body size with power, beauty, and affluence. […] Studies in African Americans have reported a lack of social pressure to be thin and reduced social negativity toward obesity especially in women. However […] there have been very few reports of attitudes to obesity in native African populations.

This point makes me think of Wonderful Copenhagen where food is such a craze – ‘New Nordic Cuisine', food magazines, numerous Michelin-starred and non-Michelin-starred restaurants, websites, TV programmes, organic-food-mania – and there are almost as many sports centers, gyms and such as there are inhabitants! I joke with my guests that come to visit, who are amazed by the healthy appearance of the average Copenhagener, that a big difference between the Danish and British partiality for drunkenness and alcohol is that Danes are up the next morning/afternoon and biking to the gym and sweating off all they indulged in the night before. The main stream media and academia Danes tend to deny that they treat people differently according to their appearances and that fat people are stigmatized, but there is strong evidence to suggest the contrary, which is the downside to the health consciousness here.

In summer the Asia Dynamics Initiative (ADI) at the University of Copenhagen have their annual conference. This year the focus is on food. Take a look at their website here: “Food, Feeding and Eating In and Out of Asia”.  ADI are hosted here at NIAS and so I am reminded about the conference by my colleagues and conscience each day; even though food is not my research focus, I am eager to write and present a paper. The difficulty for me is in deciding which aspect to focus on – there is so much to discuss. I am looking forward to attending the conference and hearing what others have to say.

Please click:
here for Michael Pollan’s website.
here for a list of more recent documentaries on food.
here for healthy eating/lifestyle tips from the European Food Information Council.
here for food tours in Scandinavia.
here for food tours in other European cities.

A couple of weeks ago I made two recipes using beetroot. It is considered a ‘superfood’ because of all the goodness it contains and I would like to incorporate it into my diet a bit more. In looking for recipes I came across this fun website called LoveBeetroot.co.uk dedicated solely to beetroot! I want to share with you the two delicious recipe’s I found and made. Both absolutely delicious:

The first is for Beautiful Beetroot and Feta Patties from the BBC’s GoodFood site. I followed the recipe and cooking tips almost 100%. The one change was to add two tablespoons of olive oil to the mixture. I actually did it by accident, but the outcome was great – I think they might have been a little bit dry without it.

The second is for a scrummy Flour-Free Beetroot and Chocolate Cake. I was particularly pleased with this one as I am not quite as experienced with baking as I am with cooking savoury dishes and so I rely on the recipe and description of the method a lot. This recipe was taken from a cookbook I bought recently, Love, Bake Nourish, by Amber Rose, to guide me with making delicious healthy desserts. The texture is amazing, the flavor delightful, but next time I make it I will add something (maybe a sweeter honey than the one I used) to make it slightly sweeter, or make sure I eat it with some vanilla ice-cream! I’ll add the recipe I used when I get home, but in the meantime take a look at this recipe for a Decadent Beet and Chocolate Cake from a really wonderful website called Green Kitchen Stories.

Flour-Free Beetroot and Chocolate Cake

300g cooked unseasoned beetroot, peeled and pureed
4 large free-range eggs
4 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon raw cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon (gluten-free) baking powder
pinch of salt
125g ground almonds (I used half almonds and half walnuts)
125g dark chocolate (70%)
4 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees. Greese and line a 22cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the beetroot, eggs, honey, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt with an electric hand mixer. When these ingredients are thoroughly combined, fold in the ground nuts.

Place a heatproof bowl on the top of a saucepan containing a little water. Make sure the bowl is big enough to cover the top of the pan, but do not allow the bottom of the bowl to be in contact with the water. Put the chocolate pieces in the bowl and allow to melt over a low heat, then mix in the oil. Gently stir the chocolate and oil into the cake mixture until well combined.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the ven for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave the cake to cool in the tin before turning out onto a wire rack.

Once the cake is completely cool, dust with cocoa poweder. Serve on its own or with creme fraiche.

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Phenomenal Women in a Man’s World

Last night I was invited to my dear friend’s birthday dinner. Many of my Danish women friends celebrate their birthdays with their female friends, and they really host the get together – always great food, slightly formal welcome (which somehow is not formal at all, but takes getting used to if you are not from the Nordic region), and very sincere verbal expressions of how pleased they are to have you there … it is lovely! I arrived late to the gathering last night – the dinner was in full swing and the ladies were in the process of introducing one another (i.e. going around the table with the host and one other person introducing a third person) with humour, affection and humility.

The inspiration for the blog today is a story I heard last night about a woman who I have known for 15 years. I knew that she used to be a professional footballer, but I had no idea just how distinguished she was. Her first unique achievement was in 1971 when, at the age of 15, she scored a winning hat-trick in the Women’s World Championship Football final against Mexico. She went on to play professionally in Italy and scored a mind-blowing 600-and-something goals in her career which ended in 1995. It was noted last night that had she been a man and had the same professional record she would likely be extremely famous and have had so many different opportunities and doors open for her. In spite of no Danish male footballer coming anywhere close to my friend’s achievements, and the Danish men’s team never winning a World Championship (in fact they have only ever reached and lost a quarter final in the FIFA World Cup in 1998 against Brazil) most people who follow men’s football can name a couple of male players who are famous on and off the pitch. A further attribute that contributes to my perception of Susanne as phenomenal is her modesty. Listening to her story and spending an evening hearing women being outwardly complimentary, thoughtful, and so warm, familiar and honest with one another was refreshing and so enjoyable and made me think about the traits in my female friends that I cherish the most.

I met another inspirational woman last year called Catherine Hakim. Catherine came to the Nordic countries to deliver a series of lectures on women’s work preferences, and her theory on erotic capital. In short, erotic capital is (natural or learned) combination of "beauty, social skills, good dress sense, physical fitness, liveliness, sex appeal and sexual competence". Hakim argues that women have more scope to use it than men because of the "male sexual deficit", i.e. because men never quite get as much sex as they need/want. Unfortunately, the discussions about this capacity seems to repeatedly turn toward a discussion of sexual attractiveness, but if one really looks at Catherine’s definition properly, it is much more than that. Her suggestion that women should exploit their erotic capital (if they have it) to their own gains, unsurprisingly also creates lively discussion. Indeed, the Danish media and some members of her audience in Denmark were unable to differentiate between having erotic capital and using it, and women using their ‘sex appeal’ to get ahead … this in spite of Catherine only giving examples of famous men who have it and use it (e.g. Obama, Clinton, Clooney). This in a country where it is more or less mandatory to put a photograph on your CV and also very common to give information about your family and personal life, both of which are quite unconventional in the UK in the moral plight to avoid prejudicial decision-making processes. Incidentally, a study conducted in Israel found that attractive women were discriminated against negatively while attractive men were discriminated against positively when attaching a photo to a CV, apparently because of female jealousy in HR departments … I am sorry to say that in Denmark I have come across women deselecting attractive women for a position because they can’t stand the way their (male) bosses behave around attractive women.

Catherine and I discussed the likelihood that had a man developed the same theory it would have received quite a different type of attention and validation both in and outside of academia. I spent two days with Catherine and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the interactions – the one-on-one time, the lectures, the social engagements with male colleagues. To me Catherine is one of those phenomenal women who professionally and personally, like my friend who hosted the dinner party last night, champions women. I love this trait in a woman, particularly because we live in a man's world, and I am fortunate that the vast majority of my web of women friends share it too.

I have decided to encourage some of the amazing women I know to contribute a blog post to Global Food and Thought this year, so watch this space for some writing by phenomenal women from around the world.

If you have time, please do read more:

About Susanne Augustensen here.
About the history of women’s football in Denmark here.
About the Erotic Capital theory here.
About Catherine Hakim and her work here.
About the study conducted in Israel in The Economist here, and a journal article by the researchers here.

… and my favourite poem, Phenomenal Woman, by the late, great Maya Angelou here.

My friend who hosted us last night is phenomenal in many ways. A particularly distinguishing trait is her ‘way’ in the kitchen. Her food is always amazing and yesterday she treated us to two desserts, one of which was a delicious cheese cake. She assured me that the recipe is very easy, so when I get it I will make it and of course share it with you virtually here.

… So, here is the recipe. I have yet to make it myself, but I think I will give it a try at the weekend! The direct translation of the recipe from the website (see here) is “Digestive dream with cream-cheese and Daim” which does absolutely no justice to the resulting deliciousness, so I am reformulating:

Dreamy Digestive and Daim Cheesecake 

INGREDIENTS

200g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
200g cream cheese
1 cup crème frâiche (approx. 50g)
¼ liter whipping cream
3 Daim bars
100g melted butter
200g Digestive biscuits

METHOD

Place the Digestives and Daim bars into a plastic bag and crush them into medium-sized crumbs using a meat hammer or rolling pin. It is a good idea to wrap the bag loosely in a kitchen towel first to avoid splitting the plastic. Place the crumbs into a bowl and mix in the melted butter. Spread the biscuit mix on to the base of a tart or cake tin.

Whip the cream and crème frâiche separately and then gently fold them together. Whip the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla sugar together thoroughly and then fold in the cream mixture. Gently spread the mixture evenly across the biscuit base and leave to cool and set in the fridge overnight.

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Northern (lack of) Light

Sometimes when I speak of the blanket grey skies we are often subject to in Copenhagen during the winter months, particularly between November and February (winter here is actually from October to March, and snow has fallen in May on occasion) people from the UK say “Oh yes, I know. We get that too.” … And I always think to myself, 'No, you don’t.' The best way to describe the Copenhagen winter grey is: a completely mono-toned dark grey thick blanket that covers the sky and feels like it is going to smother you. We go for weeks sometimes without seeing the sun, with that blanket weighing down above us. This winter, while the temperatures have been relatively high, the grey has been accompanied by continuous rain. Boooooooo! We are however so fortunate that we pretty much never get any kinds of extreme weather. The winds can be strong and hazardous and there is the occasional flooding, but nothing, in my time at least, that has caused major disaster.

So how do we compensate for the lack of sunlight? Candles in homes and other places are a major strategy used by Danes and us foreigners in Denmark. I love them! It makes some of our visitors nervous that we have so many candles lit in our home which is in a block of apartments that all have wooden floors, and a fair amount of wooden furniture, but winter would not be the same without them. I also simply find it comforting being next to this element – when I have travelled alone in the past I have often had tea lights with me to use in the evenings.

The reason for writing about this is that I was just speaking to my office mate who is in the process of completing his PhD manuscript. He had asked me how I felt now that I have submitted and I said ‘I need to defend it and be done with it.’ He then went on to describe how this process is making him feel. He compared it to the feeling of claustrophobia, and said that it impedes his everyday life and all his social relations. Behind him is a big window and the blanket grey and it made me think, ‘The weather here does that too sometimes’.

It is so tempting to just stay inside and create hygge with my candles when it is like this, but too much of that can create the feeling of claustrophobia as well. When I was in my office mate’s position a few months ago, I had a horrible sensation, real or imagined, that I had no time. This meant that I biked everywhere in order to save time. There are so many bikes in this city and I was racing, rather than just biking, from A to B in those months, which quite probably caused more stress than it relieved. I subsequently spent little to no time enjoying the outdoors and the freedom of the mind that comes with taking a long, calm, deep breath of fresh Nordic air (albeit city air!). Nowadays, although I now feel anxious to complete this PhD process, I do feel that I have time to breathe again. I have been walking from A to B a lot since the New Year started, under the blanket grey sky and sometimes in the rain, and enjoying every minute of it! For my partner and many others I know from Southern Europe that sentence is an oxymoron, but I really insist that a great way to deal with the Northern (lack of) light is to get outside and focus on the freshness of the air instead. And for those poor people finishing their PhDs, please, as advised, do number ten on this list at least once every couple of days!

… Of course everyone should eat good colourful food at all times too! Last weekend I took to the cookbooks (another thing I have not been able to take time to do for far too long) and followed a recipe for a yummy tart by Yotam Ottolenghi in his wonderful book, Plenty. It is quite labour intensive so make sure you have plenty of time. I think I did a pretty good job and it was indeed very full and absolutely delicious! Worth every minute, so please do try it and enjoy!

Very Full Tart

(Serves 4-6)

1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
about 6 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 4cm dice
salt and black pepper
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
1 small zucchini, cut into 2cm dice
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
300g short-crust pastry
8 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
120g ricotta cheese
120g feta cheese
7 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 medium eggs
200ml double cream

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 230 C (450F). Use a small serrated knife to cut around the stem of the peppers and lift it out along with the seeds. Shake the peppers to remove all the remaining seeds; discard the stems and seeds. Place the two peppers in a small ovenproof dish, drizzle with a little oil and put on the top shelf in the oven.
Mix the eggplant in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread in a large baking pan and place in the oven on the shelf beneath the peppers.

After 12 minutes add the sweet potato dice to the eggplant pan and stir gently. Return to the oven to roast for another 12 minutes. Then add the zucchini to the pan, stir and roast for a further 10 to 12 minutes. At this point the peppers should be brown and the rest of the vegetables cooked. Remove all from the oven and reduce the temperature to 160C (375F). Cover the peppers with foil and cool, then peel and tear roughly into strips.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Sauté the onions with the bay leaves and some salt for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until they turn brown, soft and sweet. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves and set aside.

Lightly grease a 23cm (9-inch) loose-bottomed tart pan. Roll out the short-crust pastry to a circle roughly 3mm (1/8 inch) thick and large enough to line the pan, plus extra to hang over the rim. Carefully line the pan with the dough, pressing it into the corners and leaving the excess hanging over the top edge. Line the dough with a large sheet of parchment paper and fill it with baking beans (or dried beans or rice). Bake the crust for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the paper with the weights, then bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until it turns golden brown. Remove and allow to cool a little.

Scatter the cooked onion over the bottom of the crust and top with the roasted vegetables, arranging them evenly. Scatter half the thyme leaves over. Next, dot the veg with small chunks of both cheeses and then with the tomato halves, cut-side up.

Whisk the eggs and cream in a small bowl with some salt and pepper. Carefully pour this mix into the tart; the top layer of tomatoes and cheese should remain exposed. Scatter the remaining thyme over the top. Place in the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the filling sets and turns golden. Remove and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before releasing the tart from the pan and serving.

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Challenges of migration

I have spent the last six years concertedly thinking about and researching migration; more specifically, temporary migration to a country that is socio-culturally different to ones country of origin.

You might say that this is the position I am in myself, although some may argue that 14 years does not seem very temporary. There is an intention to move elsewhere at some point though and so in that sense it is temporary. In any case during the course of my research, similar to my informants in India, I have also faced some big challenges that have been more difficult to deal with being away from my country of origin, England, where, in my imagination at least, there is some kind of status quo.

As I told you in my last piece, giving birth and having little G in our lives has made me realize how engrained particular aspects of my British culture are, and as the little one grows we can see both the positive and (to us) negative aspects of Danish culture that he may or may not pick up. We also miss not having our families around, even though we have some very good friends who are very much like family to us here.

I have experienced another first recently that is affecting my everyday life now and probably will do for some time. It is also making think even more, if that is at all possible, about my research topic and how much the everyday lives of migrants differ to those of domestic populations.

Migrants in Denmark often end up befriending other migrants because of challenges with socializing with Danes. I am not of the opinion that Danes are so difficult to get to know. The difference in Denmark is that often the onus is on you to do the work of befriending, and this is what many migrants struggle with. I was young and carefree and worked in bars and restaurants when I arrived here, and so met and socialized with many Danes during those years; they continue to be my good friends now. I also have many foreign friends. The ‘first’ I mentioned before was losing one of them at the turn of the year.

My friend was a migrant too and he left us during a trip to his home country. This dimension has made things feel somehow even more wrong. He spent much of his adult life here and we enjoyed him for so many years. But at his passing, there was no time to get to the funeral and he is simply gone. I hope to go to his home one of these days and see where home was for him, where he chose to be at this time. I guess or maybe hope that a trip there will allow me to get to know him even better, even though he is not here.

Living as a migrant for so long, one gets used to saying goodbye to people. It is always sad, but many of us love travelling, so if it is a good friend, you know, or at least hope, that you will see each other again at some point in the future. There are also so many ways to be in touch as well now, virtually. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to deal with someone leaving the country permanently, without a proper goodbye … maybe it will come one day, maybe not.

I miss my friend.

He was a fan of Eckhart Tolle, so I finish up with a quotes from him that my friend might say to me if he were sitting next to me now …

“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.”

― Eckhart Tolle

I need to find inspiration elsewhere for my recipe this week. My friend and I used to eat together often, usually at my place. He loved food and so there was no particular favourite that I can think of to share here. Instead I will find a new recipe, something from his home country, Portugal, and have a go at it this weekend. I will let you know how it goes!

 

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Maternity mums

Well, it has been a shameful 22 months since I last posted! My excuses: finalizing (so I thought) my PhD manuscript, pregnancy and motherhood. Maternity leave finishes shortly and I will return to the first ‘excuse’, finishing my manuscript on my own time. The second and third ‘excuses’, which incidentally bring an immediate smile to my face, have been pure pleasure.

The inspiration for hitting the keyboard again today has been my mothers’ group that I joined in the latter stage of my leave. The ladies are a group of extremely creative, intelligent, fun-loving mummies and have been so wonderful to have around for many reasons.

I am now qualified to say that there is nothing like having a baby to make one starkly aware of ones own values, identity and culture. In Denmark, the social system provides new mums with a health visitor at various intervals during the child’s first few years. She also puts them in touch with other women who have given birth around the same time to form a ‘mother’s group’. I asked that I be put into a Danish speaking group= as, since being in Denmark, I have never consciously sought out English people or foreigners (despite my friendship circle being distinctly multinational). I like being a ‘local’ foreigner. Our Danish-speaking group unfortunately just did not gel and after two or three months I decided to leave it. At the meet-ups I did attend, I realized how entirely differently I interacted with G compared to the others, and that I was not going to find the empathy I needed from such a group largely, I felt, because of cultural differences.

For the first time in my 14 years in Denmark I decided to look for an English-speaking group to socialize with. I needed to find mums with whom I had more in common. I had a brief look on line, and, coincidentally the following day, I met a British woman on the bus I had encountered once before at Torvehallerne. She approached me both times as she has her own company selling products for people with natural hair. We got chatting as we realized our babies were about the same age, and she invited me to her next mother’s group meeting that she would be hosting at her apartment in the city. The group was international and English-speaking with mummies from UK, South Africa, France, Hungary, Germany, Turkey and the US. I went and had a lovely couple of hours with the ladies who were able to attend. I left that day with a feeling that as well as receiving the maternal support, I may also form some new friendships.

Since then it has been Felicity (UK), Cathy (UK), Sez (SA) and their respective little bubbas who I have spent most time with. Both G and I have benefited equally from having them in our lives. It suddenly seemed so much easier and comfortable to chat about the ups and downs of it all. I had been missing interaction with mummies who were culturally similar to me. The need for that Anglo-Saxon input was a complete surprise.

Apart from this nationality-based cultural similarity, Fliss, Cathy and Sez are also all freelancers or rather independent professionals. Felicity works in media, Cathy a journalist and Sez is currently starting up her own business restoring and selling vintage jewellery and clothing. Does it take a certain ‘type’ to be freelance? I don’t know what ‘type’ it is, but for sure it is not for everyone, and, more to the point, it meant that there was another major aspect of life (work) where there was greater understanding. Another common thread is our love for second-hand items – from baby clothes and toys, to furnishings and (as far as I gather) good quality clothing too. That’s not to say there isn’t any impartiality among us to luxury items in the same categories too!

Cultural similarity is absolutely unnecessary in order to form friendships and relationships in my world, but thankfully when I needed to find it, it came around easily. Sure, a lot of luck was involved, but I have always said that one of the great things about Copenhagen is that it is a big village and so very easy to find what you are looking for. Making these families’ acquaintance and G having some babies to play with in the run up to starting at day care has been invaluable.

Thank you ladies & babies for your support and friendship thus far!

My recipe this time is the main dish I prepared for the lunch one Friday with the mummies. One of them has already made it for herself and partner and said it was a hit! I literally put this together with the leftover ingredients we happened to have in the fridge. I am not writing the measurements as I think you should just put as much or as little of each in as suits your taste …

Prawn Rice Salad

Ingredients

  • Cooked and refrigerated basmati rice
  • Prawns (I used the peeled and cooked ones you buy in the plastic container, but good quality frozen cooked ones, or even better freshly peeled ones will work. Just make sure you defrost naturally and squeeze a bit of the water out of the frozen ones)
  • Coriander
  • Cucumber
  • Gem lettuce

Accompanying dressing

  • Fish sauce
  • Fresh small hot chillies

How to make it

  • Mix your rice and cooked prawns together using a metal spoon. I used a little bit of the water that the prawns were in as well.
  • Chop and add the coriander – not too finely as you want to be able to taste the leaves without overpowering the whole dish. I use the stalks as well.
  • For a good large portion for four people, I only used half a gem lettuce – cut it lengthways and then slice it finely from top to bottom.
  • Grate and add the cucumber – I used about half a medium sized one.
  • Slice the chillies, not too finely, and add them to some fish sauce to use as a dressing on the side.
  • If I had had any on the shelf, I would have added a splash of sesame oil to the rice, but it is delicious and fresh without any additional dressing or seasoning.

Enjoy!

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“Det har ikke noget med uhøflighed at gøre … vi er danskere!”

I sidste uge måtte jeg ringe til et dansk flyselskab for at hjælpe mine svigerforældre med deres booking fra Rom til København. Den ene dag snakkede jeg med en meget høflig og hjælpsom medarbejder. Dagen efter var jeg nødt til at ringe igen:

Mig: ”Goddag. Jeg ringer på vegne af …”
Ekspedient: ”Hvad drejer det sig om?”

Jeg må indrømme fra starten af, at jeg har været opdraget til at være meget høflig, lige meget hvem jeg taler med, derfor var denne afbrydelse, inden jeg fik sagt navnene, uhøflig i mine øjne. Samtalen fortsætter med korte spørgsmål og korte svare og endte med, at jeg skulle ringe til et rejsebureau for at få hjælp. Jeg måtte spørge efter nummeret tre gange, fordi ekspedienten udtalte nummeret for hurtigt for mig, og så var samtalen slut. Nummeret virkede ikke, så måtte jeg ringe til flyselskabet igen. Den gang fik jeg en anden kvindelig ekspedient, som tog telefonen, mens hun grinede med sine kolleger. Jeg ventede. Efter en kort tid kom: ”Ja … hallo?” Endnu en dårlig start. Og en endnu værre afslutning.

Jeg fik ordnet alt, hvad jeg skulle – meget hurtigt, igen uden nogen form for pynt, og jeg måtte til sidst angive min e-mail-adresse. Efter 13 år i Danmark er jeg stadig ikke så god til at udtale vokaler, når jeg staver, så jeg måtte slå over til engelsk, kun for at stave e-mail-adressen. Resten af samtalen foregik på dansk. Jeg tænkte, at der måske var en grund til, at de havde været så uvenlige, så jeg spurgte, hvor mange de var på kontoret, og oplyste, at jeg mente, at samtalerne i dag havde været lidt ubehagelige, og at personalet virkede uhøfligt og aggressivt.

Ekspedienten svarede, at de havde travlt. Hun forklarede mig, hvorfor alt gik så hurtigt (inklusiv deres sprog). Men det forklarede ikke, at der ingen form for venlighed var, ingen høflighed, ingen menneskelighed. Det var trods alt kundeservice, jeg ringede til. Nå, jeg er klar over, at mine forventninger er høje, og at nogen, når de har travlt, ikke er så opmærksomme på små ting som høflighed. Vi er alle sammen forskellige, heldigvis. Jeg forstod godt og tilføjede, at selv om de havde travlt, kunne den måde, de to damer talte med folk på, blive fortolket som uhøflighed og aggression, hvortil hun svarede: ”Det har ikke noget med høflighed at gøre. Det er, fordi vi er danskere!”

Jeg var målløs. Det eneste, jeg kunne sige, var farvel. Jeg ringede til administrationen og klagede over dette udsagn og havde en meget behagelig samtale med en meget høflig, kundeorienteret medarbejder. Lige som min samtale var med manden dagen før. De var begge danskere, mener jeg.

Jeg sidder for tiden på Nordisk Institut for Asien Studier og skriver min Ph.d. i socialpolitik. I år har jeg læst meget om kultur, og min personlige baggrund og livsforløb har gjort, at jeg tænker meget over, hvad folk siger, hvordan de siger det, hvorfor de siger det, og forskellen mellem hvad de siger, hvad de mener, og hvad andre forstår. Der er ofte store forskelle.

Gennem de sidste tretten år har jeg, lige som mange andre i Danmark, haft et stærkt forhold til Danmark, der spænder mellem kærlighed og had. Jeg mener også, at lige meget hvor man bor, er der ting, som man kan lide, og andre ting, som man ikke kan lide. Det burde være i orden at kritisere, om man er udlænding eller indfødt. Jeg elsker mit liv her og har altid haft både danske og udenlandske venner. Når jeg er i udlandet, og også når jeg er her, forsvarer jeg tit danskere mod deres ry for at være racister. Efter min mening har det meget mere med xenofobi og national stolthed end racisme at gøre. Problemet er, at lige meget hvilket problem, der er mellem folk, er der en stærk tendens til at påpege, hvor dansk eller udansk noget eller nogen er, og ofte er det udtryk for, at den danske måde at gøre tingene på er den bedste og mest overlegne. Et sidste, og nogle gang første, forsvar, som handler om herkomst, bidrager til opfattelsen af danskere som racister.

Som jeg ser det, er der en stor afstand mellem, hvad mennesker, som ekspedienten, siger og hvad de mener, og som lytter kan det være svært at vurdere, om udsagnet er negativ ment (racistisk), eller udtryk for naivitet, ignorance eller noget andet på talerens side.  Jeg har den fornemmelse, at ekspedienten brugte sin nationalitet og sin viden om danskeres ry for at være direkte som en dårlig undskyldning for sin egen og kollegaens uhøflighed. Jeg tror ikke, at hun er/var klar over, hvor diskriminerende det er at antyde, at jeg har den forkerte opfattelse, fordi jeg ikke er dansker. Det er min fortolkning af det, hun sagde. Dybest set, ved hun ikke hvem jeg er, hvad min baggrund er, og hvor lidt eller hvor meget jeg kender til dansk kultur. I England og andre lande vil dette udsagn have kostet hende jobbet. Det synes jeg heller ikke rigtig, det burde gøre. Samfundet får ikke noget ud af det.

Der er nogle mennesker, som mener, at jeg bliver for irriteret, når jeg føler mig dårligt behandlet, eller når jeg læser noget, som jeg synes er forkert. Måske har de ret. Jeg behøver ikke at være så irriteret. På den anden side kunne man overveje, hvordan vi lærer af og om hinanden, hvis ikke vi taler om tingene? Hvordan kan ekspedienten forstå, at det, hun sagde, kan fortolkes meget negativt af udlændinge, hvis ikke jeg siger min mening om det til én, som har erfaring med personaleledelse, der kan forklare problemet grundigt på en måde, så damen får noget ud af det, i det mindst professionelt? Det er et internationalt flyselskab – hun kommer sikkert til at tale igen med nogle, som ikke er danske.

Vi lever i en globaliseret verden. Danmark er et lille land, som bliver mere og mere afhængigt af udlandet. Mon ikke der kommer en tid, hvor flere danskere, og andre rundt om i verden, vil kunne elske og være stolte af deres kultur og land uden at fornærme andre nationaliteter og kulturer? Lad os fortsætte med at tale sammen og håbe, at det sker om ikke så længe.

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Who cares?

A very wise woman recently wrote: “Care need was around before the market economy or labour market. We need care and cannot live without it.” I met Tanja Annika Kuronen a few years ago when she joined my graduate school in Finland. Tanja wrote her Master’s thesis about the challenges of housework among the elderly (for which she was awarded the prize from Social Policy Association in Finland of the best social policy Master’s thesis in 2007) and is continuing with the topic for her PhD thesis. Tanja and I always have quite intense, but very good discussions about social issues when we meet, chiefly about care. There have been two cases recently, one in Denmark and one in the UK, where horrendous physical and mental abuse has taken place over some time, the authorities had been made aware of the cases, and nothing was done to stop it, for far too long. In the UK it took media intervention, and in Denmark it took the courage and complaints of a sexually abused child for the authorities to react appropriately.

The case in the UK involved the persistent abuse of residents at a private care home, Winterbourne View, which houses adults with learning disabilities and autism. It is difficult to know where to start. In short, the residents were tortured, abused, tormented, humiliated, ridiculed and psychologically abused by several members of staff, while other members of staff stood around and watched, and senior staff turned a blind eye or watched with a giggle. One member of staff was deeply concerned and voiced these concerns verbally and in writing on several occasions to the management of the home and to the independent regulators of health and social care in England, Care Quality Commission(CQC). Finally he decided to contact the world’s longest running investigative TV programme, Panorama, who decided to send in an undercover care worker and secretly film what was happening. Here are some links if you would like to read/see more:

The case in Denmark involved a couple who between them had 10 children (7 together, 2 from the mother and 1 from the father) aged between twenty and one year at the time of the parents arrest in 2010. The family lived for some time in a municipality called Lolland and were known to the authorities because they were such a large family. While living in Lolland, the police had visited the house on several occasions for reasons unknown to me, but they were so horrified by the conditions that the children were living in that they took photographs and sent them to the municipality with a written report expressing that the house was unfit for human domicile. The authorities did nothing. It is thought that when the family started to get too much attention, they upped and moved to another place at the other end of the country called Brønderslev.  Here they lived in a big house that they made equally unfit to live in and the neighbours also voiced their concerns to the municipality, among other times, after witnessing the children shoveling snow in the yard dressed in sandals and scant clothing,. Again nothing significant happened. Finally, after 3 years of abuse (she moved to her father when she was 16) the eldest daughter managed to escape and make her way home to her biological mother and they went to the police.

I watched the documentary last night and I have to say, I have never seen such filth inside what can loosely be called a home in my life. The eldest daughter was with the camera crew and another older son was interviewed as well. To this day, while the parents have been found guilty of gross neglect, violence and sexual abuse against their 10 children (in June 2011), the children still have not received their due care and attention from the municipality child care services. They were starved; there was no running water in the house; they were beaten; the oldest child was sexually abused by her father; they were made to wear the same clothes for weeks on end; if the children peed in the bed they would just put clothes over the top … repeatedly; and some of the younger children cannot speak just to name a few things. Here are some links if you would like to read/see more:

In Danish:

In English:

According to several leading academics, welfare states are founded on the principle of reciprocity(the willingness to support redistribution between groups); inclusion(the acceptance of vertical redistribution, that is that people at all income levels benefit); trustthat services will be there and work when you need them; and confidencein fellow citizens that they will maintain their commitment to the social contract (Taylor-Gooby, 2009).  In both of the aforementioned cases, the welfare state let its citizens down, grossly. The last time I saw Tanja we talked about the disadvantages of the welfare state where strong adherence to rules and regulations result in neglect and human beings ignoring or going against their instincts because of rules and regulations. I would argue that this happens to a greater extent in the Nordic countries, where the adherence to procedure and cultural norms are stronger – to many foreigners I speak to the adherence seem almost robotic and almost how one imagines communism to be. In Finland there is also a strong culture of privacy, which Tanja explained can have severe consequences for the elderly who are living alone. In Britain the elderly can be at risk more due to simple neglect, rather than any issue of privacy.

In an era of excessive administration and increasing individualization, welfare states seem to be at risk of neglecting their vulnerable citizens, the very citizens they are supposed to be protecting the most. Many people will disagree, but I find it far too simplistic to place blame on individuals who work for the public sector, as only they know how their individual workday proceeds. It seems that it would be more constructive to look at the systems that are in place and be more critical towards them, as well as prosecuting the individuals for who there is direct evidence of a ‘crime’ such as the supposed care workers at Winterbourne View, and the supposed care-takers such as the parents of the ten abused children; however, I am not a lawyer. While I understand that the Care Quality Commission and the Lolland and Brønderslev municipality failed miserably, it is difficult for me to see how punishment of officials and, in the UK case, closing down the care home will prevent the same things from happening again.

More neighbours could have knocked on the door of that family house as could the children’s teachers; the parents and friends of the residents at Winterbourne could have visited and listened more. We can all care more than we do. Call me a pessimist, but I am sure the same atrocities are happening for other children and people in institutional care facilities as I write, and in this day and age with the wealth (monetary and knowledge) that the nations in question profess to have, it shouldn’t be. In Northern European welfare states, is it too late to get back to basics and as Tanja suggested put caring for our/others’ basic needs before or at least on a par with our care for markets?

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