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Danes and Authority: The giant penis on the wall, or how to deal with Danish civil servants

By Kay Xander Mellish

When you think you’re talking to the authorities in Denmark, you’re often not talking to the authorities. If it comes to bus service, train service, unemployment compensation, homeless shelters, construction, even fire protection and ambulance services – you will be talking to a private company hired by the authorities. At any rate, 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. 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 state your question. “Somebody has drawn graffiti of 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.  Danes respond very badly to anger or conflict. You want to take the angle that we’re equals all we want to do is get this problem solved together. You want to go in there with a positive, we can do it together! spirit. 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, and they feel that they do.  Danish civil servants take pride in their work.  That said, it still took six months to get that giant penis graffiti removed.  

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