In Denmark you’re permitted to kiss on a bus, but you’re not allowed to talk to a stranger. That’s one of the things Depp Mattock have found out since arriving in Denmark two years ago, fleeing civil war in Syria. This is Depp’s story about struggling with issues such as language, the reclusiveness of the Danes and the mystery of how to court Danish women, originally published by Information on March 15th 2017 (www.information.dk/debat/2017/03/tilladt-kysse-bus-danmark-maa-tale-fremmed)

by Depp Mattock

I have rewritten my will again. I rewrite my will at every new siege, at every sniper attack, every mortar attack. Boom, boom, boom. I lose my breath.

I was at school, and I was as happy as any child. I had a girlfriend like every other teenager. I got fed up studying at the university, just as many of my friends. I love to travel, to swim, and I have been fortunate enough to see the sea a number of times.

I used to own things, a lot of things, never comprehending their true value, until I lost them. I used to be a normal person, who felt sad about normal problems.

I never was someone, who thought that I’d leave my home land, Syria. Least of all, I imagined ending up in Denmark, if ever I were to go.

The first time I heard a faint whisper of freedom and revolution, was six years ago, when the Syrian Revolution broke out on March 15th, 2011, as a consequence of Assad’s regime not being able to tolerate a couple of kids writing words of disapproval on a wall in the town of Dara’a.

At first, I heard it as the cry of something being born, but soon after I started counting the days when I was under siege. I counted the missiles, counted the cluster bombs, counted the wounded and counted the dead. And I counted the grains of rice I needed to keep my diminished, weakened body alive.

I was free. For the first time, I was free.

But I had lost everything. I’d lost an eye, lost my freedom, my friends and all of my possessions.

A traveller bringing nothing but love

Under this beautiful sky I started looking for a place a little higher up, where I’d be able to breath again. I went, and the only thing in my bag, was love.

I arrived in Denmark, among the freest, most liberated and liberal-minded people on Earth. My head was full of question. Do they even have a mosque here? Will I be able to find halal food? Is it true that they’ll help me find a place to live – help me survive? I could live among them, but can I live with them? Will they be my humanitarian kindred spirits in this world?

I make an effort, but quickly understand, that it’s difficult getting closer, when you don’t speak their language. How long will it take to learn that language? And why does it sound as if they’re eating potatoes when they’re talking?

I feel happy every time I read something about my new country, Denmark. The Danish are the happiest people in the world.

I’m looking for the police. Is there any police in this country at all? You don’t see them in the streets. I’m not used to that. Finally, at 3 o’clock in the morning, I find a police station. They ask me to come back the next day, when they open. Instead I go to Center Sandholm myself, requesting permission to stay.

A madman on the bus

I’ve gone to Nørrebro and I’ve found a Danish Arabia. There are people speaking Arabic in the streets. There are Danes eating shawarma, and people saying they prefer durum!

I have found a mosque in Denmark; they speak both Arabic and Danish. In the Danish mosques women can go too, and it is only on ‘Planet Denmark’ that a woman as well as a man can become an Imam.

I love watching the children who’re waiting in line for the bus in the morning. There is an explosion of being in rather a hurry, playing and discussion. I attempt to smile, seek contact, greeting and talking to a stranger.

On the bus, I make contact with a woman accompanied by little children, to talk about everything and nothing. She looks at me, the way one looks at a madman.

I learn that in Denmark you’re allowed to kiss on a bus, but you’re not permitted to talk to a stranger. Denmark is the opposite of Syria.

I learn that in Denmark, you can talk about anything. I love hearing them talk vehemently about politics and of love. And about sex. For the first time, I hear someone talking matter-of-factly about homosexuality, talking the way one talks about Christmas or Saturday get-to-togethers.

I think back on the kingdom of repression and silence, and now I don’t miss Syria.

The kiss in the darkness

I’m at the ophthalmologist’s and among the pile of papers and periodicals, I spot a pornographic magazine. It’s called ‘M!’ I try to peek through it without looking directly at it, so as not to be detected by those around me who’re also waiting to see a doctor.

I once saw a similar magazine in Syria. There it was hidden under a bed.

I start thinking about relationships with women, and I wonder how one goes about that in Denmark. I remember how in Damascus you would take advantage of a power outage by kissing someone fleetingly or by a gentle caress, in cover of the darkness. Without the father knowing. There are never any power outages in Denmark, and yet everybody’s prepared themselves with candles in case it were to happen.

I thought to myself: “Now I get it,” and I asked a woman if she would marry me. She said no. I asked her whether she had a boyfriend. She said yes. But only on the weekends.

The world’s happiest people. I looked everywhere for happiness. In the airport, by traffic lights, at the job center, in the mail. I asked the Danes I love, why they call themselves the happiest. I hear such replies as ’values’, ’welfare’, ’liberty’, ’the system’ and ’the police’. I thought happiness would contagious, but perhaps they’re just different kinds of happiness. I’ve learned how to find happiness in the little things, in the morning. ’Have a nice day’, ’have fun’, ’smile’. It reminds me of when electricity failed in Damascus, when no one was watching you.

I ask a Danish woman whether she would like to have a cup of coffee. I’m surprised, when she picks up her calendar and asks: When? In three weeks, perhaps? That is the sound of a yes. My own calendar was like the weather app on my phone – I’d never used it before.

A dog with a passport

I’ve learned that the best time to meet the Danes, are when they’ve just returned home from vacation and haven’t started work yet. Happy, fresh and ready to talk to strangers. I’ve learned to remain silent when they’re back at work.

I was in Copenhagen at midnight and witnessed how a girl, drunk and half naked, wobbled through the city at night without being harassed or shouted abuse at. I hope she made it home safely. I know places, where even a covered woman can’t walk alone in the middle of the day.

I had an image of Denmark as a paradise of freedom and rights, liberated women, light and famous people.

I’ve learned that the Danes pay half their income in taxes. That they get up at 7 to make the train in time, and that they go to and from work without looking up at the sun. I’ve heard that old people can lie dead in bed for weeks, without anyone realizing that they’re dead. I’ve heard that there is a company that takes care of old people instead of the family. Again, Denmark is the opposite of Syria.

I have tried to make friends with my neighbors, but I haven’t been successful. We simply say ’hi’, ’good morning’ and ’good night’ to each other. I see them taking their dog for a walk every day. I talk to them about the dog. The dog has a passport. It has rights.

I have seen many homeless people in the streets of Copenhagen. I haven’t seen an animal not receiving care. Is it really true that last year, Denmark spend time making sex with animals illegal?

A lovely monarchy

The police asked me why I came to Denmark, and I said it was because the country was free and democratic. The officer smiled and said, that it was a lovely monarchy too. I thought of Saudi Arabia. I know the system. It ends up with someone cutting off your hand. I love and salute the Queen of Denmark.

And I hope that this article will be published. I know from experience, from when I was writing articles in my homeland, that a tribute to the leader of the nation is the key to keep your piece from getting discarded. Thus tradition has it in every monarchy. Forget that, and neither your article nor you will live to see the sun rise. I had better rewrite my will one more time, and then I will go out and fall in love with a Scandinavian woman.

TRANSLATION BY: Jarl Viktor Schultz