Through the path of being a journalist and TV host, Abdel Aziz Mahmoud has become the storyteller that he always wanted to be. Today, he is the author of the book “You Speak Danish So Well”. New Times met the popular host – with a refugee background – for talk about integration in Denmark.
By Marion Chen
Abdel Aziz Mahmoud’s book “You Speak Danish So Well” humorously shows how his family got through all the cultural differences and misunderstandings in Denmark, and how much hard work he has done to come so far as a successful immigrant with a refugee background. In a strong way, the book delivers the message that friends, neighbours and colleagues are those who help refugees to integrate into the Danish society – not politicians.
Trying To Be Danish
Abdel was born in Abu Dhabi in the Arabic Emirates, to where his parents fled because of the civil war in Lebanon. His father has a high educational background, but when they came his mother did not have any educational background. They came to Denmark for political reasons.
Growing up, Abdel wanted to be a Dane: Looking at things in the same way, doing the same stuff and having the same traditions. He did everything he could to get there, and was mad about having to do all of these things to become a Dane.
He started as an intern in 2004 at the American Channel ABC, and in 2006 he became host of a youth program at Danish DR1. In 2007, he was the host of P3 news at DR Update. In 2010, he showed up as the host of the consumer program Basta at TV2. Soon in 2011, he became the host of the evening show. In 2013, he was the editorial director at DR, and in 2014, he was the development editor at Nordisk Film TV.
Finally he got there, and became a journalist and TV host in Nordisk Film TV, a channel usually only Danish people can be seen. He felt proud.
Why Writing The Book
Last year, when all of a sudden, people started talking and kept talking about the refugees coming to Denmark and of Muslims, Abdel began to feel like he would never be a Dane, despite his hard work.
Ever since the terror attack in Copenhagen last year, Abdel had wanted to write a book. Not because he wanted to stand out or be a voice in the refugee debate. He wanted to do something to improve the peace of the society.
The funny thing about our story is that it just happened. We didn’t think about it, and our neighbours didn’t think about it. It just happened
Living In Both Cultures
Abdel believes that when many people come to Denmark, for example Arabic people, they are stuck because it is difficult for them to choose between Danish and Arabic things. They are afraid of doing Danish stuff like celebrating Christmas Eve, because they are not Christians, or of going to Danish parties, or simply eating Danish food at work – in other words, they are afraid to become Danish.
Abdel and his family did both: They were Arabic when they were home, and Danish when amongst Danes. Abdel speaks perfect Danish, as well as Arabic. He jokes and says that he believes his Danish is even better than half of the Danes. To him, it’s possible to combine the Danish culture and the Arab culture.
Abdel explains how one time, his mother made Falafel to her neighbour, and how his mother in turn tried to eat Danish food. On how he and his family were integrated in the Danish society, Abdel laughs and says: “The funny thing about our story is that it just happened. We didn’t think about it, and our neighbours didn’t think about it. It just happened.”
if someone does not want sit next to you on the bus, maybe it has nothing to do with racism – maybe they just prefer to stand up
Be Generous Be Patient
Abdel has a very positive character. To him, integration is about being patient: “Be generous, be patient, and work for it,” says Abdel as a proposal to asylum seekers and refugees, who are coming today. He says, that it will be very difficult, because there will be many differences in culture, religion, and how people look at things – these are the same things as when Abdel started.
But to him, it’s about finding the strength in the differences. When he became a TV host, he knew that he actually didn’t look like anyone else, but he used that as an advantage: Abdel did not care if he did not look Danish when looking for a job. He told the employers that he had an extra language and could get some stories that others could not.
When he found obstacles, he didn’t immediately think that it was something bad. He simply thought like this: if someone does not want sit next to you on the bus, maybe it has nothing to do with racism – maybe they just prefer to stand up. If you cannot get a job, maybe it’s because someone better took it, and not because you have a different name. If your neighbour doesn’t want to drink coffee with you, maybe they just had a bad day – just try somebody else.
“If you work for it, if you show that you want to be part of this country, they will want to let you in. But you have to convince them,” says Abdel. “People here are sceptic, because they have heard of so many bad things that show something different. But they want to love you.”
Abdel knows that it seems unfair that people, who have fled from somewhere, who have experienced so many bad things and finally arrived in a safe and peaceful place, still need to prove themselves. “But I am sorry, that is how it is,” says Abdel. “This country has taken so many people in, so they want to see that you are doing good things. When they see that, they will give you a chance.”
You should always remember that there is this movement called Venligboerne, who are like a hundred and fifty thousand people
It Just Happened
Abdel says no to politicians in integration. ”Politicians, they are very strict, they think in boxes. But the thing is, when I talk to my neighbours, they all said that it just happened.” In Abdel’s view, integration is something that just happens; when you borrow something from your neighbours, when the local people teach you something, and you teach the local people something as well. Integration relates to both parties, but is something that just happens by itself.
Abdel came from an Arabic country, and there when people move to a new place, neighbours would just come and knock on the newcomer’s door immediately, inviting them over, or just coming by without notice.
”Here in Denmark,” Abdel says, “people set up times to meet people in their calendar, and in that precise time only. They hate people who are late. It is not a big thing in Arab countries, people come when they come; but it is a very big thing here in Denmark. It’s very rude to be late. So that is a hard thing for both parties to adjust to. The Danes have to be patient, and the newcomers, especially those from Arabic Muslim countries, they have to step it up, to be more precise. It requires something from both, Danish people and refugees.”
Abdel believes that politicians should stay out of the integration. “I don’t think this is a political issue – it is a human issue,” he says. Abdel doesn’t believe that it is true at all that Danes are becoming more racist or more hostile towards refugees. To him it is the mood and the tone on the refugee crisis from the social media that people are afraid of.
“But you should always remember that there is this movement called Venligboerne, who are like a hundred and fifty thousand people,” says Abdel. “They are doing everything they can to help refugees to get a good start here. A hundred and fifty thousand people is like three times as many as the biggest party in Denmark.”
Abdel has a good job and doesn’t need the extra money from the book. “But I want to tell the story,” he says. “That is more important than selling the book.”