“New kids on the block need to work hard for acceptance. In Greenland, even though they let you eat cake, they make you sweat before they embrace you with open arms. Then they give you deodorant, and more cake.”
That was a totally weird conversation I had the other day. We were talking about kaffemiks and running (two things Greenlanders seem obsessed with) and somehow the two subjects intermingled. Yet in a way, the analogy makes sense. Not too long ago I wrote a post about the concept of feeling at home in another country and whether that was possible. If you’re based in Greenland, it’s worth asking a flip question: when will locals will accept you as ‘living here’?
Many people on the ground will agree that one of the first things that people ask in Greenland is ‘how long are you here for?’. Your answer will determine whether you are worth investing in as a friend.
Due to the history and the immense mass transit of people between Denmark and Greenland, it seems that Greenlanders expect everyone to be in the country for a limited amount of time. It’s easy to see why: lots of people fly in for ‘research’ or holiday. Many imported workers and professionals are here on contracts. The nurses and doctors might be here for two months, while government officials and teachers may stay for a couple of years. Eventually, so many people leave. This makes many ‘longer-term’ residents (including non-Greenlanders) become more selective in who they become friends with.
Even I who have been here just five months have come across this scenario. A few friends I made have already left, and more will be leaving soon. So I understand their point.
I wonder if Greenlanders consider this a criteria for making friends among themselves too, since they as a nation are a very mobile society. At a recent lecture for visiting students from Dartmouth University, Klaus Georg Hansen, leader of the Ilimmarfik Institute (part of the University of Greenland, Ilisimatusarfik) talked about a study which mapped 10 years of internal movement from 1996 to 2006. Impressively, a whopping twenty per cent of Greenlandic citizens moved around within the country. The studies discovered that people were moving away from South Greenland, and unsurprisingly more were moving towards the capital, Nuuk. The main reasons were education and professional opportunity.
The point is, people move a lot but so do Greenlanders.
So is it easy to make friends here in Nuuk? I would say no and yes.
‘No’ because one dinner a friend mentioned that Greenlanders used a sort-of golden rule to assess if they should befriend you or not. If you passed the two-year mark living in Greenland, it was likely that you were here to stay and it would be worth investing the effort.
‘Yes’, because there are so many open-minded and friendly people from different walks of life and backgrounds. In that sense, it’s an easy enough place to make friends. However, if you want to make friends with longer-term residents, you probably have to try harder, or at least think more creatively about how to connect with them. Get interested in what they are interested in and do what they do.
Well, considering I’ve only been here 5 months, I have to work out more and sweat it out… but that also means I get to eat more cake. Bring on the deodorant!
- Expats and migrants: at what point is life here home? (thefourthcontinent.com)
- The relationship with/to Denmark and Danes in Greenland (Mikkel’s blog)