Identity issues: being ‘real’ in Greenland

Pinocchio’s dream was to be a ‘real’ boy. And I love these thumbtacks! Source: Etsy

The danger of calling something ‘real’ is that you are potentially socially excluding something else. 

Am I a ‘real’ person?

There was a Chinese blogger based in Denmark who came to Greenland. In his blog called ‘En Kineser in Nuuk‘ (in Danish and Greenlandic), he said that there were only two Chinese in Greenland. By that I guess he meant ‘Chinese’ being a Chinese national. However, I know for a fact that there are at least two other people with Chinese heritage in Greenland. One of them being me.

Labels are annoying, but also help to give meaning and understanding to a situation – or a person! It kinda amused me that I wasn’t a part of this classification. It’s not that I expected to be considered Chinese; I don’t associate myself with China the country. I would consider myself somewhat Chinese in heritage and ethnicity however! In Greenland, I usually just say that I’m Australian and it’s taken for granted as fact. It’s refreshingly simple. Throughout this thought process I realised that no-one really questions what type of Australian I am around here. It’s a nice change, since the ‘White Australia’ image of the country is really strong. That’s due to colonisation and migration – the first Australians were black (and proud) after all. In Asia and even Australia, it’s also common for someone to ask ‘where are you from?’. When they ask someone like me that, they really mean “what makes you not white?’ This is a common question because of Australia’s wonderful diversity.

Who is a real Greenlander?

It has been positive experience to live in Greenland because no one questions who I am in that sense. Not that I mind getting asked it, but it’s just nice change that no-one does.

A Greenlander has many different looks – from being Asian-looking to being very Scandinavian-looking. Everything in the spectrum is possible, and that is the beauty of modern Greenland. They can be many different things, sometimes all at once. That’s probably why they don’t question my off-white skin. Perceptions of being ‘Greenlandic’ seem largely connected with how you look, what you do you in your spare time, what and how you eat, and which language you speak. However there’s different levels of being Greenlandic – for example you’re probably less Greenlandic if you don’t speak the language. Less ‘real’.

Now this is why I don’t like hearing the label ‘real’ used: saying that something is less real means that they are devaluing the person and their heritage. They are putting less worth on a person’s experiences because they do not live up to ideals that certain groups might put out there. The danger of calling something real is that you are potentially socially excluding something else.

The real Greenland

I’ve heard the term ‘real Greenland’ used quite often. Probably because I live in Nuuk, which is not reflective of the rest of Greenland. It’s so much bigger, there are so many more migrants, which means there are more external influences. It’s a unique and hybrid society. Sometimes people call Nuuk the ‘Danish city’. There’s also the phrase ‘Det er alt for Dansk’ (it’s way too Danish), which is hardly meant in a positive manner.

When talking about travelling or the tourism industry, many suggest going outside of main cities to get a more authentic understanding of the country. I completely and utterly support this. No matter where you go, cities will be different compared to going to the countryside. Perhaps then you will have that ‘authentic’ experience, because you’re experiencing different elements of the country.

Still, I pose a question – can’t there be many visions of reality? There’s real Greenland, and then there’s another ‘real’ Greenland. I think it is just polarising to call something ‘real’ and something ‘not real’. When people say ‘real Greenland’ they are putting hopes, images and wishes to an ideal, which doesn’t always encompass all realities. Nuuk as a city is just as real as the rest of Greenland, but you can feel the impact of globalisation more.

To say for example that any country which has been influenced by different cultures is one homogenous place is also just completely untrue…for example the United States is so many different things depending on where you go. So why can’t Greenland be that too? =D

13 thoughts on “Identity issues: being ‘real’ in Greenland

  1. There are parallels in Wales. Last century there were determined efforts to reduce Welsh speaking, and schools made children speak English. Now, there is a reaction: Welsh, a Celtic language, is an official language in the country, and jobs often have Welsh-speaking a desirable requirement in a candidate. Some say Cardiff, or Newport, are English cities. So there are tensions. But Cardiff, with a lot of development and the Senedd, or Assembly, is a confident place: Confidence reduces the tensions.

    • Hi Claire, thank you for your valuable comments. The trends seem to still fluctuate. Recently the state of Alaska just made many of the local languages official – so something now like 20 new official languages. It’s a push to remember what has been forgotten. Hopefully not too late.

      When you say confidence reduces tensions, what do you mean exactly? I don’t know whether being a confident city is perceived by the other regions as positive in Greenland, but from what little I know Nuuk is by character ‘confident but also a little wary’.

      ~Tanny

      • I was in Oldham when the racist “British National Party” won 6000 votes, slightly less than 10% of the population of the constituency. They inflamed and parasited on fear and resentment. Cardiff, by contrast, is bustling and outgoing, with less room for language problems. I think the development helps. There is a jocular word for Welsh-speakers from the North, “Gogs” (from Gogledd).

        May I ask you a favour. I have clicks on my blog from 150 countries and territories, including mainland China despite its internet restrictions. Would you visit it, so my pageview map showed Greenland coloured in as well? This small thing would please me excessively.

  2. For me, there is only one parameter that defines if you are a Greenlander and that is your self. If you in your mind don’t think that you are a Greenlander who will be able to explain you otherwise? I don’t care of the parameters people set like, language, culture, ethics, morale etc. No, theres is one and only one thing and that is you. What am I? I’m probably a Greenlander that does not fit into all these parameters, but I see my self as a 100% Greenlander no matter who says what. 🙂

    • Dear Kuno. It is so interesting that this discussion takes place in many different places all over the world. Some academics spend their entire career researching the ‘other’ and what it means to be considered ‘real’. In Australia, I think that anyone who has a connection with indigenous Australians (no matter what percentage) can consider and also classify themselves as indigenous Australian. So I agree, forget about the percentage, consider the person! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this blog. Best, Tanny

  3. “Real” is just another tribal division – a way of exaggerating differences between people so that their value is either trivialized or emphasized depending on what the person making the point needs. Ironically, if you were speaking on Greenland back in Sydney you might even be introduced as a “Real Greenlander” since you’ve actually lived there.

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