In the last couple of years people have begun, and increasingly so, to ask questions concerning my nationality. First impression is Danish, but then there is the foreign sounding surname. The fact is; I was born in Denmark, and I have lived here most of my life, I attended the educational system from public school to university, and if you could look into my heart, it is thoroughly rooted in the Danish soil and in the Nordic culture and way of life. Nevertheless, my passport is Dutch.

I must take you 44 years back in time to explain this. In 1971, when I was born, the Danish legislation still held that a child born from a married couple automatically gained its citizenship from the father, even if the mother was Danish and the father a second nationality. Years passed, and the laws changed, and I can see that I should have received an offer of naturalization just before my 18th birthday. It was a period of my life, where I roamed around in Europe, and moreover where I ignored all inquiries from public authorities; so most likely I had a letter, which I never opened, and therefore I remained happily ignorant; a Dutchwoman.

I must admit, that I did not dwell on what my Dutch citizenship meant at the time. It was at best ambiguous, occasionally I used it to keep Danish society at arm’s length, and to withdraw myself when I felt as a stranger in it, simply by concluding “Well, I am not a real Dane”. At other times, it was indispensable, because it felt like a tie to another world and to my grandmother, who I loved. [When I now and again showed up on her doorstep, she always seemed to have an apple pie from Albert Heijn in the fridge, to share, and an inexhaustible teapot from which we would drink for days]

The next time I look up many years has passed. My daughter is a grownup and Danish, and I am about to get a renewal of my passport and think, that maybe I should just look into the thing about citizenship. I do, and it seems that I was born within a gap in the legislation. I am among a group of persons who do not automatically have the right to the Danish citizenship, even if they are born in Denmark, have a Danish parent and furthermore have lived, studied and worked most of their lives here. The message was, you have to apply through the regular channels and take the ‘national-test’ – a test that at the time contained 37 questions, and my correct replies would then determine whether I could come into consideration as a Dane or not (granted all other formalities checked out okay). I got interested and wrote to the Justice Department, if that really could be the case. It could. I shrugged it off, and did not pursue it any further. I was busy at work, busy with a thousand different things, and what did it really matter. I was a Dane at heart and a European in outlook. That was sufficient.

Then the questions and sometimes jabs began to arise. I suddenly became self-conscious to the point of embarrassment, because even though I understand and read Dutch adequately, it is only my fourth best-spoken language and my accent, you can cut through it, it is so thick. Beyond the days with my grandmother and other family visits, I have never really used the language. I have an all-round knowledge of the society and its history, but not an intimate one. I never cease to be surprised when I visit down there – how strange they are all those Dutch people :). So drawing lines, maybe I do not deserve my Dutch citizenship – I really doubt that I could pass their national test – if they had one, without some intense preparation. On the other hand, maybe I do not deserve my Danish citizenship either after having ignored it for so long, half a life without ever acknowledging my country. Maybe I am stateless.

Of course, no one said anything as bluntly as the above, but in recent years I have met a latent amazement, a skepticism laced with contempt, when my situation was a topic of conversation. This is too weird. Fly the flag! I have never felt or heard anything like it before, and it has led to a nagging doubt in relation to my earlier priorities, was I too carefree, was my citizenship always something that I needed to prove, instead of just a formality compared to the endlessly more complicated ’I am’ that every person needs to relate to. I have begun to apologize almost automatically, that I do not have a Danish citizenship or that I still have my Dutch one, and that makes me angry, because when did that particular technicality – whether or not you have a piece of paper proving that you are Danish or Dutch or German – or Greek begin to matter this much again. Are we not also European?

The second I tried to engage in that thought my considerations were replaced by a much more diffuse image: it is a late and very hot autumn night. I am not exactly lost, I know where I am, but I am standing in the outskirts of Barcelona near a junction, where all the freeways merge and lead to other places in the country, I am hitchhiking and I cannot find the right exit north. It is a dangerous hour and a stupid situation. I leave yet another wrong exit and walk towards a populated area nearby, towards a place with a lot of light. Someone has placed benches behind an old abandoned factory building, the whole area is lit with spotlights and there is a petanque playing area. It is a little raw, makeshift and from a temporary view potentially urbane and charming. I place myself on a bench to gather energy for another recognizance. It sucks! Two benches away there is a party of eight persons, elderly people, engaged in a game. One of the women catches my eye and walks over when I reciprocate her smile. She asks me something in Catalonian; I can hear there is an altogether different sound to her language than the Spanish. I can only answer in snippets of French and sign language. Before long I am surrounded, and I get water, a glass of red wine, and – what I only years later learned was ‘tapas’ – good bread, olives, cheese, chorizo, ham. The party gesticulates; arms are thrown in the air and several persons are shaking their heads, I am eating, in between, the small woman asks more questions, which I have a hard time answering, and we laugh and shake our heads because of me, because of each other. At one point I can hear that the party reach consensus, the little lady nods and points towards the freeway, she wants to show me on my way. Her party are smiling and shaking my hands for goodbye, they are also still shaking their heads, frustrated, apologetic, I stave it off, and then we walk. She takes my hand, and even though we are walking for almost an hour, she does not let go of it, but talks to me mostly uninterrupted in a voice that falls and rises, almost like a good luck chant. Occasionally she stops and pads me on the arm and on the hand, before she begins her singsong talk again. I think, that the party in the end decided that if this strange, very young, very tall (and very hungry) Nordic bird could find its way all down to their petanque playing area, it would probably, with a little help, be able to find its way home again – but she was worried. I do not have a moments doubt, that even if she had only known me for a couple of hours, I was now hers in some way, and she would follow me and my journey home in her thoughts. At last, we reached an exit and said our goodbyes. I do not remember what I said to her, but my chest swelled with gratitude. Gràcies. A long way home yet with many detours, but towards north.

A recollection of a very short meeting, nevertheless the sound of her voice and the feel of her hand in mine reverberate all the way to my presence as one of the essential human threads that made me feel sympathetic beyond the borders of my country. How does that relate to my nationality? Because I want room for all of them, the little Catalonian woman and her party, my Frisian grandmother, my Dutch family, my German boarding school comrades, the young Greek Fiske and I meet on Interrail, who had never meet anyone else who liked Led Zeppelin before and many, many others whom I have meet and cared for through the years. WHAT IS THIS? Do I have to renounce them and my connection to them, when I swear my fealty to Denmark? – just a little bit?

And that is it; ideally, I would want a European passport, where it says that I am a Dane, not to give up any kind of sovereignty, but to stress a union and obligate myself to it. I am a Dane at heart, but I have not yet decided, what I want to do with my citizenship and above all how that connects to my identity. Moreover, why it is so very important that I fly the flag right now. I can only conclude that it suddenly is very important, to others and to me, that I make up my mind about it.

This post was written by Rikke Kooistra, Amager, Copenhagen, Sealand, Denmark, Scandinavia, Europe, Earth… – ehm Earth, the Earth!

And that is it; ideally, I would want a world passport, where it says that I am a Dane, not to give up any kind of sovereignty, but to stress a union and obligate myself to it…


  1. Hi Rikke, Rie and the rest of the Kooi Ink team,

    First of all, I really like the Looi Ink website and I’m happy with the e-mails I get.
    A week ago I’ve read your post about nationality and citizenship. It kept me thinking.

    As a Dutch-born with typical Dutch parents I don’t feel Dutch. And more important I don’t feel I am connected with any country. Five years ago I became familiar with the hacking scene and found out that a lot of those communities are not border bound. It is not about country, color or religion, but about being. We are all humans on our planet. All with our own cultures which are treasures on its own.

    For people who are adopted, have double nationalities or any other construction, being part of not one country can be confusing. So maybe a passport with nationality “planet Earth” is a solution and perhaps some day could be handy.

    A guy I know has recently placed a blog about Estonia which is using a worldwide ID system to use in their country. So every one can ask for such card, and identify yourself to the Estonian government. Maybe a small step towards global passports.
    (link: https://www.danrl.de/posts/becoming-an-e-estonian.html)

    Keep up the writing.

    Greetings Jeroen
    (from the Glyptotek group)

    p.s.1 By the way, while writing this I’m listening to “Moby Dick” and “Whole lotta love”. I often listen to Led Zeppelin, So at least three people on planet earth still listen that music.

    p.s.2 While typing this comment (which is a bit large I agree) the “Post Comment” button dissapeared. It’s because the website has an with an static height of 430px. Perhaps it is possible to inherit the height from the text input field, and thereby grows with the amount of text typed in.

    1. Thanks!

      It is confusing to belong to different countries or cultures, and I do not think that very many people have it in them to successfully uproot and plant themselves elsewhere when they have passed a certain age, not to mention learning a new language with all its hidden connotations. Most people really are more ‘home guard’ than ‘pioneers’, but perhaps intellectually you can still feel connected as citizens of the world, it is a hope I cling to in these troubled times.

      I like long replies :).

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