Every time I think I've seen it all with regard to Danish excuses, this place surprises me. Today's excuse is tzaraath.
But first, let me recap the critical path for taking up residence in Denmark. This assumes you already have a residence and work permit.
- Get a CPR (Central Persons Registry) number. You will need to show the authorities the signed lease from the apartment you have already rented.
- Get a phone, and a SIM card. If you mail-order the SIM card, as I did, then you must be able to receive mail.
- Get a bank account. You must already have a CPR number and a phone, and be able to receive mail at your permanent address.
- Get a NemID. You apply for this when you get the bank account, and it's mailed to your permanent address.
- Get a NemKonto. This is actually just a box you tick off on the form ("yes I want this account to be my NemKonto") when you open your bank account, so it's not difficult in itself.
- Find an apartment. Sorry, you can't, there are none.
- Receive your Danish salary. This requires that you have a bank account.
- Have enough money in your Danish bank account to pay the deposit on an apartment (which is three months' worth of rent), the first month's rent, and a little extra for utilities (which are usually not included in rent, because Danish law requires your landlord to give you an itemized bill for them). These things are normally only payable by transferring money from a Danish bank account. The going rate for a one-bedroom apartment in Copenhagen is about 10.000,- (equivalent to CAD $2000) per month, but you cannot actually have one at that price because everybody else is ahead of you on the waiting list. If you can pay a little more, your chances are a better. In my case I was looking at paying about 12.000,-, so the up-front money comes to just under 50.000,-, which is almost two months' worth of my take-home salary after paying Danish income taxes - meaning that if that were my only source of funds, I couldn't sign a lease until after the end of my second month here (i.e. Samhain), even if I spent none of my salary before then.
- You need the NemID to log into the bank's Web site to make the transfer to pay your rental deposit.
- You must have your name written on the door or else the post office won't deliver your mail.
- Congratulations! You have signed a lease, and are now elegible to apply for a CPR number!
One should not require a PhD in computer science to spot the bug in the above program.
I managed to break the worst dependency loop by booking two months - which, when I was sitting in Winnipeg, I thought was a long time - in an extended-stay hotel that the CPR number authorities were grudgingly willing to accept as a "permanent" address, so I could live there while looking for an apartment. Unfortunately, the post office apparently did not accept it as a permanent address. Important documents were mailed to me care of the hotel, and most but not all of them reached me, the others returned to sender with the message "not at this address." That, really, was the biggest disaster. Not having the NemID for banking held up my having any meaningful access to the salary that was being deposited in my NemKonto, and not having that money in turn held up my ability to even start looking for an apartment. Maybe I should have been better on the ball, but I also didn't learn about the three months' rent deposit requirement until I did start seriously looking for an apartment, which was in the second week of October because of the other delays.
As I mentioned last time, when I went to pay for my second month at the boarding house they warned me I could stay at most two weeks beyond that.
At the end of last episode I said I was going to the bank to complain about the mail I didn't get; what they told me when I did was that they would order another NemID and bank card (each with a PIN sent under separate cover) to be sent to me, but they could offer no guarantee that the post office would really deliver these ones, and they had nothing sensible to say about what I was supposed to do if there were further delivery problems.
On that particular trip to the bank, a toddler vomited all over the floor in front of the take-a-number machine just as I arrived. Friend spoke my mind, as the Quakers say.
But the next day, we had a visit at work from the "green Borgerservice bicycle" - that is the two-person travelling show that the local government sends around to workplaces like mine that employ a lot of people with problems like mine. And they were really helpful, probably the most efficient Danish bureaucrats I have met so far, not that that is saying much. They were able to give me a NemID right then and there, electronically cancelling the one that was supposedly in the mail.
That got me the ability to log onto the bank's Web site and see the numbers showing what I thought was plenty of money in my account to support an apartment search. So I started looking at rental listings, which was when I learned about the three-month deposit custom.
My office-mate defended his dissertation (congratulations, Ninh!), and one of the audience members told me during the after-party that the big apartment building where he himself lived, five minutes' walk from the university, had lots of vacancies at 6.000,- per month, and I could probably get an apartment there on short notice if I showed up at the building's office in person, first thing the next morning, and asked to be put on the waiting list.
So I went to the building first thing the next morning, looked for the office, found an office, and the people there told me "We have nothing with the waiting list to do. Call this number you must."
After some messing around with the phone I found the Web site of the housing co-op and was able to get straighter answers from the robots than I'd been able to get from the human beings, even though it was all in Danish. And I managed to get put on the waiting list. With 97 people ahead of me, and (if I properly understood the information I was given) preference to be given to families with children, low-income persons, and senior citizens, none of which categories I belong to. I get some points for having a job in the area, but I'm not holding my breath to reach the top of that waiting list soon.
You may have noticed the discrepancy between the price of the co-op and the other rental prices I have mentioned. I think part of that is because they're going to tear down the building in a year and a half, and so they are in the process of moving out their long-term tenants (whom they are contractually obligated to help re-house) and they're looking for people who will sign very short-term contracts to fill up the remaining time. I also think it's not luxury housing by any stretch. But none of that matters: the bottom line is that with a long waiting list ahead of me I can't realistically expect it to solve my immediate problem of where to live after mid-November, and solving my immediate problem is what matters.
I won't get my second pay cheque until the end of October, and the deposit on an apartment will be bigger than one pay cheque. So I needed to obtain some significant amount of money other than from my Danish salary. I had that much money in Canadian investment accounts, but there was the question of how to get it into my Danish account.
The sensible thing would be to do a wire transfer, but wire transfers in Canada are an unusual bank service that ordinary people never use, and you can't initiate them through Internet banking. To initiate a wire transfer from a Canadian chequing account, you have to go in person to a bank branch in Canada. I thought for a while that I could do something called an "Interac email transfer," which can be done over the Net and is only good between two Canadian accounts. I'd send money from my Canadian account to a family member's account in Canada, and ask them to go in person to their bank and send a wire transfer to my Danish account. I wanted, if possible, to deal as much as possible with computers instead of human beings, and with Canadians instead of Danes, both those things to reduce the number of chances for unpredictable bureaucratic impediments.
But Interac email transfers, it turns out, have very low limits on the maximum amount of money you can send within a short time. It would take me at least a week to move $6000, the amount I figured I needed, by that mechanism without exceeding the limits; and I couldn't afford to wait a week. I'm sure that both the limits on Interac transfers and the inaccessibility of bank wires are side effects of the Wars on Drugs and Terrorism: the powers that be don't want you to be able to transfer money easily. Maybe the bank note printer's union also has a hand in wanting to force everybody to use cash for drug deals.
I toyed with attempting to courier a cheque back to Canada, but it would take days to clear even after it arrived. (I was solidly decided that even at great inconvenience I didn't want my family to be financially exposed on money of mine that had not yet cleared; there are reasons for that which I won't go into in this public place.) My next idea was to take my Canadian Mastercard into the Nordea branch and ask for an advance on it directly deposited to my Danish bank account. I figured they should be able to do that because they offer Mastercards of their own, so they're part of the network. I could then pay off my Mastercard bill immediately by Internet banking, and so pay almost no interest on the loan, and it would be a lot faster than the other methods I had been considering.I went to the Danish bank - by this time it was Friday the 10th - and I said I wanted to take out an advance on my Canadian Mastercard and have it go directly into my Danish account.
"But why don't you just do a wire transfer?"
So I had to explain all the above. And the Danish banker told me that the only way to do it would be to take out the transfer using their machine, as physical cash, and deposit that. And there was a limit of 15.000,- per day ($3000) that the cash machine would dispense in credit card advances. And doing the cash deposit, bearing in mind I hadn't yet received my Danish bank card in the mail, would mean going to two separate tellers, one to check my ID and write a deposit slip, and the other to actually take the cash. But other than that stuff, they could do it. So I executed the first chunk of the transaction that day (only 10.000,-, because that was what the limit turned out to really be) and I planned to get another 18.000,- cash in two steps over the weekend and deposit it on Monday.
On Monday the 13th I dealt with a different banker (NB: Danish bankers are all either senior citizens, or hot young people of both sexes) who was rather less sympathetic and quizzed me narrowly about why and from where I had 18.000,- cash, especially without a Danish bank card. And, of course, "But why don't you just do a wire transfer?" So I had to go back through all of that again.
They did finally accept the cash.
I spent some time on the rental classified ad Web sites, and was not thrilled with the selection. I'd hoped to find something for under 10.000,-, and indeed, I could rent a very nice three-bedroom cottage in the back woods for that; but as for an apartment in the city, forget it. I found one advertised one-bedroom apartment still available for rent, basically the only one suiting my requirements on the English-language rental Web site, for 12.500,-.
Well, that's more than I'd really like to pay. It had some other ways in which it was not perfect, too, the biggest being that it wouldn't be available until December 1. If I rented that, I would probably have to leave the Livjæger Pension by November 15 and spend a couple weeks in some other hotel before I could move into my apartment. And that'd also mean somehow arranging for the movers to store my possessions shipped from Canada for an additional month beyond the 30 days I'd contracted for (which I think expire on October 29).
On the other hand, it was in a really good location, walking distance (about a mile) from my workplace. That's worth some money in saved train fare as well as the comfort and convenience. It was also furnished, and that's worth some money. And it appeared to be a place I could for real rent. Not "oh, if you go to the office that I only vaguely describe, they can put you on the waiting list but don't worry it's really short" or any such nonsense. So I called the management company and arranged an appointment to view it.
The appointment was this morning, first thing. I viewed the apartment and it certainly wasn't perfect, but it was good enough, and as I've said before, having this off my to-do list is worth a lot because the apartment search is basically blocking everything else in my life. So I said I'd like to rent it, and signed an application form. The agent told me that doing this gave me priority; they wouldn't show it to anyone else until my application had been decided, and barring unforeseen incident, the deal was made.
And that's when things started to get weird.
About an hour afterward I got a phone call (on my cell phone, which you've heard about; the defective one is as far as I know still off on warranty repair) from the agent who had shown me the place. He said, with profuse apologies, that upon checking the records back at the office, he'd discovered that the apartment I had seen had mouldy walls in the living room, and they couldn't rent it until that was resolved. He and I had both seen the walls in the living room recently and we had not seen any mould there, so the whole thing seemed sort of fictive or supernatural, but nonetheless, the records said it was there and something had to be done - it was not clear what would be done - and this was an issue that would block the deal we had signed.
Note that it's six weeks from now to the move-in date that had been planned. That should allow time for quite a bit of mould remediation, but Denmark has surprised me before with the time required to accomplish things.
Chapters 13 and 14 of the book of Leviticus describe how the God of the Hebrews used to smite his chosen people, usually as punishment for gossiping, with a thing called tzaraath, which is a sort of supernatural disease that might afflict human beings, clothing, or houses. "The tzaraath of houses" looks like mould growing on the wall, but it isn't, it's a spiritual condition. If your house is smitten with the tzaarath of houses, you have to remove all your belongings, wait seven days to see if it goes away, and then if it doesn't, undergo various purification rituals which may go as far as disassembling and rebuilding the whole house.
The agent said he would contact the landlord, but it couldn't happen very soon because the landlord was recently married and on honeymoon. This is - because of course it is, what did you expect? - a matter specifically covered by Jewish religious law. Mishnah Nega'im chapter 3 paragraph 2 says that if the landlord is on honeymoon, he doesn't have to deal with tzaraath until he comes back. As far as I know nobody involved here is actually Jewish, and you have got to be, to be subject to tzaraath in the first place; and there are a whole bunch of technical requirements that must also apply before something is halakhically classified as tzaraath and not ordinary mould, so the true tzaraath is basically never seen nowadays and I can't really be serious about claiming that I was literally inconvenienced by a Biblical plague, now can I? But I do have a spiritual point to make a few paragraphs from now, and that's why I'm introducing this stuff.
The agent said that he had another apartment that had just now been listed, it wasn't even posted on the Web yet, and it was in the same area, with very similar features, rent slightly lower 12.000,-, and I could view it this afternoon. But... they had already shown it to two people, with whom I might have to compete. Well, I did the only thing I could do: I said I'd go look at that one, too. And started a "Days since last Biblical plague" counter on my office whiteboard.
I showed up at the second apartment, somewhat early because I'd overestimated how long it would take to walk there from work. Seven minutes, it turned out. It's like right next door to the University. The apartment was a crowded place, almost a party atmosphere. There were the owner; me and the agent showing it to me; another agent from the same agency showing it to her client; and a couple more people hanging around, role unknown. One young man had the most impressive hat I have seen on a Dane.
This apartment was nicer than the other one. Better location, newer condition, unsmitten by the Wrath of God, dishwasher included, slightly lower price, and - the important part - this one would be available November 1. Maybe even a couple days before November 1, that is, soon enough my deal with the movers wouldn't have expired. So I filled out the application form for that one as well. I was told the two people who had already viewed it had not done so; so although they still might, I had at least some amount of leverage because of priority.
I got a phone call later in the afternoon telling me that the company had (unbeknownst to the agents I had seen at the second apartment) also made viewing appointments for two more people. So the company was now obligated to let those people see it, too, and allow them to fill out the application form too, if they wanted. And then the owner would get to decide among as many applications as she had. This is the part where, as I mentioned before, it appears that owners can and do decide on the basis of racial and sexual profiling, and whether they like your appearance, notwithstanding that such discrimination is against the law.
So now I have applications in on two places, with some obstacles between me and either of them. I've been told I can expect some sort of answer by the end of the week; and that it's understood, because none of this was my fault, that I remain free to rent somewhere else and back out of these deals, if I can find another place and I want to - although in such a case I ought to please tell them as soon as possible because of the other people waiting on the deals. I don't know if I'm going to get an apartment from either of these deals or not, but things at least look good enough that I don't feel I need to rush out and make more viewing appointments elsewhere for at least a couple days.
Just knowing that I have a good excuse not to make any more phone calls for a few days makes me feel a great deal better than I have for a while. Cold-calling people who owe me nothing, to ask them for things much more important to me than to them, is one of my least favourite activities ever. The way to my heart, if anyone cares, is to relieve me of responsibilities of that nature.
And now here's the thing.
The medieval French commentator Rabbi Schlomo Yitschaki ("Rashi") took a very interesting, somewhat nonstandard, view of the entire tzaraath of houses business. I found this fascinating when I first read about it, years ago, and now it's personal. It doesn't matter whether Rashi was right as a matter of halakha. The underlying idea is grand, daring, and important, even to us uncircumcised pagans.
Rashi said the tzaraath of houses is not a punishment. He claimed - and, again, it doesn't matter if he was right on this point as a matter of history or not - that the Jews described in Leviticus lived in houses they had seized from the Canaanites, who used to hide valuables in the walls. The tzaraath of houses forced the Jews to disassemble their walls and find those things. If the Lord smites you with the tzaraath, it's because He wants you to discover hidden treasure!
Or, just maybe, to end up renting a better apartment that you wouldn't have seen otherwise.