This blog was inspired by an article by Emily Arent “How to Piss off a Dane.” Arent’s assessment of the unspoken rule that everyone has the right not to be bothered in public was an experience that I had difficulty understanding or adjusting to. Coming from a care-free American liberal state such as California, where people normally say hi out of courtesy, it seemed rude to me for me not to ‘bother’ people in public by giving a friendly nod or polite hello. That was one of the additional cultural clashes I personally experienced. Nevertheless, having travelled and lived in Denmark off and on for a period of six years, I have experienced six additional tactics on how to get under a Dane’s skin:
Tactic #1 Ask Anybody in Authority to Do Anything
One of the most frustrating aspects about living in Denmark was getting anything significant or important accomplished, especially when it comes to dealing with government agencies. I found that one of three things happened (and sometimes all three happened at the same time): (1) there is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS an excuse why something cannot be done. (2) the person that you really need to talk to is on ferie (holiday). (3) you have to wait until they talk to everyone and see how they ‘feel’ about what you are asking. Not to mention the thousands of phone options and the same Tina Dickow music playing while you wait.
It seemed like the only method of communication that authority figures understand is if someone yells and curses at them. A perfect example is when I had to deal with the Danish immigration regarding my permit to stay in the country. Not only did I have to wait on the phone an ungodly amount of time, but the first several times I called, my paperwork was in the hands of a different person. And when I finally got the person, whom was to make a decision, they prompted me to call back a month later.
Everyone seems so busy when you walk into an office or bank, but it often makes me wonder what really goes on in the Danish professional environment or in politics. Just a heads up, if you walk into an office or bank and ask for something you really need, prepare for a frustrating sigh because you may have possibly disturbed someone’s facebook time!
Tactic #2 Showboat and Brag a Little
Talking about a clash of culture; the concept of ‘janteloven’ was and still is very difficult for me to grasp or come to terms with. There is another unwritten rule that suppresses individuals that are exceptional at anything, specifically, when it comes to sports. In other words, if you are really good at what you do, you are not allowed to “let your light shine” because it may make others “feel bad.” I knew an American football coach that actually celebrated when the opposing team scored a touchdown, therefore giving up his shut-out.
Coming from a culture in America where there is so much competition in every facet of American life (career, sports, dating, shopping, etc.) it forces people to be the best they can be and or to be more dynamic than the next person. This is something that is taught to American kids especially in American sports. In addition, Americans love colorful and sometimes boastful characters in athletics because they bring a level of entertainment to the sport. No one likes a loud-mouth, arrogant guy that cannot back up his talk, but people love to hate someone when they are exceptional at something and talks a little smack. In other words, there is nothing wrong with a little showboating, IF you have the skills.
I will say that Americans have their priorities at a disgusting level as they are willing to sell their own souls for a few moments of glory. In many instances, Americans have placed their values on winning being number one over being a decent human being. Americans cater to its amateur and professional athletes instead of the teachers, social workers, and public safety officials; those who impact the society for generations to come. I will tackle this issue in another blog.
Tactic #3 Use ‘KontantHjælp’ to Buy a Benz
In general, this tactic pisses anybody off. And it burns me as well to see people here in America that you know are living the backs of taxpaying citizens, just because they can. I do not pretend to know everyone’s situation but when you have a guy, in America, living off worker’s compensation for severely injuring his back, yet he plays in SEVERAL flag football leagues from Northern California to Las Vegas, something is definitely not right. Here in America, people are misjudged, stereotyped and are racially and socio-economically divided on this issue in a multitude of ways.
Now, when I say this, I say this as an observer and witness to what I have heard and seen in Denmark. When I lived in a certain town, I would constantly hear chatter and grumblings from the local Danes about how the ‘immigrants’ take money that is supposed to be used to help get someone back on ‘their feet’ but instead they buy luxury items like, expensive cars, and never seem to want to get on ‘their feet’ but feel comfortable living off the taxpaying citizens. Sounded very much like American in a lot of ways, but I am going to leave this comment as is!
Tactic #4 Talk American Politics
My first year living in Denmark, I went to a small party with one of my Danish friends. I met a young guy there that was very interested in talking American politics, once he discovered I was American. Personally, I am not into politics but that did not matter to him. He proceeded to tell me everything that was wrong with American foreign policy, American culture, American athletes, American food, and American schools. Even though I am not that patriotic, I asked him a simple question, “if you have all of these issues with America, why then is your country striving to imitate America in every single way?”
Most Danes that I have run into have an opinion about American politics, specifically, when it comes to America starting wars and the American military. I find it ironic, that a society that has its roots in conquering and pillaging has become so lax and non-confrontational. Nevertheless, I do not disagree with the way Danes in general view American politics as most Americans know themselves that their country is on life-support.
Tactic #5 Ask a Dane to Church
Nearly every baby born in Denmark gets ‘baptized’ into the Danish church and nearly every teenager (about 14 or 15) goes through a ‘confirmation’ in the Danish church. Besides, those two instances, Danes do not attend church nor are they remotely religious at all. Again, I find it ironic that the ‘Scandinavian Cross’ is on the Danish flag and about every third person that you meet has the name Christian, Kristan, Christensen or some variation of Christian in their name. Yet, no one remotely practices Christianity. Talking about religion is very taboo and most people are turned off by church because they claim that church is so boring. Also, most of the very people in Denmark that are baptized and confirmed in the Danish church do not even believe that God exist!
At least the Danes are true to their lifestyles. Most Americans that go to church and claim to be Christians but live their Sunday nights through Saturday nights like pagans.
Keep these tactics in mind when travelling to Denmark and getting to know the locals.
Jeg elsker dig!