(Picture from: Gourmet Live Blog)
In 2004 when I first moved to Denmark to play American football, one of the biggest adjustments I had to make was adjusting to food shopping in Denmark. It was hard for me to fathom the idea that I could not shop at a grocery store past 7pm on weekdays, I could only shop for about 5 hours on Saturday and in most cases, I could not shop at all in a grocery store on Sunday. The gas stations, on the other hand, always offered a variety of grocery items for a slight markup. Bear in mind, I lived in Helsingør, a small town about 40,000 people an hour north of the capital of Copenhagen. I asked a teammate of mine, why were the markets so restricted in their business hours. He stated that the government wanted to make it fair for the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores to compete with the big chains. As a result, every store had to close at a certain hour, no matter how big the market chain was. I remember walking through the streets of downtown Helsingør at about 6pm and besides the pizza and kebab shops still open, the town felt and looked like a ghost town. Even 7-11 closed at a decent hour. Besides adjusting to the market hours, I had to adjust to the food portions in relation to the price. I remember after buying the ingredients (bread, meat, mustard) and opening the package up to make the sandwich, I felt like I got punk’d when I saw how many and how thin the slices were. It took the whole package of chicken breast to make enough of a sandwich as to where I would not have eaten just mustard and bread!
In U.S., on the other hand, there is ALWAYS a market open. If I feel the need to buy an iPod at 3 am, there will be a 24-hour chain of some sort open for me to make that purchase. If I need to go grocery shopping at the same time, usually there are several chains that would allow me to shop for groceries and an iPod at the same time if I so desired. How convenient!
Over the last 6 years of traveling and spending time in Northern Europe, I have seen a transition in the type of foods sold in markets and a transition in culture. More and more, the portion size of foods served in Denmark is getting larger. Likewise, food in restaurants is becoming more reasonable, thus, more people are eating out. The unfortunate result is families are not connecting and spending time at the dinner table as much, compared to what I experienced when I first lived in Denmark. In the U.S., Americans have long walked away from the traditional nightly dinner, where the family sits down and eats without distraction from technology or the television. It is a rarity for an American family to have consistent meals together at home. Also, with so many restaurants offering ‘can’t-pass-up’ deals at very low prices, it is easier for a parent to buy food, saving time and energy, rather than make food at home. Americans have long sold out their family values for what is easier and what is convenient.
Ironically, most of the world is following in the footsteps of the U.S. Even though the U.S. is on a conquest to control the world militarily, it has also continued to influence the cultural integrity of the entire world through cultural imperialism. Americans have long been fascinated with big cars, big houses, big consumption, winning at all costs, greed, gluttony, success, pushing the envelope in a variety of ways (ethically, morally and so on) the list goes on. When an artist, T.V. show, movie, or product is a hit in the U.S., you can be sure that the rest of the world is soon to have its own version of that artist, T.V. show, movie, or product. Likewise, if an artist, T.V. show, movie or product is a hit in a foreign market, the U.S. companies will make a bid for the rights. I find it funny how most of the world complain about U.S companies raping the natural resources of the nations, yet their citizens do nothing to protest their governments from preventing it. It seems that even most of the Middle East is beginning to switch and adopt the ideas and culture from the West. Hence, the recent clashes in the Middle East against the old regimes for the adoption of a government run by the people. Have these countries adopting American ways or an American idea of democracy really thought about the price tag? It is a matter of time before we see a Jamba Juice in Bagdad. How about a Cold Stone Creamery in Tehran or a Texas Road House BBQ in Oman?! If the world is ready to make the purchase of the U.S. culture, make sure the warning label is read first. WARNING: Adopting the ideology of this product could lead to a nation of expanded waistlines, white chocolate mochas, reality television, dumbed down education, pay-first or die health care and Wal-Mart.
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!