The Danes have curiously formed a stereotype that is true! People from all over the world think of blonde haired and blue eyed people who are a bit on the quiet side yet progressive and happy in their life. Though most of that is true, there are many other observances about the Danes that I have gotten from living in this country as a foreigner.
While attending my language class this week, we had a huge discussion about the Danes and their culture. Our perspectives as newcomers from Romania, Germany, Cameroon, Pakistan, India, Serbia, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, and other countries has been basically the same observances of the Danes.
Danes are private people and keep themselves closed off. You do not make friends in Denmark by just starting up a conversation with someone somewhere. The person you speak with has to be a friend of a friend before you are comfortable having a meaningful conversation with them. Simply put: the person sitting beside you on the bus/train will not speak with you and become friends.
Assignment: We had an assignment during class to go to the local mall and interview, 2 people. This was basically for us to practice our Danish with native speakers. We were to ask 5 very simple and quick questions to help us with conversational Danish.
Result: Not one Dane would stop to talk with any person in the class. Not one Dane was open enough to stop for 3 minutes to help others. The class was observed by my teacher and while he shook his head at every Dane that declined the short talk, he realized that he had asked too much of Danes who are private people. He turned to the class and said “Welcome to Denmark!” while chuckling. Needless to say, he was highly disappointed and later told us to try to talk with neighbors if we could and not to worry about talking with strangers.
The Danes also have curious ways of doing things that are similar to all other Danes. Strange to me how you can go from one house to another and all the dishes are washed with the same type of brush. All the dinners have some sort of sauce/gravy. All the lunches have bread.
The majority of the Danes will wear black. They will spend more time with their family than the typical American does. The Danes raise their children with an almost laid back attitude, allowing them to do things that as an American mother make me cringe. But this culture is one of personal responsibility, social responsibility, and a laid back contentedness and security about their lives while maintaining their privacy.
Americans have such diversity that every home you go to will be completely different. Life in the US is more stressful, more competitive, and much busier. Americans work more hours per week than the Danes, they spend less time with their families, and they are always pushing themselves and their children to get to the next level. Fast food takes over weeknight meals because of the lack of time between work, school, and activities. In Denmark, the families have dinner every night together as well as cooking their own food and eating out about 1/10 the time of Americans. The lack of diversity in life here, the slower pace, and the fact that people are living their own private lives leaves me a bit bored.
Mundane life, as in any life, is even more accentuated here in Denmark for me. I can attribute some of these feelings to my age and my situation. Seriously, how exciting can a life be at age 50, without a job and unable to completely communicate in the language of the country in which I live? But I still have ambition, I still have the capacity to learn, to adapt, and to find the uniqueness to every day.
So that brings me to the lack of drive I find here in Denmark. I would never say all Danes have a lack of drive. There are many people, who lack the desire to further their understanding of something or expand their skills. People who choose not to push themselves to the next level because “what I have is enough”. The government is great in helping those who need it in Denmark and is so much better in providing social programs than in the US. I see one huge difference, though. The Danes appreciate what they have in that moment. They appreciate their life, the government, and their jobs. As with any country, everyone has complaints about one thing or another. In Denmark, I have found fewer complaints about the systems, the social outreach, and the class divide than in the US. The class division is smaller, there is an understood personal responsibility code, and there is a level of recognition that everyone is in the same boat here.
Americans tend to be much more greedy, busy, and still unhappy with whatever the situation is. “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence” and “Keeping up with the Jones'” is how everyone lives in the US no matter what class you are in! I am not sure who motivates Americans to be that way. Sometimes I think the media pushes ideals of beauty, power, and money to make it look like it is what every American should want and need. Obviously, it is not every American, but it is a stereotype that the rest of the world has about Americans. I have discussed this in length with Danes and other new friends from all over the world, including many who have lived in the U.S.
Overall, I have found there are many similarities between the Danes and the Americans, but there are more differences than likenesses. I have quite a ways to go before I will be able to thoroughly understand the Danes’ thinking. For now, I am trying to enjoy the slower life while working on my Danish and enjoying my life with my “Great Dane”.