Yesterday Denmark held elections and voted into office a bunch more ultra conservatives from their right-wing, borderline-fascistic Danish People's Party (Dansk Folkeparti)
Racism in Denmark has grown since that party was formed and has continued since. But, with the increasingly conservative movement in this small country, many Danes opposed are embarrassed about world opinion by these election results. I don't suppose I will hear much from those who voted for the "Denmark for the Danes" conservative values.
I see a giant chasm between the incomprehensible American stereotypes of life in Denmark versus the reality here. I think this comes from a wish for easy fixes to the screwed up American system. People read statistics that conflict with US equivalents and mouth off on injustice located within those differences: "Denmark has a $30/hr. minimum wage and we don't!" or "Iceland harvests heat and has free hot water for all!" (There is no minimum wage here and taxes in DK start at 40% and go up from there; while Iceland sits atop volcanoes so heating water isn't a problem... in fact many tourists get scalded each year because they don't understand what "Hot Water" means in Icelandic terms.)
Many of my friends here are great and certainly are friendly, but I do not see the Danish as a happy people. I see them as perfectly fine folks with as many problems as any first world country: good and bad problems, and plenty of contradictions and their associated opposing ideas on how to best fix them.
I think that according to many in the US, Denmark is a small country up above Canada (or maybe England), filled with happy little people who long ago wore horned hats and attacked others as Vikings after eating special mushrooms that turned them into blood thirsty lunatics. I'm not here to give a history lesson, but rather share opinions about current events and my recent conversations about (mis)perception and (mis)interpretation across the cultural rift. I've recently had an interesting encounter with someone about the happy Danes here in Denmark. When I expressed that my personal experience talking with Danish people as to how happy they are at their jobs conflicts with the state statistics, I was met with a certain amount of incredulity. To paraphrase the conversation, it went like this:
Other Person: But the unhappy ones are the immigrants doing the bad jobs.
Me: But aren't they also considered as part of the workforce?
OP: Yes, but they aren't Danes.
Me: I've also heard from Danes about unhappiness at work.
OP: But they aren't the ones making good money at good jobs, are they?
Me: No, because people making good money in an expensive country might not have as much reason to struggle.
OP: So who are they?
Me: The "blue collar" workers who do most of the regular jobs and still have all the expenses and high taxes, some of whom are single parents struggling hard to make ends meet.
After a thoughtful pause, OP says: I can't agree that people here are unhappy, because if that were true, it would be very sad.
The conversation ground to a halt after I said something like "if I am not wrong the issue is that you are not willing to hear what I'm saying." (I admit I was annoyed and probably sounded annoyed, which doesn't make for an inviting discussion.) Still, this got to me because it revealed OP's desire to occlude the possibility of another truth that takes away a small pillar of pride in a small country. Not acknowledging something because it would be too sad if it were true? That is is not a solution to anything. I know I might have a very different understanding of what happiness means than many Danes and I'm willing to acknowledge that cultural differences may play a role. Scandinavians downplay their wealth and comfort more than Americans, especially in conversation. Bragging is considered impolite and the lack of personal aggrandizing talk could be confused as coldness. But how would that coldness or elusive joy be mistaken for true happiness? No, I think there is something underlying things here that I don't understand, yet seem to be able to smell. Something a bit foul.
Denmark has a love of many things American. Our music, the whole Wild West cowboy thing, our old cars (they pay mucho dinero for 'em here) and our style of urban dress are to be found all over... but there's another thing people here have expressed interest in that comes to me naturally: a certain amount of brash, brazen forwardness they consider quite American. They do not have that here. Danes grow up indoctrinated into behaving low-key and not standing out from the group. It is part of Danish culture to embrace the teachings of Jante Law (pronounced "Yen-deh"), even though they do not like it. Maybe this American quality and attitude is something they can take from us. With this attitude of "Look at me, I'm your (wo)man and I can do it!" we Americans offer a certain amount of moxie and self-promotion the Danes know they lack and often covet. And it is times like these where they must summon their moxie to override instincts to play it safe and close their borders.
The racially and anti-semitically provoked murders in Copenhagen earlier this year were the first here in quite some time. Targeting Jews made Jews here feel unsafe, and I think that, because it was done by a Danish citizen of Jordanian and Palestinian descent, the exclusionists in politics might be quite happy to close the borders more.
Perhaps this is all going to slowly change for the worse for anyone who is not a natural born citizen, but that remains to be seen. There are images online of a poster on the streets of Copenhagen that reads: "Foreigners, please don't leave us alone with the Danes." This is a poster by Danes for Danes and it is intended as a warning and from where I stand, if foreigners like me were to leave from fear, the DF and its constituents would win. Why would I want to give them that? Denmark has a multi party system - something I personally think would be an excellent contrast to the US 2-party one - but it still seems to come down to the difference between 2 basic approaches. The US has exclusionists and so does everywhere else.
But in this case, outraged progressive people are expressing themselves with all the moxie they can muster. It's a small country and maybe can override its own bullshit quicker than we Americans can in the USA. Relatively speaking, in the USA we are trying to turn around a supertanker, while Denmark only needs a political k-turn in one of their tiny little cars.