Frequently topping best places to live polls and best quality of life surveys, some see it as a land of milk and honey where contented citizens live in a socialist-inspired utopia.
Naturally not everyone shares this rather rosy view. Like any nation Denmark has its share of social and economic problems. But it sure does have a lot to be thankful for.
There are many useful and carefully-researched guides to this fine country. Then there is the halfbananas guide. (Pinch of salt not included)
Tall, confident, good-looking and affable, the average Dane is also blessed with a great sense of humour. Which is fortunate really considering their rather wince-inducing language and the tragic shortness of the Danish summer.
Denmark enjoys a pretty egalitarian society, which is partly down to their adoption of the fictional ‘law of Jante’, (Janteloven) which might be best summed up as Nobody is better than anybody else, or perhaps Don’t get too big for your boots. Of course in modern Danish society, the famous principle from Orwell’s Animal Farm may also sometimes apply – We are all equal, but some are more equal than others.
Denmark has global reputation for good design and it is quite normal to find classic furniture, lighting and product design in the most humble homes, workplaces and public spaces. There are dilapidated old bike sheds in Copenhagen that are more aesthetically pleasing than the average British home. It seems having bad taste in Denmark is a no-no and can even lead to a criminal conviction and six months in a taste rehabilitation centre, designed and furnished by Arne Jacobsen, naturally.
Famous throughout the world, the colourful little bricks were invented by the Vikings to build portable housing on their foreign adventures. Every Dane proudly carries a single Lego brick on their person at all times, a symbol of national pride. Several of Copenhagen’s most famous buildings are actually made entirely from Lego, cunningly disguised as real brick and stone. On one occasion, pranksters remade the Danish parliament into a giant spaceship during the summer holidays. Sadly they were caught and made to put it back how it was before most people noticed.
The Danes like beer, lots of beer. Not drinking beer is considered unpatriotic as well as simply weird. Fortunately the Danes make the best beers in the world and thanks to pioneering work by Danish brewers and scientists, it causes no hangovers. This is one reason you never see any tired or grumpy people in Denmark.
The Danish language has many similarities to English and shares (mostly) the same alphabet (there are three extra vowels). Despite being allegedly ‘easier’ than Polish, Russian or German, it is still largely unpronounceable and incomprehensible. Fortunately the Danes are among the world’s best speakers of English. For anyone contemplating learning Danish, be prepared for decades of struggle, frustration and a series of painful tongue and throat surgeries to enable rough approximation of the vowel sounds.
For English speakers, discovering the word for speed is fart, provides endless opportunities for sniggering every time it is encountered in road signs or advertisements.
Everybody loves pastries and despite not actually being its inventor, the pastry, aka Danish (Wienerbrød) was embraced and perfected in Denmark. There are different pastries for different days of the week and times of the year. Some have funny names like Napoleon’s hat (Napoleonshat) or Cinnamon swirl (kanelsnegl) but they all share one thing in common – they will make you very fat. This is why they are only eaten by Danes on special occasions, or on Wednesdays, Sundays and as a mid-morning or late afternoon snack.
Danes love their sweets, aka candy (Slik). Children in Denmark traditionally visit one of the multitude of vast and well-stocked sweet emporiums every Friday to grab a huge sack-full of their favourite colourful sugary treats. Licorice (Lakrids) is the most popular, especially the extremely bitter salty Scandinavian varieties. Certain of these types of licorice could, in a time of war, probably be deployed against enemy positions, although it might contravene UN conventions on the use of chemical-weapons.
Bicycles are compulsory in Denmark, and cars are only allowed on the road between 6am-9am on the second Tuesday of the month. Fortunately it is easy to get around thanks to the wonderful public transport system and the extensive network of cycle lanes.
Caution is advised for the unwary visitor exploring the bigger cities on foot. Any pedestrian who unwittingly strays into one of the busy cycle superhighways can expect a torrent of angry abuse, aggressive bell ringing and the risk of being mowed down by a heavy Christiania bike loaded with kids, dogs and shopping. It’s like being hit by a small eco-friendly tank.
The Little Mermaid
Denmark’s most famous statue is inspired by a famous and rather depressing Hans Christian Andersen tale. The minuscule mermaid sits rather forlornly in the harbour close to the shore, hoping not to lose her head, again. Tourists flocking to snap photos are sometimes a little taken aback to discover she really is rather little. The clue is in the name. A ten metre tall Little Mermaid statue would be weird. If you want big statues try Russia.
A core concept of being Danish, hygge is all about creating a cosy convivial atmosphere and having a nice time. Candles are obligatory, even outdoors during gales, and creating a pleasant mood is an art. The importance of Hygge is instilled in every Danish child from birth, or sooner. Many kids can hygge before they can walk or talk.
Having a hyggeligt time is the primary goal of all Danes. Being a negative Neil (Nils) and spoiling the vibe is uhyggeligt, which must be avoided at all costs. The UK has now jumped on the bandwagon and is offering courses in hygge, in a desperate attempt to make life slightly less grim for its poor long-suffering citizens.
Naturally this brief guide only scratches the surface of all that is Denmark. It mostly skips over its vibrant music, arts and cultural scene, world class cuisine, the hilarious biker gang shoot-outs, the legendary den of anarchy that is Christiania and a certain famous castle.
Why not come and experience those for yourself. Danmark – det er hyggeligt!
Copyright J.Lennick 2015 All rights reserved.