Discovering Denmark: First Impressions and Actuality
My journey to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark, began back in August and included almost missing my flight, delays, and lost luggage. BUT after being here for two and a half months I am happy to say that my situation is now much more comfortable.
Before arriving I had a typical idea of Denmark– tall blondes, “the happiest country in the world”, “the least corrupt country in the world”, Lego, canals, H.C. Andersen, modern architecture, and high tax rates. While most of these expectations are more-or-less accurate, I have started to discover more deeply what Denmark is all about.
The fact is, there are a lot of tall blondes walking around this place, as one should expect in Scandinavia, but Denmark is quite a diverse place. There are many people from Eastern Europe, the UK, Asia, Africa… you get the point. Moreover, there is a strong general sense of equality among the Danish. The best way to describe this feeling would be to show you The Jante Law, created by Danish-Norwegian author:
• You’re not to think you are anything special.
• You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
• You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
• You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
• You’re not to think you know more than we do.
• You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
• You’re not to think you are good at anything.
• You’re not to laugh at us.
• You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
• You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
Basically, you are no better than anyone else.
This way of thinking translates into prominent Danish attributes such as:
• Egalitarianism. Danes are pretty anti-authoritarian. Being such, here we address everyone by first name no matter if they are a CEO, a professor, or the Monarch. This takes a bit of getting used to and is probably the hardest habit to break for me. It’s so hard not to say “yes sir”, “yes ma’am”, and “professor”!
• Casualness. In addition to the fact that there is an informal relationship between different levels of hierarchy, there is also a casualness in dress. Full business suits are rarely worn and night life dress is sneakers and jeans (black being the color of choice). “If you want to stand out in Denmark, wear grey” is what we were told during our intro week. This does not mean people look like slobs though. Everyone dresses nicely even going to the gym.
• Socialism tendencies. Danes prefer an equal distribution of income to keep the wealth gap small. The high taxes that results from this do not seem to bother anyone tremendously. Maybe that is because the Danes enjoy free education through university and mostly free healthcare as a result of the high taxes.
While Danes are concerned with the well-being of everyone, they are very respectful of others privacy. This results in VERY quiet bus rides into the city and the feeling that people here are distant and cold. However, this “coldness” is entirely a facade. Danes are typically very friendly, after a while of warming up to you, and hyggelig. Hygge is super important to the Danish psyche. The best translation of hygge is a sense of coziness and intimacy between people. For example, my hallway in my dorm designated an evening where we all visited and had a drink in each other’s rooms. Friendly dinners lit by candle are common as well.
Since I mentioned a Danish word I feel I should mention that basically everyone here speaks perfect English as a second language, so there is no need to worry about language barriers. (Although if you would like to learn Danish, Denmark offers classes for free!)
To end this post on a light note, the last but definitely not least noticeable feature of Aarhus and Denmark is… BIKES. Biking is a form of transportation here and most people bike everywhere. I rented a bike for a decent price and I must say it is so convenient and also a good way to sneak in some exercise during the day. Yay for good looking leg muscles.
Overall, living life here is simple, easy, and stress-free.