Friday, September 26, 2008

Danmark er et dejligt land. No, Really.

If you haven't been reading between the lines (or just aren't a Shu-bi-dua fan) - you might not have noticed that in October
we're going to Denmark for a few weeks. So, in advance of my reports from the trip, let's start getting to know this lovely little country.

Of course, as self respecting cyclists, you all read Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Copenhagenize, but what do my American readers really know about Denmark and the Danes? Here are some facts and opinions all blended together in a way that will surely make someone very angry.

Denmark's Nation State in Northern Europe
Where is it?
The Kingdom of Denmark is located in northern Europe and is the southernmost Scandinavian country. It borders Germany to the south and Sweden to the east. Greenland and the Faroe Islands are self-governing parts of the kingdom. Denmark is one of the five Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. Now, it's time for a story:
Once there was a cave that would grant you any wish, all you had to do was walk into it and when you came out, your wish would be granted. A blind Dane, a deaf Norwegian and a Swede in a wheel chair went to the cave one day. The Dane walked in and as he came out he said "new eyes! I have new eyes!". The Norwegian walked in and as he came out he said "new ears! I have new ears!". The Swede rolled in and as he came out he said "new wheels! I have new wheels!".
A Swedish baker told me this joke - of course, when he did the Dane was in the wheelchair. This tells you all you need to know about inter-Scandinavian relations.

Meeting place of the Danish Folketing

How is it governed?
Denmark has a mostly democratic system of government (as democratic as it gets these days on a national level) and while the executive authority formally belongs to the monarch, the nation is governed through a legislative process run by a parliament of elected representatives called the Folketing.

The Queen is generally considered to be a nice person. My mother and I sat next to her on folding chairs in Tivoli once and watched a puppet show together. She was kind of just there enjoying the show. This is how things are in Denmark. You can see photos of the Danish Royal Family here. Be warned, if you don't live in a Monarchy, you may be surprised to see that someone named Christian Valdemar Henri John, Prince of Denmark, Count of Monpezat would have an official photograph with cake all over his face....or be shocked by how English someone like Elisabeth Caroline-Mathilde Alexandrine Helena Olga Thyra Feodora Estrid Margarethe Désirée looks. And you thought my name was long...

Why this photo?
Every Go**gle search for Dane resulted in Porn.
Anyway - you can see the lovely folk here:
Copenhagen Cycle Chic

Who are the Danes?
If you're a Dane, there's a 98% chance you're literate, you're likely to be between 17 and 64 years old, and you're expected to live to be about 78. You're probably Evangelical Lutheran, but you don't really go to church except maybe for one or two holidays or to see a concert of local musicians. It's likely that you work in a service industry (78% of you do). You probably ride a bicycle or a train regularly to get where you're going, and you've eaten herring on rye bread at least a few times in your life. You've ridden your bicycle very drunk on more than one occasion. And finally, you wouldn't dare send a child to school without a properly stocked, zip-up pencil case. That pretty much covers it.

About 90% of Denmark's five and a half million people are of 'danish descent' and speak Danish as their first language. Let's compare this to, say, New York City. 36% of the people in NYC are foreign born. About 170 languages are spoken in New York. Immigrants to New York today are coming from the Dominican Republic, China, Jamaica, Guyana, Mexico, Ecuador, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia, and Russia. New York city has the largest African-American population of any American city and one-quarter of the nation's Native Americans live here.

Now, some Danes (see below) aren't too fond of the idea that the 90% ethnic danish population might become more ethnically and culturally diverse. But come on...who doesn't love New York City? Right? So I say: get over it!

Beomaster 1900 Stereo

What I love about Denmark...
Bicycles are everywhere. Obviously. We all know about that. I mean there's so much amazing cycling culture in Denmark, you could probably make a whole blog just about that... But there are many more reasons I love Denmark. There are those great lamps over your parents dining room table (that sell used and broken for $2500 around the corner from my house in Williamsburg), and their futuristic Bang & Olufsen stereo (which is actually from 30 years ago) and the space age Egg chair they sit in to watch the news. Sure there are lots of cool 'things' - because Denmark is a country in love with good, functional, beautiful design. But it's also a country whose people (if not always the government) care deeply about each other's well being.

When I was in school in Denmark, my school class would go on trips just about every week. We would all get on our bicycles and ride somewhere together. We learned every week how to be together, how to get along, how to help one another and how to be a part of the larger society. This was one of the most important parts of my education. Danes understand the value of supporting one another, of acknowledging that as member of your community you have a responsibility to care for others. This sense of shared responsibility is why they have health care and education for all in Denmark, why the public transportation and train systems work, why there are bicycle paths and walking streets in all the cities.

(I really hope that the Danes don't let go of this amazing and unique recognition of an obligation to care for the people. This idea has been thrown aside in the American race toward a 'responsibility society'. Bush proudly says "each man for himself" - and this has finally resulted in the near collapse of our economy, millions of Americans with more debt than they will ever pay off, going bankrupt because they get sick, loosing their homes, children going hungry and a concentration of all the wealth in the hands of a few privileged rich people. Instead of housing and feeding, educating and caring for our people - we spend all our money dropping bombs on the people of the Middle East.)

Racists, originally uploaded by Zakkaliciousness

What's currently rotten in Denmark...
Over the last decade, Denmark has seen a rise in the kind of nationalistic racism that is spreading across Europe as population growth has slowed and immigration has increased. One horrifying result of this has been the birth and rise of the Dansk Folkeparti (DF). The name Danish People's Party sounds innocent enough at first, as though it might be some kind of cute Northern European socialist party, but in fact it's an insidious and evil political party established in the mid 90s in response to growing fear that the Danish way of life might be destroyed by people who don't look like them and who don't speak perfect Danish. DF is the party of xenophobia, racism and anti-immigrant legislation.

If you're anti-immigrant in a country that is about 90% white, or anti-muslim in a country that is 'officially' a Christian nation well... you can see where this leads. If a party like this had any power in the United States, I'm quite sure they would be openly called a modern day KKK. Imagine, for example, if those crazy guys who are trying to 'protect' the US border with Mexico (by sitting out there on lawn chairs with guns) created a new political party and won seats in Congress. Yeah, I know - scary. But as it turns out, since DF is in Denmark - they're basically just the Pro-George W. Bush party. It's amazing that they're not laughed off of the stage. (I know what you're thinking, but actually Bush stole both elections, so look elsewhere). DF supports the never-ending war on terror made up by Bush, and are against 'islamization' - whatever that's supposed to be it sounds like something Bush would say in secret. Anyway, we know it doesn't really mean anything - it's a straw man argument to scare old people into voting for them. When was the last time someone tried to convert you to Islam? If anything it's people claiming to be Christians who are always telling us we'll 'burn in hell' if we don't join their church (Sarah Palin anyone?).

It should be noted that I don't know a single Dane who subscribes to this nonsense. When I lived there, I had friends from Thailand, Africa, Japan and all over who were welcomed into the Danish community and treated as a member of the family. In fact, the Danes are fascinated with people from other countries - they want to learn about their culture, language, religion, food and values.

What's the most terrifying thing about DF? In every election since the party was founded, their power in government has grown. Hopefully when Bush is out of office and we start public hearings about all the illegal, horrible things he's been doing, this will have a dampening effect on the growth of this kind of political party in Europe.

I especially hope this will happen when Obama is president and he takes a bicycle ride with the Danish PM. I have a feeling that ride won't be on a mountain bike. I'll end this first Denmark post with a lovely photo by Mikael of Copenhagen Cycle Chic. It's of a normal Dane riding her normal bicycle in Copenhagen just because it's a great way to get around that lovely city. This is what I love about Denmark.

Copenhagen, originally uploaded by Zakkaliciousness

1 comment:

JJN said...

This post is so lovely. Thank you. I learned a few things, but mostly I became so so jealous. I want to eat rumkugler and ride bikes in my homeland.