Posted by: annmucc | May 10, 2010

Perplexing Danes?

I have just returned from a weekend in Denmark . Short though it was, in combination with previous trips, I have started to get a better idea of what makes Danes Danes. I must admit however that this does not mean I understand them any better! In fact there are a couple of issues which perplex and confuse me even more as the people relax more around me and speak their mind more readily. Here are a few of those issues:

Gadgets

Go into any Danes’ house and you will doubtlessly be faced with as many gadgets as your house desires – or if you’re like me, you will be perplexed by as many gadgets as you would ever want to set eyes on. Danes seem to be very proud of their house and very keen on having perfect houses for entertaining. In fact, entertaining seems to be a good chunk of what they do – and boy do they do it well! This however means that it is always essential to have a gadget for every occasion you might encounter, and discussing the latest gadget seems to be a quite common pass-time. Even being the gadget-ignoramus I am (Michael luckily takes the initiative to grab whatever I am offered and use it before I am pushed into it so that I don’t normally have to look like the idiot I am while figuring out what I am expected to do with the metal/plastic/wooden thing I have just been presented with), I understand the desire to make your life easy and to ‘keep up with the Jones’). However, what perplexes me further is the fact that the gadgets are not always of the best quality, but they cost an arm and a leg! As someone hinted at, it seems like Danes have so much disposal income that the companies can get away with pricing their not-always-so-good stuff higher than they are actually worth – because Danes will buy them! I don’t know if the issue is that when I was growing up we were always careful with spending money (there wasn’t extra to just throw around), but I find this quite unexplainable.

Would you know what the top RHC item does, if you didn't see the bottom LHC picture?

Food

While on the issue of entertaining, I also need to say a word about the food! Maltese people DO eat a lot – believe me, portions, especially from grandparents, tend to verge on the humongous (at least in my family). So I am quite used to eating a big meal whenever I visit. However, the way Danes deal with food is different. They don’t have only one main meal, but they have a continuous stream of ‘time for food’. This starts with breakfast, then maybe some mid-morning coffee, then some open sandwiches for lunch, then afternoon coffee with cakes and sandwiches at around 3, then dinner at 6, then evening coffee at around 9 (again with cakes of course). This is particularly evident when you spend a whole day visiting people – they make sure that you are there in time for whatever meal is next, and make sure that you are fed. Honestly! I feel like all I did was eat this weekend! And when I say eat I don’t mean I nibbled: I mean that I feel like I was full from when I woke up to when I went to sleep! Definitely not good for my weight 😉

Danish Smorgasbord (don't remember to put the ingredients together in the right way i.e. the Danish way!)


Babies

Would you leave your car unlocked with valuables lying around in full view of everyone and unattended while you sat down to a meal inside the house? I thought not! or at least I wouldn’t. However the Danes do something which to me (at least at first) looked appallingly much worse! It is very common for Danish parents to wrap up their baby in their pram, stick a baby alarm in with them, close the pram, and leave the pram unattended outside while they go do whatever they have to do until the baby starts crying. I mean – helloooo! If you won’t leave your laptop unattended, how much stranger is it to leave your baby unattended? And this is not an issue of a neglectful set of parents! It is an issue of this being the suggestion of everyone, including healthcare workers. The reason for this seems to be for the baby to get some fresh air. I guess coming from hot Malta where you can open the windows from fresh air, and leaving your baby in a closed pram outside for any length of time is possibly a child abuse offence (on account that the baby would be steamed to death!) I find this quite strange. I am learning to keep the incredulousity out of my voice now a bit better now, but I still cannot understand the concept too well!

Babies left outside a Cafe


Lighting

Danes have this concept called hyggelig which is very big in whatever they do. This means that they want to have everything around them as hyggelig (cosy-feeling) as could be. They reach this state but having a lot of candles around, being very up to scratch on design issues and making sure that their houses are in a way design-havens, and also by one more thing: making sure that you get no direct light anywhere and that the light is always unobtrusive and dim. Very admirable aspirations you might say. And they are. However, I am used to bright light coming in from every window whether you like it or not (during the day), and with things being bright and airy the way to go. People in Denmark look at me strangely when I say that I don’t even know if I have a lampshade in my bedroom at home (I think there is one, or there was one at some point, but maybe it has been removed for some reason? Not sure if I would have noticed). To them this is a big offence! How can you have direct light? That’s a definite no-no to hyggelig! I often counter back that if I want to do something I want to see what I am doing…light is there also for a function, and not just to make the room look prettier! An issue I often find is that to me the houses look quite dark once the sun sets. I haven’t found any Dane who even comprehends any part of what I say about the issue. Maybe I’m the strange one? What do the other non-Danes out there say? Is having low light levels to create hyggelig the reason light was invented?

I think that is enough perplexing for one day! But maybe I’ll decide to entertain you with the rest of my perplexions. Let me know if you’re interested ;).

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Responses

  1. Interesting observations 🙂

    I agree with the notion that Danes do a lot to keep up with the Joneses but I think that is in most cultures. The Danish way is by make the home cosy, presentable and getting designer items and gadgets (some of them are crap IMHO). I think many Danes identify with the Danish design thought of simplicity and functionalism and try to create their homes in that spirit. However that idea is to some extend pushed too far which is why every Danish design company has tried create a bottle opener that looks simple and cool (but actually often fails functionally).

    In the same set of ideas is the thought that light design is also an integrated part of setting up your home. The most famous proponent of this is Poul Henningsen with his famous PH-lamp and I guess we take it for granted that the way light is directed throughout the house is of importance. As he put it in the fifties:

    “When, in the evening, from the top of a tram car, you look into all the homes on the first floor, you shudder at how dismal people’s homes are. Furniture, style carpets, everything in the home is unimportant compared to the positioning of the lighting. It doesn’t cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture.”

    http://www.scandinaviandesign.com/poulHenningsen

    😛

  2. Are you implying other people who don’t put as much stress into lighting to lack culture?…

  3. nooo

  4. hmm…

  5. Hi, found a link at twishart, and couldn’t resist to comment.
    Smoergaasbord is sweedish, please, in danish it’s smoerrebroed, we have had wars over it (Great Nordic, from 1709-20, the last one)
    When it comes to gadgets: we now have a special tv-program, called “So ein Ding…”
    But when it comes to The Danish Lights, it is clear: less is more!
    Which leaves us whith the children-in-prams-issue: years ago a friend of mine brougt her baby to New York, to see the babie’s father, and as at home, she left the baby in the pram outside a restaurant. Until the policeforce arrested all 3 of them, put the baby in a infants home and the mother behind bars for about a week. In Denmark we just don’t understand the cruel world outside the country, in my 60 years of age we may have had about 4 cases of baby-snatching, that is just a thing you don’t do in Denmark.
    As we don’t lock our cars, our homes, just because we have gone to see the neighbour, why should we?
    The blogger http://www.deixis.dk is a woman from Germany, having been living in Denmark for quite some years, by reading her you might find some answers to your questions, as she is observing the Danes from another point of view.
    By the way, allthough I am a Dane, I was born as such in Germany, I have no problems in finding Denmark less flawless than most born within the country, but believe me: I’ve been around, and I still have not found an alternative place to emmigrate to.
    😉

  6. Hi Aage
    Thanks for your visit and comment 🙂
    I apologise for the name of the open sandwich…I guess Google is not always the right way to go 😉
    About lights I am not sure I agree with the less is more concept. I would like to have the possibility of having good lighting (i.e. a place very well lit) if required. However, this possibility does not seem to exist in Danish homes. If e.g. I am working, writing or reading. (I might be wrong)
    As regards the babies: I still find it strange that someone would leave their baby unattended for any period of time, particularly in a public area. I totally understand the couple being arrested for such an (what I would consider back home to be) offence. Though I guess it is a cultural thing then (where I come from should be quite safe, and up to a few years ago houses weren’t locked, but babies were still not left unattended!)
    BTW – the link to the German blogger seems to be broken…I would love to read her blog though!
    I do hope to live at least for some time in Denmark. I am sure that there is a lot of things I still need to understand about the Danes but hopefully I’ll manage 😀

  7. Ha-ha, that was great fun reading…..
    Godt at få rystet op i vores selvforståelse (don’t know the word i english)

  8. Hi Betty
    Glad you don’t think too badly of me that I wrote that!
    I do like the Danes, but I do think as well that they have some strange(?) ways of doing things 🙂

  9. Thanks for the warm welcom!
    As for Sabine Behrmanns blog deixis I am sorry, I too found her blog closed down, and it is quite a shame, she had a fantastic essay of “How to deal with the Danes”; nonetheless, I was able to find som old, but still interesting articles on http:// shortcut.squarespace.com , click on the button Copenhagen, she and a Tim alternates.
    There is also a site http://thisisdenmark.info/ with a lot of information for expats or others interested in insights on Denmark by , in some cases anyway, by immigrants.
    As of the babies: they are in fact not unattended: everyone is looking after them, and we are so used to it, that it may seem a bit naive. But honestly, as a society as the danish flexicurity we depend on that kind og mutual confidence. Grandparents live far away, as we move for education and jobs, so everybody is everybody’s mate, so to speak. And as I said: we very seldom have babiesnatchers, I guess we have fewer than elsewhere; the ones we have had from prams were miserable women, who wanted a baby for tthemselves after having lost their own, for the greatest part, or who could not have their own.
    So yes, we danes do things in a manner, that for an outsider may seem a bit awkward, but it has deep roots, and look, where it has brought us 😉 !
    We even sent our National Emblem to China; with the population in mind: if the USA would equal that, they would have to send the Statue of Liberty, right?
    😉

  10. Now you explain all these things so well, it all makes perfect sense, although at first sight some of these practices would appear quite strange. I think fresh air for babies seems quite sensible although perhaps I’d choose my enclosed back garden rather than the street, and then eating all day sounds great – I suspect that all the calories get walked or cycled off

    • The reasons they give do make sense. They just don’t realise most of the time that other people who are not used to their way of life might have an equally sensible though different way of doing things.
      Yeps – eating all day is great – except that runnign around from one house to another visiting in a car doesn’t seem to burn the calories just as well 😛

  11. Well, go to Russia, and it’s wodka instead, most of the time. And honestly: serving cakes and coffee both in the afternoon and in the evening is just for guests, another show-off like anywere else. The housewife have to proof themselves.
    In the southern part of Jutland, which was occupied by Prussia from 1864 to 1920, the traditions are the strongest from the times of starvation following the Napoleon Wars: the Soenderjysk Kaffebord holds AT LEAST 7 “dry” cakes, that are cakes without cream, 7 cakes with cream, and 7 bisquits. It is a sin to reject the efforts of the lady of the house, so you will have to try them all.
    As the danish flag was forbidden, and very strictly so, the white cream and jelly on the base of red currants in combination were very popular for decoration of the cakes.
    But honestly: I do not remember, when we last baked cakes in this house.
    Oh, I nearly forgot: there used to be heavily buttered scones on the table, too, nowadays it is a very thin layer, courtesy of the ladies calorie-awareness.

  12. “It doesn’t cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture.”

    I guess Poul Henningsen hasn’t tried buying one of his own lamps recently …

  13. […] I have just returned from a weekend in Denmark . Short though it was, in combination with previous trips, I have started to get a better idea of what makes Danes Danes. I must admit however that this does not mean I understand them any better! In fact there are a couple of issues which perplex and confuse me even more as the people relax more around me and speak their mind more readily. Here are a few of those issues: Gadgets Go into any Danes' h … Read More […]

  14. […] have worked so far. I have written a bit about things I find a bit perplexing in a previous post, Perplexing Danes. However, as I spend more time with them I am finding two other things which for a reason I cannot […]


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