Thursday, April 12, 2012

those happy danes and one slightly disgruntled guardian reader

winter in the garden

recently, the danes topped yet another survey of happiness - this time, one conducted by the UN. the guardian published a piece by a freelance british journalist who lives in copenhagen in order to explain glorify the happiness of the danes (or more accurately of a possibly delusional brit living in denmark). the guardian piece is categorized under news » world news » denmark, but it reads like a blog entry. it's the extremely personal bloggy-style view of one freelance brit journalist with a small child (and even features a photo of said journalist and her child) who happens to live in copenhagen.

while much of what she says is true - denmark is a child- and family-friendly country, design, especially of everyday objects, is awesome and common in every home, and you can swim in the harbor in copenhagen. but (you knew there was a but coming), none of this explains in the least why the danes top out these happiness lists year after year. it explains why cathy strongman, transplanted brit, is happy in denmark. that and they surely slipped her some seriously good drugs when she gave birth to that child because she has a fanciful description of her birth experience that nearly made me spit my coffee all over my keyboard. some tale of a maternity hotel to which she was apparently sent and tended to for three days after the birth of her child. i'm pretty sure the maternity hotel was her own home, and the attending, helpful nurse a drug-addled hallucination, as they're pushing mothers out the door if they can possibly stand and nobody gets coddled in the hospital these days.

i question as well the availability of a bagel in copenhagen as i've never seen one, tho' i grant her that it would likely set you back ten quid if there was such a thing. but perhaps a bagel is different in the mind of a brit than it is in the mind of an american. i think it may just have been a bread roll.

and then no self-respecting danish government institution (like the "local college" (which i'm pretty sure is copenhagen university) she cites) would have eames chairs when they could have arne jakobsen -  danes are loyal to danish design, especially where public funds are concerned.

and as for the well-dressed danes she mentions, i'll bet you anything that if you walked up behind them and listened in, they'd be speaking swedish. she's right that starbucks is (sadly) confined to the airport, but local cafes and shops are not as common as she says, it must be that she just isn't familiar with which brands are ubiquitous in denmark (baresso coffee, all of the bestseller brands of clothing, company's clothing stores, h&m). there are small streets of independent shops but i guarantee they are not paying affordable rents.  and even the cutest of them are packed with the same rice and sia baskets and frames as the one next door.

but the bottom line is that i can't fathom what all of this has to do with the danish position on the big happy list. not that i necessarily have an answer for that either, as i don't think you can necessarily SEE the happiness of the danes on their faces. nor do they go around acting smugly content. in fact, i'd call it a well-concealed inner happiness that apparently manifests itself best when they fill out surveys.

however, the article is worrying in that it's a personal, bloggy-style blog post masquerading as journalism. and as much as i love the blog as a genre, a blog is not a newspaper. newspapers have blogs and should have blogs and this type of article has its place on such a blog. but it didn't belong in the news section of the guardian. and the guardian should know that.


Elizabeth said...

"SEE" in capital says it all.


Veronica Roth said...

I write magazine articles, seen that tweak from editorial copy to bite-sized and bloggy journalism. Apparently it’s what readers want. Maybe Brit mom/writer sold her idea for the story after seeing too many BBC Coast episodes. (Shame about the Starbucks)

Extranjera said...

Watch out. Your in-laws might now disown you, or at least call you out for saying anything negative about their beloved country. i don't think it's happiness those surveys manifest, I think it's misplaced pride and facade.
Although I'm married to an extremely happy Dane, I don't think his happiness is in any way connected to his nationality.

Judith said...

Great post Julie! It was a terrible personal story pretending to be a news article. As you and Extranjera note, it is very unclear how happiness is defined in these surveys. They are usually worded to ask if the person is satisfied with their government, or satisfied that their government is not corrupt etc. So usually they measure satisfaction with social institutions, and to those Danes are very loyal.

celkalee said...

Mmm. I see now why you had to write this one. In my current level of happiness, I am drinking my 10th cup of coffee, wearing neon socks and continue to lament the disintegration of accurate, unbiased and non-pop culture news writing. I do not care about any Kardashian, the size of their bottoms or who they are currently, whatever. Using quippy little come-on's, even the print media has reduced itself to the lowest common level of comprehension. While the blog-style of writing is appropriate for the blogs, a journalist needs to not personalize, it is not a conversation.... it is news! However, in fairness, if this was a "life-style" piece we may be a wee bit harsh. Maybe a little stay a hotel (not maternity) would soothe my less than perfectly happy soul.

j. wilson said...

I'm always disappointed when an "article" reads more as a blog post. Yeesh! Maybe you should start selling bagels? Hee-hee! I did recently read a book on happiness. There was an idea that the more homogenous a community was, the happier the community. That said, living in the "happiest" city (san luis obispo) I almost agree.

Spilling Ink said...
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