Thursday, December 06, 2012

denmark you are a mystery to me: or when life turns kafkaesque

there is a deep and abiding faith in clubs and associations in denmark. they're called foreninger. it's something that i, as a non-dane, find really quite incomprehensible. and the ability to create a new association, which is focused on a very specific, narrow purpose (instead of expanding an existing one to include that little focus area) is simply breathtaking. sometimes it appears that they'll create a new association simply to get away from some other people they don't like in the old association (instead of relying on democracy and voting them out). heaven forbid that people made room for one another or adjusted their thinking a little bit to be more inclusive within existing groups. no, no, let's call a general assembly, create a convoluted set of bureaucratic by-laws (which we will debate down to the last comma) and by odin make a new group - one that preferably will really show that other group that we maybe could have been part of, had we had even an ounce of open-mindedness.

deep breath.

it's a fascinating study in group behavior and if i still wanted to be an anthropologist, i'm sure i could easily write an entire dissertation about it. it has everything - social darwinism, cultural capital (ahh, bordieu), biology, psychology, even a bit of pop business theory between the lines. there's jockeying for position, there's the constantly determining who is with the in crowd and who's not. there's the determining who is the albanian (remember my theory that everyone needs their albanian - someone who they feel superior to?) in any configuration (and oddly, it seems to be an ever-shifting thing). and there's the scheming beforehand because of an inherent lack of trust in the democratic process. and don't even get me started on conflicts of interest...

but among the things that strike me most (there are 2), is how utterly meaningless it all is. it's a small town that's part of a larger municipality (more like a county in american terms) and the mayor and politicians on the city council are those ultimately allocating funds and deciding things - so these local councils and committees and associations and clubs are actually full of powerless little wanna-be kings (who to the cool anthropological observer are actually a whole lot more like a flock of banty roosters). ones who apparently couldn't even make it on the pathetic plane that is the municipality level. so the supposed power of the little clubs is utterly impotent.

the second thing that strikes me is how proud the little banty roosters are of their bylaws and their long history of being involved in this whole culture around the little associations. one stood up at a recent meeting and proudly declared that he was a foreningsmenneske (a person of the association - it's one of those things that just has a better ring in danish, mostly because i can't imagine that it truly exists outside of denmark) and went on to pontificate on how bylaws were the glue holding the society together. it was a critique of another association which had mistakenly (and rather publicly) not followed their bylaws to the letter and managed, as happens if you accidentally dissolve the very glue holding the society together, to embarrass themselves - having to call a new general assembly according to the letter of their bylaws. they were even ridiculed in the local press for not announcing the first general assembly two weeks in advance, as required. yes, the behavior, especially between generations, is that petty and small-minded.

and for all of the group mentality, they really don't want to work together across groups - not even if those groups share an interest. it's all very petty and quite exhausting. and even as i try to maintain an anthropologic distance, i couldn't help but feel i had stepped into the bureaucratic hell of a kafka novel as i observed the natives in their natural habitat last evening.

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speaking of boring things, i keep reading really interesting stuff about the boring conference.

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the t boards on pinterest: tattoo in the near future. that's funny. the eyes have it. the hats (and possibly the crowns). tiny houses (this is one of my best boards). to dye for. topographies (another winner). treehouse.


will said...

... perhaps because of long cold winters. And low horizon sunrises.

kristina said...

I get tired just reading about it :-)

Sandra said...

Rural MN, in a nutshell. Seriously, when you describe Denmark, I feel at home. I live in a state settled by hearty Scandinavians who have nourished their heritage. There have been many good consequences of this, but the personality quirks you describe are familiar to me!

You could be listening to the perils of the FISCAL CLIFF.