Thursday, August 21, 2014

what is danishness?

today's (yesterday's?) jyllands posten (you may remember them from a certain set of mohammed cartoons) had an article about a study suggesting that danes think the biggest problem with foreigners is that they don't understand and embrace danish values. i wouldn't have known about the article, not being a reader of jyllands posten, but i was contacted by my radio crush to be part of a radio program about the article this evening.

so i dashed into 7-11 and bought their last copy of the paper, which oddly, they had hidden in a back room, and i prepared for the program. what struck me about the article was that it was unclear what these danish values that we foreigners apparently reject are. that was completely unstated in the survey where people had come up with that answer and it wasn't until halfway through the second article about it, on page 6, that a list of values even was mentioned. they included things like democracy, equality, valuing work and the vague "personal freedom." those strike me as pretty universal and not exactly uniquely danish. western, perhaps or even protestant, but difficult to narrow down to a particular nationality.

after talking with the journalist, i decided to think about danishness instead and see if some values fell out of that. what are the things that strike me as so danish after all these years? a lot of workplace behaviors came to mind - like the fact that it's ok to have a conversation with the boss and to even grill him (and i do mean him, since that whole equality thing isn't as pervasive as they might like it to seem) a little bit during that conversation, regardless of your position in the firm. i've not really seen that outside of denmark. leaving at 3 p.m. to pick up your kids and having no one look askance at you. wearing a kind of monochrome (read: black) uniform for most of the year, outside of a few wild weeks of summer, where everyone breaks out the summer wardrobe they purchased back in the late 80s and which never wore out, due to the limited use it's had, and embraces a kind of retro madness during the warm weather. and then there's the full calendars which quash all hope of spontaneity because you need to book someone for a dinner party at least two months ahead, even tho' you have no idea if you'll be in the mood to have people over for dinner two months from now.  and then there's the design thing - it's important to have the right lamps (PH) and chairs (Arne Jacobsen) and couch (Borge Mortensen) and table (Piet Hein) (see, i even had so much respect i capitalized their names). of course, that design thing creates a uniformity in homes, that while it's in good taste, ends up quite sterile, impersonal and, dare i say it...boring. (yes, i dared to say it, tho' i myself have Hans Wegner and Kaare Klint chairs and some Tom Rossou lamps, plus the fabulous Triplex lamp). (i wonder if that means i'm integrated?)

and this sameness in design principles and clothing got me thinking about that supposed value of "personal freedom." if there were really personal freedom, we'd have the space in which to choose other chairs and lamps and you'd see more variety in the clothing shops (there's a great deal of black, i can tell you). so i wonder how much personal freedom there actually is. there is, of course, personal freedom in terms of one's right to be gay or to have an abortion and those are important things, but again, they are true many places and aren't uniquely danish.

so i'm still wondering what these danish values are that we foreigners are so reluctant to adopt...and why it's such a source of worry for the danes. perhaps if they got better at communicating and outwardly sharing their real, core values (and not just a bunch of stuff that could be from a UN pamphlet), we'd have an easier time adapting to them.


Molly said...

Laughed out loud at the bit about the summer wardrobes ;-)

Unknown said...

Sounds like what they're referring to aren't so much moral values but the reference points are cultural and social values.

When non-Americans poke fun at American it's usually about public displays of culture or social habits ... and not whether or not we want equality or childcare.

Personal freedom? I think that's a small chapter in the Book of Unicorns and Leprechauns.

Feisty Harriet said...

This is such a fascinating post, I don't know that I subscribe to many of the "American" values, are certainly only to a few of the ones that are so dominant in my subset of American culture...but I wonder if I could narrow down my own to a list and then explain how that affects who I am and the choices I make.

Fascinating, I tell you.