Posted by: ilanasmith | December 17, 2008

The Secret Life of the Danes: Neighbours

There’s this cute little sidebar in my Time Out: Copenhagen that just cracks me up.  I always insist on dragging it out and making people read it (even Danes and Swedes).  To facilitate my ability to do this via Google, I’m totally ripping it off and shoving it in right here.

The way in which the Danes rub along with rest of their Scandinavian brethren is coloured by one simple, historical fact: they used to rule all of them, had a fight, and then lost everything in the most humiliating way possible.  As a result, relations with Norway and particularly Sweden (who really rubbed the Danes’ noses in it for a while), are understandably more complex than may at first be apparent.

No matter how nice they are face to face, and no matter how many splendid bridges they build across the Øresund, the Danes still gripe ceaselessly about the Swedes.  They love, for instance, to point out the drunken Swedish day-trippers from Malmö who stagger around Nyhavn’s pubs and bars at the weekend ("They’d never behave like that at home", goes the Danish chorus), or the Swedes who booze cruise form Helsingborg to Helsingør in their Volvo Estates (rumour has it the cars are built around the dimension of 10 crates of Tuborg.)  The Danes take great delight in mimicking the Swedes’ singsong accents, and require little encouragement to dish the dirt on what a bunch of dull, law-abiding party poopers their fellow Scandinavians are.

For their part, the Swedes still look down upon the Danes as chain-smoking, underachieving, woolly liberals, with similarly lax attitudes towards drugs and sex as the Dutch. They have an unshakeable sense of self-belief that the Swedish way is the best.

Even more damning within the Scandinavian fraternity is the accusation of ‘being too much like the Germans’, an insult that is hurled with equal conviction from all sides of the ramparts.  The Danes cite the Swedes’ regimented social behaviour as evidence of their Teutonic mindset, while the Swedes point to the Danes’ closer cultural links with Germany, not to mention their sausage fetish.  The Norwegians, meanwhile, stay quiet, grateful that no one is being horrid about them for once.

Norwegians know their place, and are more than content with it (as anyone would be with their balance of payments).  The relationship between Danes and Norwegians is more one of brotherly affection than regional rivalry.  Though the Norwegians are significantly richer than the Danes (make that, ‘than most of the planet’), thanks to their North Sea oil bonanza, the Danes think of them as rather naïve, innocent, virulently nationalistic and, if we’re really honest, mentally disadvantaged country cousins.  However, the spectacular Norwegian scenery is much envied by the Danes, who only have a couple of cliffs and a sand dune to keep their amateur photographers happy.  Danes feel at home with Norway’s modest, inward-looking traditionalism and, secretly, covet their national costumes.

All credit to Time Out and the author, Michael Booth.


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