How Rude

If America is the land of the free, then Denmark is the land of the equal. No one is better than anyone else nor more deserving. So much so, that the Danish word ‘You’ that is used as a mark of respect is apparently only used when addressing the Queen or Mærsk McKinney Møller, of the A P Møller Group, one of Denmark’s largest companies. This equality, I believe, is at the root of Danish rudeness that many foreigners find offensive.

An English friend complained recently how unbearable the Danes are and was incensed over the rudeness that had been shown to her recently. These are comments I have heard from English and American friends repeatedly. It is possible the Aussies I know feel similarly but I can’t remember the conversation. The Danes can be quite rude. If you hold a door open for a Dane, they will walk through it. They won’t thank you for your effort nor are they likely to do the same for you. A Dane overhearing remarks similar to these, once remarked, “Were you asked to hold open the door?”

The Danes don’t even smile at you when they pass you in the street. In a discussion recently regarding how grey and dark the weather was, a Danish friend wondered if Danes don’t smile because their faces have frozen. He might be right. This not smiling at people as you pass them in the street is another common complaint. As is pushing. Personally, if you consider the Danes pushy you need to travel more. In this regard the Danes are quite polite.

Though we foreigners may not like the Danish attitude there is a reason behind it. One of the key attributes of the Danish national attitude can be described by the Law of Jante. I found an article by Vagn Saerkjaer which outlines the different items that contribute to Danish culture. At a time when cultural values are eroding due to increased globalisation and immigration, Saerkjaer’s article is timely especially if we wish to understand our neighbours.

I sometimes wonder if I am Danish. I am neither blonde or tall and leggy. However, I hear a kindred spirit in Saerkjaer when he describes his fellow countrymen. “We want to be on our own. We want to have time to ourselves. We prefer not to have visitors. Many foreigners regard us as reserved and cold. We keep our distance.” There is no welcome wagon in Denmark.

The Law of Jante is the danish 10 commandments and is the basis for the equality found in Danish society. The listing of the commandments is attributed to Aksel Sandemose who used the prevailing attitudes in his ironic novel, “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks.” The irony was lost on the Danes and, if living by a set of principles is any indication, they take great pride in them. Here is the list:

Don’t think you are somebody.
Don’t believe that you are as good as us.
Don’t believe that you are smarter than us.
Don’t believe that you are better than us.
Don’t believe that you know more than us.
Don’t believe that you are more than us.
Don’t believe that you are good at anything.
Don’t laugh at us.
Don’t think that anybody cares for you.
Don’t believe that you can teach us anything.

Breaking any of these laws goes against the community’s desire to preserve social stability and uniformity. In Australia, we call this Tall Poppy Syndrome.

What I love about the Danes is that they have made what appears to be a psychologists gold mine really work for them. Equality has led to social stability and minimal conflict as no one is different to anybody else. From this their social welfare system has developed. There are no class systems and a garbage collector is no better than a politician. So the logic flows. If everyone is the same, then everyone receives the same health care and the same education. Unlike other nations, the Danes are willing to pay high taxes for the good of society, so that all are equal and everyone’s needs will be met.

But for how long? Recommendations for new laws are being floated and are regularly aired in the press. These laws would limit foreign access to benefits which are currently freely given. As in other countries, including our own, increased immigration is causing rumblings within society as the perception grows that tax dollars are assisting foreigners who are not as deserving for whatever reason. Saerkjaer clarifies well when he states, “We willingly help refugees, if only they flee on.”

While watching my son play in a city park, my husband started a conversation with a Palestinian man whose children were also playing. His parents had immigrated to Denmark prior to his birth and he was born in Denmark. He loves his birth country and is married to a Dane. Due to increased frustrations directed towards foreigners, he and his family are considering immigrating themselves. He asked where we were from and what we thought of his chances of immigrating to Australia. How awful it was that we could not give him any encouragement. He does not have the finances to apply legally and the other options are fraught with dangers and condemnation. Here was a man whose life was no longer counted as equal and was experiencing a greater rudeness than any we have ever experienced.

(This is one of two articles that I submitted for my writing course late last year)

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One Response to How Rude

  1. The Danes are quite similar to the Dutch in this aspect. Many westerners consider them rude (or at least abrupt), and they have a saying to the effect that grass growing taller gets mowed down (i.e., Tall Poppy syndrome). Yet many people have commented how friendly the Dutch are when traveling outside their country. Perhaps it’s being introduced to other cultures that value more social interface. I’ve heard that the further north you go, the quieter and more withdrawn the culture is. My husband chuckled to hear a Dutchman go on and on about how unfriendly the Swedes were when he moved to Stockholm!

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