Many of you have asked for a print version of the ‘How to Live in Denmark’ book – and now it’s finally here! Find out how to get your copy.
Whenever I hear that Denmark is the happiest country in the world, I think of Donald Duck.
Donald Duck is extremely popular in Denmark, as he is in all Nordic countries. He is much more popular than Mickey Mouse. He even has his own Danish name – Anders And. Which means, basically, Anders the Duck.
I don’t know how much you know about Disney characters, but Donald Duck – or Anders Duck – is kind of a second-class citizen. While Mickey Mouse is the perfect gentleman, outgoing and take charge, the face of Disney, Donald is lazy. He likes to come up with clever ways to avoid work, or avoid any exercise whatsoever. He’s often short-tempered, and jealous of Mickey.
Donald Duck is an underdog, and Danes identify with the underdog. They identify with the idea of low expectations, and then being pleasantly surprised when things turn out well.
This is the secret to Danish happiness. While Americans might identify with bright, happy Mickey, there’s a lot of room for disappointment if your bright, happy plans don’t work out the way you hoped they would.
Danes are OK with dashed expectations, of disappointment. Denmark is a small country, often tossed around by big countries. Denmark hasn’t won a war in more than 400 years, during which time they’ve lost a lot of territory. Parts of Sweden, parts of Germany, all of Norway. And Denmark has long been an agricultural country in a tough climate, with crops that sometimes succeed and sometimes fail.
The Denmark we know now is hip, green, and confident. But 100 to 200 years ago, Denmark was one of the poorest countries in Europe.
So, given their history, Danes have turned this repeated disappointment into a form of humor called ‘self-irony’, the ability to make fun of yourself.
For example, there’s an old tradition called the kvajebajer, or a ‘Failure Beer’. When you’ve made a big mistake or a made big fool of yourself, you treat the people who saw you to a pint of beer. I read in an interview with one of Denmark’s great young ballet stars, Alban Leindorf, that he’d fallen down during practice while trying to do a tricky pirouette. That evening, he bought kvajebajer – failure beer – for all the other dancers who had witnessed his fall.
In the honor-based Asian countries, if you make a mistake, you lose face, it’s very embarrassing. You’ll do anything you can to hide it. In Denmark, if you fail you’re expected to not just admit it, but pretend to celebrate it. It shows you don’t take yourself too seriously, that you don’t think you’re better than anyone else. And that’s very, very Danish.
Hear the rest of the story in the full podcast Donald Duck, Anti-depressants and the Myth of Danish Happiness in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.
Rather read? The How To Live in Denmark book contains transcripts from the first season of the How To Live in Denmark podcast, including popular podcasts such as ‘How to Date a Danish Woman’ ‘How to Date a Danish Man’ and ‘No Planned Hangovers: 14 Years After Moving to Denmark, Here are Some Ways I Won’t Fit In.’ The book costs only DK49, and is available for download on your local version of Amazon.com and Saxo.com and Apple’s iBooks Store. It can be read on any electronic tablet or telephone, using the free Kindle app or iBooks. Coming soon: A paper version of the book suitable for holiday giving. Mail Kay at kay @ howtoliveindenmark.com to get on the waiting list.
Join us for a free ‘How to Live in Denmark’ event in Sønderborg at 7pm on Thursday, November 20. The address is Skansen, Aabenraavej 25. Admission free! The event is sponsored by ‘Expat in Denmark.’
‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is an old French Christmas song. But those twelve days have nothing on the Danes, who have more than two months of Christmas, and would probably have it last all the way to spring if they could get away with it.
If you’re in Denmark, you’ve probably already seen the Christmas wrapping paper and elf hats hit the shelves, along with the first of the gingerbread Christmas cookies.
It’s been a beautiful autumn here in Denmark. Golden sun and blue skies, red and yellow and orange leaves on the trees. Just gorgeous. And unusually warm for Denmark. It’s always exciting when, instead of wearing your winter coat every day from October to April, you can wear it every day from November to April.
But this unusually pleasant weather can’t help but spark conversation about global warming. So far the biggest impact climate change has had in Denmark are some severe rainstorms, when end up flooding a lot of basements and overwhelming a lot of sewer systems. It’s intriguing to think that plumbers may become the great heroes of the twenty-first century.
Danes care about climate change, and they’ve made a business specialty of green technology, or what they like to call clean technology. Cleantech. It sells windmills to create windpower, and burns most of its household garbage in an environmentally friendly way, to create home heating.
Danes care about the environment because they care about nature. Less than a hundred years ago, Denmark was a mostly agricultural country, and Danes still feel close to the land. Children in Denmark are constantly being taken out into whatever forests or meadows are nearby – in the cities, they get packed onto buses and trains to go get the forest experience. There’s even something called forest kindergarten (skovbørnehave) for children age 3 to 6. If you go to a forest kindergarten, you’re out in the woods every day, rain or shine, hot or cold.
The world’s fourth biggest polluter, per capita
So it’s ironic, given this romance between Danes and environmentalism, that Denmark was recently named the world’s fourth biggest polluters per capita by the World Wildlife Fund. Only three Middle Eastern countries. – Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE, were worse. (The US was 8th.)
The reason the Danes come in so high on this list is pigs. Pigs and pig products are Denmark’s major exports. Live pigs, pork, and diabetic insulin, which is genetically modified based on an extract from the pancreas of pigs.
It’s the pigs that keep Denmark strong. It’s the pigs that pay for all Denmark’s chic corporate sustainability departments and all those pretty windmills.
The modern Danish clean-energy economy is built on the back of pigs, and pigs are environmentally dirty. So are Denmark’s thriving dairy industry and wearable fur industry.
What’s more, the World Wildlife Fund tracks not only local pollution, but the pollution local consumers produce elsewhere. So, if a Dane buys a T-shirt from H&M or an iPhone that is produced in China, the pollution goes on the Danish account. And Danes buy a lot of stuff from abroad.
Danes also love to eat meat, from both local and international sources. And they love to travel. Airplanes are awful for the environment.
Now, all these contradictions don’t mean the Danes don’t believe in environmentalism. They do.
Hear the rest of the story in the full podcast Cheating on Mother Nature: Danes and Environmentalism in your browser, or subscribe to the podcast for free on iTunes.