This essay is from a series I wrote in co-operation with the Danish tabloid BT in 2003, shortly after I arrived in Denmark. The line drawings are my own.
When I first came to Denmark, people kept asking me what I thought about Danish men. It seemed like a weird question. Why didn’t they ask what I thought about Danish weather (bad) or Danish food (bad), or, for that matter, Danish women and children? (very nice, in my experience).
I soon learned their interest in Danish men was a variation on the famous German saying: Man spricht uber das, was man nicht hat. (You talk about what you don’t have.) There are NOT a lot of men in Denmark, although there is quite a bounty of tall, timid boys.
While the culture of egalitarianism has done some great things for Denmark – where else will you see tattooed musclemen pushing baby carriages? – it has led to a terrific siphoning off of testosterone. Danish men seem too timid to do anything that makes men men, such as taking risks, taking initiative, or enjoying the pure thrill of the chase. Don’t return a Frenchman’s calls, and he will become intrigued and pursue you until the end of the Earth. Don’t return a Dane’s phone call (singular) and he will forget the whole thing.
Either that, or worse, he will sit home and sulk about it. Last year, I briefly dated a good-looking triathlete, a guy with a hot job and a fancy car, the kind of guy that in New York would have arrogance preceding him into the room like a bad after shave. Three days after a single unreturned phone call, I got a tremulous email from him.
You haven’t called I wonder if this is because you don’t like me please , if I am bothering you, let me know.
For a girl used to American macho, this was about as expected like John Wayne asking for second coat of nail polish.
This is not to say that American men are perfect: they wear baseball caps everywhere but the shower, and their idea of child care often involves letting the child sit beside them while they watch basketball on TV.
But I’ve done a lot of traveling, and I must say that the relations between the sexes in Denmark are the strangest I’ve ever seen. The women do everything: they initiate, they seduce, they even get on top, and the men seem to expect it. “I want to be scored,” a drunken colleague once confessed to me. Imagine John Wayne saying that.
I know that when you choose to live in a foreign country, as I have, you must learn to adapt to local culture. I have learned that expecting a door to be held open for me is an invitation to get hit in the face with a door. I have struggled home with large packages while male neighbors just cheerfully wave hello. Wearing high heels and a skirt, I have wrestled my bike out from a pile of collapsed junkers while hefty workmen smoked cigarettes against the bike rack.
But I don’t know if ever get used to the timidity factor. Three months ago, my co-workers set me up on a blind date with a 36-year old man Danish man who had built a successful international company. We arranged to meet in a small cafe downtown, and since I was there a bit early, I got a cup of coffee and sat alone at a table near the door. Apart from the waiter and a group of elderly Swedes, I was the only one in the place.
My date arrived on time, and when I saw him coming through the door, I was pleased. He was a real looker, tall and athletic. He saw me, smiled, and went to the bar. Fair enough, I thought. He’ll order himself a cup of coffee, and then come sit down.
And he did sit down. He sat down at the bar, and took to looking out the doorway.
He sat there. I sat there. He sat there, staring out the door.
Could he not see me? Did he think I was late? Was he waiting for somebody better to come along?
Or, as I now suspect, was he simply waiting for me to make the first move? Was he waiting for me to get up from the table where I was sitting, walk across the room (carrying my unfinished coffee), and introduce myself?
Sadly, I’ll never know, because after the 15 minutes it took me to figure out what was required of me, Mr. Wonderful got up and left.
What do I think of Danish men? I have heard that they are wonderful, that they are warm, funny, thoughtful, and sexy. I hear that they are the prototype for men of the 21st century. I am looking forward to meeting one.
Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2021