There’s a postcard you can buy at souvenir shops called The Perfect European. You’ve probably seen it somewhere. Last time I went through Kastrup airport, there was a poster version in the customs area.
The postcard has been around since the 1980s, and it has several small cartoons, illustrating each nationality within the 1980s EU, and making a sarcastic remark about what it does best. It says: The Perfect European is as humorous as a German. The Perfect European drives like the French. The Perfect European is as humble as a Spaniard, as organized as a Greek, as calm as an Italian, and serves traditional British food.
And, according to the postcard, The Perfect European is as discreet as a Dane. A little cartoon in the lower-right-hand corner shows a blond Danish man opening his coat to show off pictures of naked ladies.
Denmark was the first country in the world to legalize pornography, in 1969. And for awhile, it was the world’s leading exporter of pornography.
There was also a flourishing red light district in Copenhagen, in which tourists were regularly fleeced.
My grandmother, who was in her 80s when I moved here, was very upset when she heard this, probably from one of the other residents in her old folks’ home who had been one of those tourists. Anyway, she said to me, “I didn’t know you were moving to a sex town!”
It can be done more cheaply elsewhere
Fast forward thirty or forty years, Denmark no longer produces much pornography. Like shipbuilding and painting blue flowers on plates – two other vanished Danish industries -it can all be done more cheaply elsewhere.
But Denmark is still one of the most relaxed places in the world when it comes to nudity and sex. There are naked ladies in the daily newspaper and hardcore pornography broadcast on TV every night at midnight. Even prime time has lots of naked bodies.
At Danish swimming halls, everyone of the same gender showers nude out in the open – no towels, no partitions. You learn a lot about how the human body ages that way.
There are also almost no taboos about sex. The age of consent in Denmark is fifteen. It’s common for parents of teenage children to let boyfriends or girlfriends stay overnight.
One night stands are common – but not guaranteed, as some foreign men have found to their disappointment. But people don’t look down on women or men who are sexually active. Being gay in Denmark is no big thing – in fact, it’s so accepted that there’s not that much of a gay community. There’s no big repression for people to unite against.
Except it’s not really very sexy
But the funny thing is, even though Denmark is very open about sex, it isn’t very…sexy. Everything’s so accepted, out in the open, so practical, that there’s none of that frisson of naughtiness, never that, ’Oh, we shouldn’t be doing this, but we are!’
So, to get that romance, to get that pounding feeling of passion and raunchiness in a sexual culture where everything is allowed, Danes have one outlet. They cheat. They cheat on their partners. Whether it’s more or less than any other country, I don’t know. But Denmark is a society built on trust, so cheating on your partner is a way to possibly make your entire life fall apart.
I stopped going to Danish movies for a while, because there was a period in which every single one was about infidelity. Someone cheated on someone, they had an hour of deep discussion about their relationship, and then they broke up at the end. Roll the credits.
Look, infidelity creates a lot of hurt feelings. But the fact is, modern Denmark is a society where you’re protected in many ways. There’s not much crime, not much violence, very little homelessness or hunger. You’re protected from unemployment by the Danish safety net. You’re protected from poor health by the public health service. People in Denmark live practical, sensible, safe lives. One of the few ways you can throw caution to the wind here, really take a risk. . . is to cheat on your partner.
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Photo Credit: Denmark’s Royal Library, photographer Svend Türck, via Creative Commons
Dating Danish Men: A Guide for the Foreign Woman
Dating Danish Women: A Guide for the Foreign Man
Dating in Denmark: Get Drunk and Find Your True Love
Can I date my Danish colleague?
How to date a Dane: The Two-Speed Bicycle and the Flexible Word