I don’t regret many things in life, but I do regret not going to a party I was invited to almost fourteen years ago.
That was in 2000, when I first arrived in Denmark. It was a party to mark the opening of the Øresund Bridge, which connects Denmark and Sweden. There were no cars on the bridge yet, so you could easily walk or bike between these two countries that had been bitter enemies for hundreds of years. At one point, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden – who were both young and unmarried at time – met and shared a hug and kiss in the center of the bridge, right across the national dividing line.
Now, that’s a party.
I won’t be able to walk or bike across the Øresund Bridge any time soon. Half a million cars per month drive over it now, plus a train every twenty minutes, full of commuters.
There are Danes that live in Sweden, and Swedes that work in Denmark.
Personally, I love the Swedes who work in Denmark. Most work in restaurants or are shop assistants, and they have revolutionized customer service in Denmark by being cheerful. They say things like ‘Hello!” and “Can I help you?”
This is in contrast to traditional Danish service personnel, whose default approach is “Are you still here? What do you want?”
And then, of course, there are the Danes living in Sweden. At the height of the housing boom, living in Sweden was much cheaper. People could buy a house in Sweden they never could have afforded in Denmark.
The prices have leveled out a bit since, so there are two groups of Danes who live in Sweden. One is people who have new foreign romantic partners – gay or straight – who cannot be admitted to Denmark under the restrictive Danish immigration laws. That basically means anyone from outside the EU: Americans, Africans, Australians, Bolivians, Canadians, Chinese, Cubans and so on. The couple lives in Sweden for a couple of years, gets Swedish residency, and then they can move to Denmark
Swedes have a different attitude towards cars
The other group of Danes living in Sweden is people who love cars. Denmark, as you know, is bicycle country. Denmark has never really had a car industry, which is one of the reasons the tax on a new car in Denmark is 180% and more and more streets in Copenhagen are being closed off to cars entirely.
Sweden had a car industry. There’s not much of it left with Saab bankrupt and Volvo sold to the Chinese, but you can see the influence of that car industry as soon as you go over the bridge to Malmo. The streets are much wider, even in the newer parts of downtown. Swedish streets are built for cars.
When a young Danish man moves to Sweden, often the very first thing he does is buy a car he never could have afforded in Denmark.
The truth is, there are some ways that the bridge has brought Denmark and Sweden closer together. Danes buy vacation homes in Southern Sweden. Swedes come to attend university in Denmark. Danes go shopping in Sweden, because almost everything is cheaper there. As a matter of fact, the only thing cheaper in Denmark than in Sweden is alcohol.
Yet Swedes and Danes are still very different peoples. Danes still eat rye bread, Swedes eat flatbread. Danes eat sausages, Swedes eat meatballs.
And Danes, as cold as they may seem to outsiders, are still more outgoing than the Swedes, at least when they’re not serving customers. AmongScandinavians, Danes are sometimes called the Latins of the North. They know how to sit down, open a bottle of wine, and enjoy life.
Big Brother with a terrible haircut
Swedes, on the other hand, are known as the Prussians of the North. They’re tall. They stand up straight. They’re formal, and they follow rules. And the men have terrible haircuts.
Do you remember the hairstyle known as ‘the mullet’ in the United States? It’s that terrible two-level haircut so many men had in the 1980s – the Ziggy Stardust, or heavy metal hair. Short in the front, long in the back. Or, as it’s sometimes said, business in front, party in the back. The mullet, in Denmark, is known as Swedish hair.
To Danes, Sweden is a big brother with a terrible haircut. He’s uptight, he’s boring, he’s stiff. He can’t dance. And he has lots of rules and insists on following every one of them.
There’s a famous saying that inside every Swede is a little policeman trying to get out . . . and inside every Dane, there’s a little criminal.
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Image mashup copyright Kay Xander Mellish 2023
Read also: Danes and Norwegians