I don’t ordinarily get my technology news from the local newspaper sold by the homeless in Denmark, but I did this week. First of all, I learned that you can pay your homeless newspaper seller by text message. If you don’t have loose change, as I often don’t, you can send a text to the newspaper seller’s registration number, along with the amount you want to give him, and the seller gets paid right away.
Secondly, I learned that some homeless people have iPhones. Not my particular seller, but another reader had written a letter to the editor of the newspaper saying he’d tried to buy a paper the previous week and his seller had been too wrapped up in his iPhone to pay attention to a potential customer. The letter writer was asking if it made sense to spend 20 kroner on a newspaper to help a man who had a phone that was worth at least 2000 kroner.
The newspaper had a good response. They said an iPhone was the perfect device for a homeless person. It allowed him to keep all the information he needed in one place – government documents, health records, family photos. And it was a way for him to get phone calls and emails related to housing or jobs. I thought that was a very sensible approach.
Danes have a very sensible approach to IT in general. As I’ve said on other podcasts, the Danes are very practical people, and they use IT for all manner of practical things. For example, there’s a new app you can get from your kommune that allows you to immediately report things that need repairing around town. You know, you come across a park bench that’s broken, and you just hit the app, send the GPS coordinates, and it’s immediately reported to the right person. How long it will take them to fix it is another question – it is the kommune after all – but at least it’s reported.
There’s a new mosque opening down the street from me this spring, a big one. It will be the first mosque with minarets in Denmark, although the minarets are legally prohibited from calling to prayer.
The people behind the mosque are doing everything they can to blend in with the local neighborhood – they even went to observe at a local church service a couple of Sundays ago. Given the Danes’ lack of interest in religion, they were probably the only ones there.
There are a lot of Muslims in Denmark, about 250,000 out of a population of five-and-a-half million, most of who have arrived here in the past 40 years.
And contrary to what the Danish right-wing parties might say, they’ve brought a lot of good things to Denmark, and not just Shwarma shops.
I’ve been away from the podcast for a couple weeks. I’ve been on vacation in the USA. But I’m back now, and it only takes a few minutes after I arrive at Kastrup airport before something happens to destroy the relaxing effect of 2 weeks off and several thousand kroner spent on spas, hotels and tasty dinners.
Denmark is a pretty good place to raise children.
Working hours are short, and it’s perfectly OK to leave work at 3 or 4 o’clock to pick up your kids. There’s a good system for early childhood health. A nurse visits your home when your child is a baby. Later, there are regular checkups with a doctor.If your child has the sniffles, you can take off work and stay home with her. The first two days are paid time off.
And, of course, there’s the day care system. It’s not free, but it’s reasonably priced, and it’s nice to be able to drop off your kid in a safe place with trained people while you go to work.
In some countries, there’s a lot of controversy about whether very young children should be in day care or at home with their parents. Not in Denmark. 97% of kids go to day care, even the children of the Royal Family. Even the future king, currently known as ten-year-old Prince Christian, went to day care.
There was big news this week for foreigners in Denmark. It looks like dual nationality in Denmark will soon be permitted. Previously, if you wanted to be a Danish citizen, you had to give up citizenship in your home country.
Meanwhile Danes who had moved abroad, say to the US or Australia, and became citizens there had to give up their Danish citizenship.
There’s now been a proposal to get rid of all that. It hasn’t been finally approved, but all the Danish parties say they’ll vote for it, with the exception of our anti-foreigner friends in the Danish People’s Party.
Why I’ll apply
Now having been here for 14 years, I will probably apply for Danish citizenship. I realize I’ll have to do a lot of studying about Danish history, and learn things like the difference between King Christian the Fourth and King Christian the Seventh.
But that’s true of any country. I’m sure people wanting to be American citizens have to learn the difference between, say, George Washington and George Bush.
Last week, political posters went up all over Copenhagen, on streetlights, on bridges, and on train platforms.
The posters are for the local elections this month, and even though the candidates are supposed to take them down afterwards, they usually don’t.
So, the candidates will keep smiling and making promises through Christmas, and through the winter snow and ice. Come spring, you’ll see a faded, battered photo of somebody who failed to win anything at all hanging from a light pole near you.
The ‘left’ party is not leftist
I like Danish politics, and I follow it, even though I don’t follow Danish sports or entertainment. I like Danish politics because it involves a lot of intelligent women running things, with men standing in the background to help them out.
I have a daughter, and a couple of years ago, she buried her mobile phone in the sandbox at school.
She buried her mobile phone deep in the sand, too deep to hear it ring, and then she couldn’t find it. She dug and dug, and then she panicked, and she blamed another girl. She said the other girl had buried the phone in the sandbox.
Pretty soon lie piled on top of lie, so we ended up with a Richard Nixon/Bill Clinton type situation, where the lies were far worse than the original crime. When we finally unraveled it all, I had to apologize to the other girl’s mother.
And I punished my daughter, who was old enough to know better. I took her screens away – her online games and her YouTube access – for a month.
I am an adult bully
The Danish parents around me were horrified.
The idea of punishment, in Danish eyes, is old-fashioned and maybe a bit criminal in itself. From the Danish point of view, almost all problems can be solved by talking about them.
Shortly before I arrived in Denmark in 2000, one of the famous guards outside the queen’s palace at Amalieborg was fired. You’ve seen these guards in pictures, the Royal Life Guards. They’re dressed like the British palace guards, only with dark blue coats, instead of red. They have the same tall, black, bearskin hats. It’s no big secret that being in the Royal Life Guards is an excellent path to a powerful future in corporate Denmark.
Anyway, the guard that was fired was special. She was the first woman to guard the Royal Palace at Amalieborg. There was a lot written about it in the newspapers at the time. Unfortunately, this young lady also had a part-time job. She was a prostitute. She would guard the palace by day and run her business out of the royal barracks in the evening. She found customers via escort ads in the local newspapers.
So the young lady was fired. But she was NOT fired because she was a prostitute. She was fired because she’d been ordered by her commander to stop moonlighting after her side-job was first discovered, and she did not stop. In fact, she’d been asking her soldier colleagues to drive her to her various nighttime appointments. She was fired for not following orders.
Danish names strongly indicate the owner’s age group. Peter, or its variant Peder, used to be the most popular boy’s name in Denmark. To Danish children, Winnie-the-Pooh is “Peter Plys,” and Curious George is “Peder Pedal.”
But in 11 years living in Denmark, I have met precisely two “Peter”s under age 50, and none in my small daughter’s generation.
The trend for boys in her class is “M” names – Magnus, Marius, Mathias, Markus, Mikkel, or Malvin. And with globalization and the Disney Channel, no one bothers to rename cartoon characters any more. There is no Magnus Mouse.
Guess who you’ll be meeting
Danish first names are extremely generational, and cracking the code means you can pretty much guess who will be across the table from you in a business meeting or blind date without knowing anything else about them.
If the man you are meeting is named Flemming, Preben, Henning, or Bent, he is at retirement age or near it.
His wife, sisters or the lady-next-door-he-is-running-away-with will be named Bente or Birthe. His buddies are Ole or Finn.
Nobody involved knows what TikTok is.
This essay is from a series I wrote shortly after I arrived in Denmark. The line drawings are my own.
To truly know a country, you must get to know its people. Not just ordinary people, the butcher and the baker and the sulking lady at the sausage stand, but its famous people.
On this basis, I am integrating very badly. I simply cannot tell Danish celebrities apart. Of course, the Royal Family and their troubles are familiar to anyone who stands in line for groceries, but the others all blend together for me in a sea of teeth and hair.
It’s confusing and isolating, being outside the local currents of fame. Magazines run in-depth profiles of Danish actresses disclosing their new, intimate secrets when I don’t even know their old, intimate secrets. The Big Brother celebrity house looked exactly like any other house to me. And out in public, I have often witnessed the Danish people around me are getting very, very excited by someone who looks to me like a well-dressed bus driver.
I’ve tried to catch up. Recently, I did what thousands of Danes do every week – I bought one of the supermarket gossip magazines. (At least, I hear that thousands of Danes buy supermarket gossip magazines every week. I never see them reading them. In cafes and other places where people can see them, they always seem to be reading the very smallest print in the highbrow newspaper Information.)