While I am still learning a lot, the learning curve is not quite as sharp as it was for the first six weeks or so. I am grateful to be able to spend an extended academic year here, rather than the one semester (or less) that many Fulbright scholars spend abroad. As I transition from the holidays into exams, I am continuing to learn about teaching American studies in Denmark (and will have more to say on that subject). For now, here are a few more cultural observations about Denmark and the Danes:
The biggest notable difference between the U.S. and Denmark is what I have come to think of as the “ethic of care” I see everywhere. This is hard to explain, and I certainly have limited experience, but I don’t see the same kinds of poverty. People are happy and healthy and fed, clothed, and housed. They can go to the doctor any time they need to. This is, of course, the shiny surface of Denmark, and there are aspects I don’t see or know, but generally, there is a basic respect for people that I have never seen in the U.S.
The Danish love cake (as I have observed before and will mention again and again!). I can identify with this love. While American cake is a rather narrow—though deliciously diverse category—for the Danish, a wide variety of baked sweets are categorized as cage. I have tried several varieties, and will try more, but really I have been inspired by the Danes to bake my own vegan cakes, not that it takes much convincing to get me to make a cake!
Health and fitness seems to be integrated into a generally active lifestyle… even with all the love of drinking and eating and celebrating. And Danes will use any excuse for a party. Before it even got dark on New Year’s Eve, the fireworks started and they didn’t stop. In fact, in the period from just before Xmas to after New Year’s fireworks were a regular sight and sound several times a day.
While I have often thought of Americans as being rude, the Danish are “rude” without realizing that their behavior may be offensive. Or, rather, that they don’t care if their behavior is “rude.” It is just Danish. For instance, there is no Danish word for please. And almost all of them will knock you off the sidewalk or out of the bike lane (fair enough) if you are in the way.
I can respect Danish “rudeness” to an extent. I am not a huge fan of “small talk” and the American tendency to greet people with a “how you doing” is one of my least favorite customs. We say this without thinking and we really don’t want to know how someone is doing; we don’t wait long enough to hear the obligatory answer most of the time. The Danes just don’t bother.
And, finally, since almost all things come back to food. Candy is a huge thing; crackers are not. Candy seems to dominate in Danish grocery stores. Almost all of them have an extensive candy isle as well as a bulk candy bin with almost a hundred candy choices. Unfortunately, for my palate—and the typical American taste—much of it is anise (or black licorice) flavor. Sometimes it is even salted.
With all of the spreads available in Denmark, the cracker options are severely limited compared to U.S. grocery stores. The bread choices abound—and then some—but the crackers are dreadfully lacking. I tried to explain crackers to a Danish friend. I was at a loss for words to describe the crackers varieties that range from simple to fancy, cheap to expensive, plain to flavored. There are too many crackers for me to even begin to explain what a cracker is.
I don’t even really eat that many crackers in my typical diet at home. There are a few things that just call for crackers, but otherwise, I don’t normally crave crackers. But here, without the availability of diverse crackers, I crave Triscuits and Wheat Thins, and Saltines, and fancy multi-packs, and the ability to just grab a box of crackers for whatever cracker craving I desire. Ah, white people problems I didn’t expect in such a white, white world!