Thanks to parental leave, for the first time since I was 13, I had a full summer off. Back in those days, one of the first things you’d be asked to do upon returning from summer vacation would be to write a ‘What I did this summer’ essay. Following those lines, here are five things I learned this summer:
1. Danish summers suck. Barring an extended late-August heat wave, summer 2012 will go down as the coldest and wettest in over 20 years. But even though this summer is worse than normal, the average Danish summer just isn’t very good. This surely comes as no news to those who have been here longer than me, but I’ve spent my three summers in Denmark always hoping that the weather will turn out better tomorrow. Now I know that it won’t.
2. Denmark is more than Copenhagen, but Copenhagen is the best. Another thing that falls in the non-news category for locals, I know, but I had the privilege of getting out into Udkantsdanmark a bit over the summer, and it was lovely. Life seemed simpler, the people friendlier. Still, when I had a random visit from some American friends and took them around the city, it renewed my appreciation for Copenhagen. With so much to see and do, it’s easy to see why our fair city set a tourism record this year. And while visitors can go to a lot of places in Europe and see old churches and the like, if you want to show visitors something that will stick in their memory, Christiania is the place.
3. The Danish media is very interested in my penis. Not much happens in Denmark over the summer. As a result, the media engages in what is known as agurketid (cucumber season) in which stories are fabricated out of thin air. The biggest non-story of this year was all about penises. If you are a subscriber to Politiken, you’re forgiven for thinking that the absence or presence of one’s foreskin is the most pressing issue in the entire world.
4. The revolution is not coming, and Pia is not going. Another agurketid story was Enhedslisten’s ‘revolution’. Party officials gleefully shared their vision of a utopia in which there are no police, no military, and the 15-year-old kid working the counter at 7-Eleven earns the same salary as the chief physician at Rigshospitalet. Johanne Schmidt-Nielson, the public face of the party, promptly put an end to the revolution talk, but after EL’s more extreme views were aired, it wasn’t a surprise that the party’s support dropped by three percent in the latest Megafon poll.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the ever-shrewd Pia Kjærsgaard dominated headlines and front pages last week when she announced that she would step down as Dansk Folkeparti’s leader and instead assume the self-created role of ‘values spokesperson’. It was a brilliant tactic. Newspapers nationwide (ours included) looked back on Pia’s career and gave her a grand send-off even though she’s not going anywhere. She demonstrated that clearly by jumping into the fray over DR’s Eid programming just days later.
5. The ‘Danish model’ has its plusses and minuses. As I spent many days during my nine weeks of paid leave feeling sincerely grateful for a public welfare system that allows such a thing, a couple of high-profile examples reminded me that the system is rife for exploitation.
Take, for example, the mother-daughter duo in Hvidore that lived in their own filth for 13 years. Both on early retirement (førtidspension), they allowed their home to turn into one giant dumpster, with trash stacked from floor to ceiling. Already having their livelihood provided by the public dole (and having already been moved from a previous home in similar condition), the clean-up of their befouled apartment cost the authorities a minimum of 600,000 kroner.
As I read Politiken’s well-written three-part story about the Hvidore mess, another story caught my eye. This one detailed the ‘dilemma’ of Kennet, a 249 kg man, also on førtidspension, who wasn’t content with having stomach stapling surgery paid for by the state, but instead wished that others’ tax kroner would send him on a 12-week ‘lifestyle’ course.
At a time when the Danish welfare model is under extreme pressure, it makes you wonder how much taxpayer money is being diverted from better causes. And with the current uproars surrounding Vejlegården restaurant’s collective bargaining agreement and the changes to the dagpenge system scheduled to kick in on January 1, it seems inevitable that certain aspects of the vaunted Danish model are going to be under intense debate in the near future.