I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later: I’ve start getting comments to the effect that my continual banging on about everything that’s wrong about Denmark has worn a bit thin. It reminds me of that 1960s ad for a certain deodorant: “BO [body odour] – what even your best friend won’t tell you.” So when your best friends do start telling you that you’re becoming just as boorish as the people you write about, then it’s time to do something. Or at least think about doing something.
The easiest thing would be to just stop expressing myself in print and continue to be a grumpy old man in private. But where’s the fun in that? And it’s not as though it’s personal. After all, I’ve lived here for 34 years so it can’t be all that bad. “Then why don’t you write something positive about Denmark?” goes the cry. Well, because I’m a grumpy old man and I’ve cultivated that image very carefully over my advancing years and tuned it to near perfection – or at least as near perfection as a perfectionist can admit to.
I try very hard to convince my critics that I’m not against Denmark and everything Danish. It’s just that I live here, and I like to kick up a bit of dust. If I lived anywhere else I like to think I’d be just as critical, although there might be some places where I wouldn’t get the same satisfaction in doing so. And there are probably places where it might be downright dangerous to do so. So that’s maybe the answer – I’m a bit of a coward but know I’ll be safe practising my grumpy skills in Denmark because I get absolutely no reaction. Any foreigner daring to do the same in, for example, most places in the States would probably risk ending up in the foundations of the latest casino in Las Vegas.
Indeed, a lot of the reaction seems to come from Americans who have chosen to settle here in preference to the land of their birth. And when you come to think of it, that’s quite a life-determining decision to take. The contrast in social philosophy could hardly be greater, at least within what we call the ‘Western world’. It’s not so culturally difficult as a Brit to move around in western Europe – the variety of languages just adds a little spice to the adventure. So the relatively small things that I find it amusing to criticise should be almost insurmountable obstacles to an American. But apparently that’s just the point. Whereas I’m not aware of any books written by Brits about living in Denmark, there are certainly such books written by Americans. Because for them it really is something to write about!
As an encouragement for me to see the more positive side of living here, and thereby presumably to put an end to my perceived negativity, a friend (an American of course) introduced me to such a book, entitled ‘Americans in Denmark’ by F Richard Thomas. It’s from 1990 but still very relevant regarding the basic reasons why people who espouse a very different set of values would appear to want to give that all up. I use the phrase ‘appear to’ judiciously, as it’s not the values that they shun, but the way of life that goes with it: the endless pressure to achieve, the violence that often goes with it, and the heightened sense of guilt or shame that goes with not living up to the ‘dream’.
All this anxiety and fear is immediately quenched on moving to a country like Denmark. Here, nobody expects you to account for yourself or even take responsibility for your own actions, unless they are clearly criminal. And even then, you may get the benefit of the doubt as one of society’s ‘weaker’ members. The opposite side of the coin is that you can’t expect to be too excited or challenged by anything. It’s a choice that a lot of people make, not just Americans, and it looks like I made it too.
Gee, I guess I just said somethin’ positive about Denmark! Aw shucks.