Still Adjusting | My country through Danish eyes

April 27th, 2013

This article is more than 10 years old.

There is not much way around it: last week was a bad one for the United States.

From the Boston Marathon bombing bringing terrorism back to American shores, to the subsequent manhunt that unfortunately sent a clear message that one deranged man can completely shut down a major US city, it was a long, rough week.

So long and rough, in fact, that an industrial explosion that claimed at least 14 lives was largely lost in the shuffle. So too was the remarkable lack of backbone displayed by the US Senate in its failure to advance legislation on gun control.

And now the effort to push comprehensive immigration reform through Congress, which in recent years has made a mockery of its reputation as “the world’s greatest deliberative body”, looks likely to be hampered by the Chechen background of the two brothers behind the Boston attack.

On the bright side, one thing Congress members were able to agree upon was to roll back restrictions on their own insider trading.

A bad week for America indeed. But it was also one of the more surreal weeks for me personally in some time.

As news editor, it is my job to follow the Danish news closely. As a result, much of what I read of the recent US events was via the Danish news.

A lot of that coverage was accompanied by so-called ‘experts’ in the Danish media who proclaim to know not only the ins and outs of US current events, but also to have a finger on the pulse of the American collective consciousness.

While some of the Danish coverage was very good, I find it tiresome that so many Danes think they know everything about America. And it’s not just journalists.

Recently, DR2 wrapped up airing ‘Pind og Holdt i USA’, a series following politician Søren Pind and photographer Jacob Holdt on a journey through the US to explore various political themes. Although I found the programme quite entertaining, what struck me most is that while the views these Danes hold of the US are poles apart, neither of them matches my reality.

Frankly, it is hard to find any Dane who doesn’t have strong opinions about the United States – opinions that they are all too eager to share with me. It is an impossible task for me not to be annoyed when someone proclaims to have a deep understanding of the US when it has been built solely upon what they have gleaned through the media. Sure, they’ll often tell me they spent a week in New York or something, but so what? In my 30-plus years of living in the US, I spent exactly 24 hours in the Big Apple, so one New York vacation does not an American expert make.

After nearly four combined years of living in Denmark, it is clear to me that there are still many things about the Danish culture that I do not understand. But I’m willing to bet that I come closer than most Danes’ understanding of my culture. After all, I live here and am seeing things with my own eyes, not through a screen. Nor am I basing my opinions on one solitary sightseeing trip through Copenhagen.

Following major news about your own country through the prism of foreign eyes, and via a secondary language, is a strange experience. Especially when one is in the news business but doesn’t cover international events. The Copenhagen Post’s entire news team consists of five people and a handful of indispensable interns. As much as I’d like to be weighing in on recent American events, we simply do not have the manpower to expand our news coverage beyond Denmark. Oh, we try to find ways to do it by, for example, speaking to the Copenhagen Marathon organisers to see what Boston changed for them, but by and large we are truly a Danish paper, not in language but in scope.

Very weird then to be moved to tears by fans of the Boston Bruins belting out the national anthem two days after the bombing, only to then come into the office to direct news coverage of things that frankly don’t mean nearly as much to me. Yes, the recent reforms pushed through are big deals, as is the recently-ended teacher lockout. But it’s times like these that really drive home just how much more connected I am to the US than Denmark, and most likely always will be.

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