Get Your Biering’s: The lost airpods and Danish trust

This photo popped up on my phone recently. It was on the local Østerbro Facebook group – and it pictures the airpods and wallet that I had lost two hours earlier. The person was posting the photo to find me.

What goes around …
Does it make sense? You walk down the street and find airpods. Then, in the middle of your busy day you take a photo and post in a local Facebook group, wait for a stranger to respond and arrange to meet. Why bother?

To a Dane it makes perfect sense. Kindness to a stranger is the right thing to do (thank you, Martin Luther) and it will make you feel good. By facebook’ing your kindness, you will also make the airpod-owner happy and others will be inspired to do the same in the future – maybe one day to you! 

Lovely weirdness
Still not convinced? Well, for me, having lived many years abroad, I still get caught by surprise by these small signs of … lovely weirdness. And I am not alone. Through my work as an executive coach for international leaders in Denmark and my research on onboarding, I hear again and again how the trust that Danes have in each other is admired. 

It ranges from strangers taking the trouble to find the owner of wallets and watches, and homeowners setting up fruit stands and expecting people to pay and not just enjoy free strawberries, to trusting the municipal employee to be fair – and not being proved wrong.

Total trust in taxation
Seen from the outside the trust can be a bit excessive. Look no further than the tax system. Very few Danes understand how they are taxed, really. And still, they trust it works as it should, while it whittles away 50-70 percent of their income. 

And then there is the CPR system. A client of mine is flabbergasted. “WHY would you give up your privacy – for the sake of system efficiency???” he asked. 

Worth the perseverance
And of course, there is the issue of foreigners. If you have made it through Kafkaesque hurdles to get the residency, it is still close to impossible for many internationals to penetrate the membrane surrounding Danish society. Many feel like outsiders and sometimes give up – choosing to focus on the international bubble. 

My hope is that you will not give up. Ask Danish colleagues straight up if they want to become friends. Arrange communal meals at work. Join the local choir, wine tasting or Zumba group … whatever is your fancy. Danes can be very nice once you make the breakthrough, and being surrounded by their trust can be quite an experience. 

But sometimes the membrane needs a good shove.