During my junior year of college, I was afforded the opportunity to spend a semester living in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was as fun and as life-changing as every single other human’s study abroad experience, but it also provided some valuable insight into a country that simply put, is pretty good at being a country:
1. Happiness Is A Function Of Looking At The World Rationally
Despite its semi-brutal climate and decidedly Stephen Tobolowsky-esque billing on the world stage (Not exactly Brad Pitt, but dependably solid), Denmark has been consistently been considered the “happiest country in the world.”
This will make much more sense as the article progresses (the government cares, people actually trust and respect one another), but it could also boil down to the fact that when I went over my Danish friend’s house to watch the Denmark National Team play a soccer game, he wasn’t really mad that they lost–rather, he valued the experience of watching the game with friends, making jokes, and reveling in the fact that he had extremely low expectations for the team to begin with.
On the whole, Danes have a great knack for managing expectations, which makes success and accomplishments a pleasant surprise.
2. Trust Is Probably More Important Than Anything
Nobody’s knocking each other over to get on the train, nor is the common Dane getting into political fights on Facebook.
Danes implicitly trust their government, which I’ve always thought probably has to do with the fact that Denmark is a country of less than 6 million people. Meaning the country operates on a very manageable, assembly-type level–if a citizen voices something, the government will probably be able to hear it and react accordingly.
The country is also small enough for most government actions to have a direct affect on citizens–you may pay a ton of taxes, but that money gets turned around and goes directly back to you. Or if not you, your friends.
3. Your Values Aren’t Wrong, But They Might Not Always Apply
Around Christmas-time, I spent an afternoon with a Danish family so that we could further learn why Christmas-time is awesome. The eldest son, who was still living in the house at the time, was just returning from his job as the Danish equivalent of a TSA agent. For a good 10 minutes, the family marveled over his job as a Danish TSA agent.
Don’t think I’d get the same reaction if I went home with that job. Danes just don’t have the quite same flair for condescending pretension.
4. Doors Open When You Politely Knock
I noticed that when young Danes went out, they tended to go out in groups and then stick to that group for the duration of the night. In other words, Danish Bros weren’t exactly basing their entire night on sloppily going up to random girls and hi-fiving each other when they ultimately decide those girls were way too bitchy anyway.
Rather, Danes very much respected personal privacy and “me-time,” in the sense that they’ll rarely make an unsolicited introduction. But if you talk to a Dane–politely, and with respect–you may end up with a new friend. Or at the very least, a very friendly conversation.
5. When Everyone’s On Board, It’s Very Fun To Be Part Of The Team
Nearly half of a Dane’s income goes to taxes. This would never work in most other countries, because some people in other countries base their entire self worth on living in a penthouse apartment and making playful-yet-serious jokes about the “peasants” below them.
This mindset is much less of a thing in Denmark. Rather, there is something to being part of a larger entity, and playing your part in helping that entity succeed. Selfless, admirable, and filled with a lot of clinking beer glasses.
6. Humility Is A Very Attractive Quality To Have
At the end of my stay, I bought one of my Danish friends a gift. He didn’t react the way other people react to gifts, because in Denmark, friendship never seemed to be predicated on buying other people shit. Rather, it was based on actually liking the person and enjoying their company.
7. Traditions Are Only As Important As You Treat Them
I went to a julefrokost, which is a Christmas-time lunch rooted heavily in a vast array of tradition. Julefrokosts are like holiday parties, except they last about 8 hours, and feature a number of traditional songs, meals, and alcohol. At the julefrokost I attended, my other American friend and I were tasked to take continuous shots of this potato vodka at very specific intervals. Like a water pokemon on an Onyx, it was very effective.
The night was incredible, particularly because every single person there valued the importance of the tradition. No one left to go meet up with their other friends, and nobody got tired and grumbled about having to get up for work the next morning. Everyone gave a shit.
8. Having No Cars In Your Will Usually Make Your City A Lot Better
There are very few cars in Copenhagen. In addition to being very walkable, transportation is offered via a very well run metro and bus system. But perhaps more crucially, Copenhagen is a HUGE biking city, without also being filled with annoying, unimpressed moleskin fans who get into arguments about whether or not Kendrick Lamar is really the best rapper of the 2010s. Remarkable.
9. Hygge Over All
In english, hygge is best translated into coziness–the joy spent just kinda hanging out, eating and drinking and enjoying a good time. But more than a word, it’s a feeling of concentrated bliss-just enjoying the fact that this is a couch, and that’s a good smell. Few things are better.