While I am a massive fan of Denmark and the concept of hygge – that elusive coziness that involves hot chocolate, intimate talks, and usually warm socks – I discovered the dark side of Denmark, one of the happiest countries on earth by reports. In my most recent trip, I enjoyed everything about it – particularly the relatives and the hygge I experienced within the walls of their homes. Lovely, and there is usually cake or chocolate.
I saw countless beautiful people with excellent posture, a multitude of blondes young and old, and Copenhagen fashion at its best. I enjoyed castles, Viking mounds, and learned about Gorm the Old and his son Harald the Bluetooth – and oh yes – in case you didn’t know, Ericsson, the developer of Bluetooth, named the system after Harald, one of the ancient kings of Denmark and Norway – did you know that? I didn’t! His rule started in 958. That’s a while back. He was the first Christian king, his claim to fame. Denmark has a truly fascinating history – and it is really, really long. Makes America look like a baby, for real.
While enjoying the history, architecture, cobblestone streets, bicycles, and incredible pastries and coffee, another aspect of Denmark raised its ugly head, which I choose to call “The Danish Stinkeye.” I live in the Los Angeles area, a much-maligned urban zone, but I was very happy to get back home and experience a warm, friendly, and considerate culture. Yup. It’s true. The Danes are just not friendly to people they don’t know. Pretty general statement, it is only fair to admit that I did run into a few friendly folks. A few.
First Danish Stinkeye
The first experience was while travelling on one of Denmark’s (excellent) highways. Their roads are far superior to the battered L.A. freeways, but of course, much less travelled. I wasn’t at the wheel, but I happened to look over to the next lane and see a Danish fellow (well, he could have been Swedish, German, or other Northern European) and he was gesturing at me to change lanes. Let’s say his face looked – exceptionally ugly. We changed lanes. Now, Los Angeles is known for having jerk drivers but Denmark takes it to whole a new level. A major plus is – no guns. And that’s a big plus.
Second Danish Stinkeye
As I was crossing the street, pushing a two-child stroller over bumpy cobblestones (not easy), I happened to commit the serious error of being within the bike-allowed zone for a moment too long. A Danish woman rode up behind me and said something rude in my ear that I am glad I did not comprehend. Never, never, make the mistake of getting in the way of a bicyclist in Copenhagen – they rule the streets. Now, all you bike-riders will probably think her actions were justified, and cheer for her. For me, when it is obviously a struggle to get a big stroller over the cobblestones and make it to the sidewalk, a teeny tiny bit of consideration might be okay too. Just a thought.
Third Danish Stinkeye
My third experience was at Netto, a grocery chain found all over Copenhagen. I lined up to buy my items, I even brought my bag – we do that in Los Angeles too, after all. My big boo-boo was FAILING to put the plastic divider on the belt after placing my items. The handsome, tall Danish guy behind me reached over, grabbed the plastic divider and plunked it down HARD while giving me a singularly dirty look. As I lived in Canada while growing up, it is only natural to say “sorry” – which I did, but to no avail. He made it clear I had overstepped the bounds of propriety by failing to place the plastic divider. I mean, c’mon guys. Relax.
Walking Around: DO NOT SAY HI.
If you walk down any street and pass another human being, don’t expect to be acknowledged with the smallest smile, a hello, or even a glance. It is a weird sort of “you don’t exist” experience, particularly after living in the L.A. area, where the culture is friendly and engaged and people randomly chat, and tend to be helpful. If you want to buy something, don’t expect considerate service, but to be treated as an annoyance. Okay, one guy was nice – but he really stood out. Even my Danish relative made a comment about how it seemed he wanted to come home with us. In fact, he just acted like a normal Los Angeles person – nothing other than a pleasant smile and a few friendly words. I walked a lot, about five miles a day or so, as there is a lot to see and enjoy. In all my moving about Copenhagen, only one person cracked a smile in my direction. One.
Guilt Sets In.
Now I feel guilty. I really do love Denmark, and our relatives are some of the nicest, warmest, kindest and most generous people I have ever met. But hey Denmark people – move some of that hygge stuff out into your culture – you might like it. And enjoy your next trip to L.A. I promise to say hello and smile at when we pass on the street.