This article is about Danishness, i.e. Danish culture, and was written for Danes, especially Danes living abroad, but I was asked for a translation so I hope it will make sense to a non-Danish, i.e. English speaking, audience. When I published the article in Danish, I beat my own monthly viewer record the first day so it created interest among my fellow Danes.
The current unified kingdom of Denmark was founded by the Viking, Gorm the Old and Harald Bluetooth in the 10th century, making the monarchy of Denmark the oldest in Europe. The Kingdom of Denmark was already consolidated in the late 8th century.
Why it is relevant to talk about Danishness?
It is relevant to talk about anything specific.
Danishness is mainly relevant to Danish people but also international people from all over the world show interest in Denmark and Danish values, whether it is people doing business with the Danes, people admiring or defying our social welfare model or people following our ideas from in or from outside the country.
I do not have to mention the gorgeous, intelligent and independent Danish women because everyone, the men at least, are fascinated with them, although some will find some of them more independent than they can necessarily manage. We were one of the first countries to give women equal rights and to integrate women on the labour market which has made them very strong and independent, yet obviously very feminine in a special Danish way.
The question about Danishness is logically highly relevant in Denmark, where the Danish society and values are being challenged by people, mainly from the Middle East, who think and act very differently and according to most Danes often based on primitive background, which can be very difficult to handle in a modern welfare society which was intended, developed and paid to serve its own citizens.
Demographics facts about Denmark
According to 2012 figures from Statistics Denmark, 89.6% of Denmark’s population of over 5,580,516 was of Danish descent, defined as having at least one parent who was born in Denmark and has Danish citizenship.
Many of the remaining 10.4% were immigrants or descendants of recent immigrants (defined as people born in Denmark from migrant parents, or parents without Danish citizenship) – less than a third of whom are from the neighbouring Scandinavian countries and Germany.
Over two-thirds include people from Turkey, Irak, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Asia, and from Western Asia. More than 590.000 individuals (10.4%) are migrants and their descendants (142.000 second generation migrants born in Denmark.
Of these 590.000 immigrants and their descendants:
200.000 (34%) have a Western background Norway, Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, UK, Poland and Iceland; definition: EU countries, non-EU Nordic countries, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, Switzerland, Vatican State, Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.).
390 000 (66%) have a non-Western background (Turkey, Iraq, Jews, Romani, Somali, Pakistan, Iran and Thailand; all other countries).
According to Mete Feridun (2006) immigration has implications for the labour market in Denmark. Moreover, according to the figures from Danmarks Statistik, crime rate among refugees and their descendants is 73% higher than for the average male population average, even when taking into account their socioeconomic background. A report from Teori- og Metodecentret (2006) found that seven out of ten young people placed on the secured youth institutions in Denmark are immigrants (with 40 percent of them being refugees).
Perspectives on Danishness outside Denmark
Living outside Denmark, like me and my family, our Danishness is naturally and constantly challenged and the differences awakened every day when working and living in a different culture, such as the Spanish one. The same is the case for many other nationalities that have to adapt to language and culture to function efficiently and happily.
I will try to identify some answers on what makes Danishness special seen from my perspective as a Dane, who has worked and lived abroad with family for almost 10 years, of which the last 6 years have been in Marbella, which is the most international and at least Spanish village in Spain. Furthermore, Marbella is one of the most cosmopolitan villages in the world as I have described in other articles.
The purpose of seeking answers to the question of Danishness is partly to illustrate why it is attractive for more and more Danes to stay part or fulltime outside Denmark – whether it is Marbella, Dubai or somewhere in Switzerland – partly to strengthen our awareness of where we come from, what we stand for and exemplify how this works in an international context.
And not least to illustrate how to be a Dane in the best possible way in Denmark, so our values and traditions are not only preserved but also developed and strengthened.
I work as an entrepreneur and my main activity is to deal with real estate in Marbella in a broad sense and my approach to find this area deeply inspiring is that a property is the frame around our life and if we move abroad the framework for a new and exciting chapter in ones life. My other activities are more on the creative side and will be explained in a future article.
One of the things I like very much about the Spanish society is that the family still constitutes the core and it is generally known that the Spaniards came out of the deep financial crisis, including a situation with 25% unemployment, due to the fact that the aged people borrowed money to the young as all banks boxes were not accessible for several years.
It is a strong and invincible feature of a society, that the family stands solidly together. So even the worst storm can come. The ship will continue to move ahead.
Therefore it can not come as a surprise that our favourite Danish TV series – “Matador” on entrepreneurial, aristocratic and working class life in Denmark before, during and right after World War II – which we all saw since we were kids, is running in the background during most of the “winter period”, even on Costa del Sol. Not because of pure nostalgia but due to one of sevaral attempts to explore and strengthen our unique Danish cultural background in a modern, globalised context. Something which has become considerably more relevant in times of immigration, paradigm shift and meta change.
The following perspectives are rather general but I hope the reflection makes sense, at least for some.
What different perspectives are we talking about?
I hope this article will give food for thought, whether you are a Dane living in Denmark or if you, like me, are a Dane living abroad, whether you are a foreigner in Denmark and therefore must relate to Danishness every day, or whether you are a foreigner, i.e. non-Danish, outside Denmark with relations to Danes.
The non-Danish-speaking group which is obviously very large will now be able to relate to and reflect on Danishness in English.
It is basically interesting to hear what all of these perspectives could bring in order to understand the Danish culture, especially in an international context, and how to communicate all across the different perspectives relative to the focal point – Danishness.
My personal reason to find this topic relevant is diverse and will continuously be reflected in the article. In short, I am a Dane who appreciate Danishness, including Danish history and culture. I have done so ever since I was privileged to grow up in the beautiful green nature and the clean lakes around Silkeborg, educate myself in Aarhus and subsequently live and work in our capital, Copenhagen.
My many years abroad have not made me less passionate about my homeland. On the contrary, meeting foreign cultures and the many differences sharpened my interest in who I am and where I come from. Interestingly, I sharpened my interest in Denmark as I improved my foreign languages and gained deeper insight into other cultures.
The global village
The world has always been constantly changing but communication and immediateness in the “global village” has changed our mutual observation and relations considerably since we have come closer together in the now.
In a world that is becoming more global with the use of internet, social media, cheaper and more frequent trips abroad, and where the English language has become the world language, we adjust very much to some general, not specifically Danish, standards for communication and behaviour which affect how we experience ourselves and the broader phenomena in the world. While living our Danishness in a kind of parallel universe.
We have obviously experienced a huge loss of Danish culture during the last 10-30 years which is why it is a relevant topic to discuss. The real reason is that we have something to offer and it should be exported.
Danishness in the global village
With reference to Marshall McLuhan’s idea of the global village:
“As electrically contracted, the globe is no more than a village” we must follow through and adapt ourselves to make our voice heard. We Danes do and we also better than most which has its reasons.
I think, in all simplicity, it is related to the fact that Denmark is a very small country with few inhabitants (about 5.6 mio), corresponding to the number of inhabitants in a medium-size city in the US or Asia.
This empirical, demographic fact means that we have historically been forced to be extrovert, outgoing and flexible, as none other than ourselves – besides a few international fans of Søren Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen – speak our language.
We are born with the need to take the initiative and with having to find the energy to meet other cultures with an open mind, seeking possible solutions and synergies.
Way back to the Vikings who at the time interacted efficiently … drew the Danes out on the oceans on their ships from the small kingdom in the North. And even though Christopher Columbus is known to have discovered America, it is generally known that the Vikings were in America long before.
Being a small country with huge seasonal variety and a historical necessity to strive outward, the Danes have developed a different mindset, especially different from the many people who grew up in some of the larger countries and cultures of the world, including the US, Russia, China and other major countries that tend to have more less enough in themselves, their own culture and language.
At the same time, Denmark is based on an active foreign trade, rather than a wealth of natural resources, supporting the outreach and the open, flexible spirit.
Although virtually everyone in the modern part of the world uses internet, social media and certain more or less defined international standards for trade, communication and intercourse, there is still very big difference between being Danish, Swedish, English, American, German, Russian or Chinese in this world and that should certainly continue and it will if we are aware of the value we create and if we recognise the differences.
As I have described in other articles it is a privilege to live in Marbella where it is possible to establish close ties with almost any nationality. In short, because the vast majority of people focus on completely normal things, such as work, life, sun, beach, nature, picnics, kids and family, much more than on discussing politics and religion. This puts the meeting and the social life in focus.
To a fascinating degree we have managed to take both politics and religion out of the equation in this local international bubble since politics (the question of: Who gets what, when and how?) does not need to be discussed when everyone works and provides for themselves. Religion (the question of: How to influence others to follow our mindset?) is also an unnecessary waste of time when you are too busy living a happy life focused on outdoors activities.
Religion becomes something that happened in the past. Funny enough that is the real meaning of the word: To go back to something that were somehow lost.
There is a reason that we separated religion from running the society and running our businesses. People can have any belief as long as they keep it private and do not hurt others just because of some private values and convictions.
Theoretical approaches to Danish culture
Theoretically, there are a number of different approaches to the concept of culture.
Positivism recognises only empirical data as indicators of culture, while constructivism believes everything that is articulated as culture, as symbolic manifestations, sets a cultural boundary.
Since my primary education background is political science (cand. scient. pol.) I have studied the philosophy of sciences and all the major academic methodologies in depth.
On that basis I allow myself to think that of course the two approaches must be combined; a positivist using empirical data, such as population statistics, GDP per capita, etc. with a constructivist approach to include all perspectives.
Some might wonder why I mention something something so logical and self-evident, but to them I can say that you would be surprised how large the gap is between these two fundamentally different academic approaches to explore the world.
Overall, I think much in the direction of “both and”. Kierkegaard too.
Definition of Culture
According to Wikipedia, Danish culture is a term used in several, often contradictory meanings.
Firstly, the concept can be further differentiated:
• Culture as differences between people (or groups of people)
• Culture as systems of meaning
• Culture as practice fields
“Danish culture” is understood as acting space but also as a particular frame of reference (Danishness; Danish national identity).
Operational definition of culture
“Culture consists of the total values, knowledge and attitudes that characterise a society or an individual in their own historical and geographical context.”
It is interesting to see both a community and an individual’s culture in its own historical and geographical context.
For example, how is it to be a Dane in Denmark today? How is it to be a Dane in Spain today, and how is it to be a Dane in China today?
Danish culture is in its broadest definition Danish values, attitudes, habits, customs and traditions or of special circumstances which mean “Danishness” and “cultural heritage” a tradition that is communicated to new generations through public institutions (schools, museums, etc.) with a purpose that is greater or lesser extent about formation. It will be both to highlight the peculiarity of the Danish culture and to define “foreign” from this culture (cf. Søren Christian Sørensen: What is Danish culture, 7th December 1999).
It is unique to be Danish and in particular the reflection of what it means.
National identities are based on shared values, behaviors and traditions. An important role for the development of national identity is the symbols of cohesion and common origin myths, including Dannebrog.
Regardless of the specific very old date of the flag with the white cross on a red background fallen from the sky, we talk about a flag that was used in the crusade in the Baltic region in the early 1200s. The same flag was also raised by the medieval German emperors from 1194 and of the Order of St John, Maltese cross (cf. Myth: Did Dannebrog fall down from heaven in 1219? – Aarhus University, March 23rd, 2016).
Inclusion and exclusion
Through realisation we are made conscious of what we go – of what is significant and what is not. National identities are both inclusive and exclusive. That is how it is and surely that it is mainly positive.
One should not be so afraid of exclusion, since exclusion on many levels also have positive sides. The lines of inclusion and exclusion define the “other”, and if you do it respectfully, it is often helpful. It should be appreciated although malicious exclusion, i.e. bullying, is of course an exception.
Inclusion and exclusion combined with the respect and appreciation of others creates positive development. Fear of change gets us nowhere.
Daring to lose foothold for a while is to dare to find yourself
As I recall, there are many Danes in Denmark, who are aware of how special it really is to be a Dane, but as a Dane abroad, I have experienced that you become even more aware of it because you constantly, in your many daily encounters with other cultures in the international space, see your own culture, language and thus yourself from the outside. Quite interesting and instructive feedback to constantly receive in daily meetings.
Something I firmly believe is very healthy mentally, although we should not be so empathetic that we lose ourselves in it. We should stick to our own uniqueness and our own good, healthy Danish values.
As Kierkegaard is often quoted to have said and meant, we must dare lose foothold for a while not to lose ourselves (and to win ourselves).
However, we have given too much of ourselves in trying to meet “otherness” in the ongoing cultural war and I believe that we must return to the traditional values that our grandparents were the last generation to live and die for. This can easily live alongside globalisation. If you are not a little conservative today I think you may have lost yourself in blind liberalism where everything is okay and anything just as good as the other.
To live every day in an international environment, speak other languages to communicate and work in a completely different culture creates a significant reflection of who you are, where you come from, and how culturally different you are from others and that you can apply in a very positive way if you stay truthful to your roots or in a negative way if you give up on valuable teachings from previous generations in order to adapt just to adapt and for no particular reason.
Danes are unique
It is much more than meatballs and sauce that makes us special and different in an international context, although it still creates good memories and experiences to visit IKEA in Malaga or other places, not just because of the great Swedish meatballs but also because of the well-organised, chic, Scandinavian approach to things, including children, family and life 360 degrees.
It is a very inclusive concept, which the Spaniards have taken in. It is amazing to observe Spanish families enjoy Scandinavian food at IKEA when you are used to seeing them eat tapas and be one with their own culture in every breath.
Danish is a peculiar and beautiful language. Denmark has a unique history and a unique popular culture. Højskolesangbogen (“the high school song book”) should bring tears and intellect into play on any Dane. It is very special song book with some of the most beautiful songs ever written in Danish history; singing them makes Danes become one with what was authentic and genuine in their past and in line with what was handed over from their grandparents.
Danes seek dialogue, no matter what it takes, but we can also be direct and honest. We have a great adaptability in various situations. The constant changing seasons and the unreliable weather is another reason for our unique ability to adapt.
We are very flexible; also more flexible than any other culture I know, for better or worse, but we still have some good values that we hold on to, no matter how flexible and understanding we are.
In other words, our flexibility have boundaries. It is as if the constant politically correct dialogue has created a heavy cloud over clarity and fairness. The clouds are removed with directness and values expressed with sincerity.
We grew up with roots in good, solid, humanistic values which take into account and involves all types of people and opinions.
We have developed learning institutions, such as primary and high school, where you can learn at any age and also pick up on the subjects that you are passionate about, partly develop a general knowledge in the history, culture, society, language and occupation.
Enlightenment in Europe before and now
Enlightenment was an introduction to a new era from 1690 to approximately 1800 in Europe, including Denmark.
The term “enlightenment” indicates that philosophy and science expanded the human knowledge of the world and used the results to question authorities, such as the Crown and the Church. The concept of enlightenment has since antiquity meant both religious and philosophical clarity.
“Enlightenment” comes from Immanuel Kant’s work: “Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?” From 1784: “If anyone asks, we live in an enlightened time?” The answer would be, “No, we live in the Age of Enlightenment.
Enlightenment brought more awareness to the community, which was a serious challenge to the old cultural basis, namely Christianity. A challenge we overcame.
Today it is instead a major challenge for the cultural tradition in Europe, namely Islam, which has been putting itself into focus after the massive immigration from the Middle East in recent years.
Therefore, one can say that we are now living in a new Age of Enlightenment because there is one half-old religion, which must now go through light treadmill of history and reason.
It takes unfortunately longer than desired to cultivate both knowledge and compassion when it comes to the most outdated thinking and standard systems. It always has done but few had expected to see that such an outdated system as islam, especially radical islam, would survive in the relatively enlightened world, anno 2016.
The formation of the core concept of the Danish kingdom was particularly influenced by the German theory development where Rosseau’s thoughts were the inspiration for the German formation theorists.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712 – July 2, 1778) is a Swiss enlightenment philosopher, belonging to the group of philosophers that inspired the French Revolution and thus to create modern democracy and secure freedom right which are under fire in today’s more multi-ethnic society and with islamic culture being the reason.
Let therefore the highest possible degree of enlightenment of darkness continue.
Enlightenment in Denmark
Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 – 1872) lent his name to Grundtvigianism and was the initiator of the Danish folk high school.
In Grundtvig’s first political book “Political considerations with a view to Denmark and Holstein” from 1831, he calls for a new type of high school, called folk high school. Grundtvig wanted a high school as there was a need for a new form of education. In his political writing, Grundtvig pointed out the need to continually improve people politically. Grundtvig predicted that the school was the center of society.
In contrast to the teachings of “almueskolerne” Grundtvig thought that Christianity should be separated from the state. Religion should be a free choice and therefore Christianity should not form the core of the school’s range of subjects.
With the fall of absolutism in 1848 and the Constitution of 1849, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech became constitutional rights.
Despite Grundtvig and Søren Kierkegaard’s distrust that the common people could run the country, they were convinced that democracy was imminent and a prerequisite for a successful transition to democracy since it was transformed into a people by means of public education (cf. Korsgaard Ove (2004), “The fight for the people – An educational perspective on Danish history over 500 years).
We have much to be proud of, especially our humility
It sounds like a paradox to be proud of your humility and it surely is but let it be a paradox. I still believe that our basic openness and humility is our strength.
The poet H. P. Holst used the words: “For every loss, substitutes exists; what outwardly is lost, must inwardly be won “instrumental in creating the ideology for small states which Danish culture in the subsequent period up to now has rested on.
The constitution, the cooperative movement and the diverse associations were by extension symbols on the small country’s particular culture (Hansen, Kjeld (2008) The lost land.
From childhood we grew up speaking foreign languages. It lies in the expectation to us from childhood that we must master other languages and thus have an understanding of other cultures.
In the South of Jutland Danes learn to speak German because it is convenient since they live close to Germany, which is a great partner for Denmark. In western Jutland up the coast, the Germans tourists speak German to the young Danes who work in restaurants and hotels. So in the Germans expect us to reply and talk in their language in Denmark and they do not even ask if we speak their language first. Just to illustrate how different we are from some of the big single-language countries who expect other people to speak their language when they travel abroad. Who is meeting who…?
The German tourists visiting Denmark love the pure nature, the beautiful, wild beaches and the well-organised settings and they do not ask if we speak German when they turn to us. They speak German to us and expect us have learned to speak German back, and we have, and therefore we instinctively speak German back based on partly a natural human empathy and courtesy, partly on having learned to be service-minded and the more satisfied our tourists are in our stores and in our country, the more often they come and the more money we earn. We meet in the middle. The Germans meet us by visiting our country, and we meet them by learning their language. That is flexibility.
We are well aware that the German tourists could go South but that they come to Denmark because they like our small pure land and our mentality. The simple fact that they come, we take as a compliment and we try to give back and succeed as the Germans come year after year.
Without cutting or over one comb learn most Englishmen and Americans, as part of their culture and their schooling, to speak other languages, which is the most direct way to take an interest in another culture, reach out and meet otherness. The good friends I have from those countries is actually a bit bored of this and would like to have learned a foreign language, but it was not similarly expected of them. So it’s rare lack of individual commitment but a question that culture and education system does not require this.
It has become a pretext for the English-speaking culture to stick to its own language and thus its own mindset. There are always exceptions, but this is viewed as a whole. The British culture has historically had megalomania and succeed in converting many countries and communities to their own culture and language.
It looks still the clear after effects of, and the feeling of cultural superiority, absence of humility towards other cultures, including the desire or the human obligation to put themselves in the place of others, have created a mono-cultural and linguistic-cultural monopoly, where there is no profit or curiosity enough to make an extra effort to accommodate and balance what is different from oneself.
In Denmark it is not unusual to speak 2-3 languages other than our own. We learn English and German in school. Many also learn French and Spanish. Additionally teaches a small number of people more exotic languages such as Russian, Chinese, etc.
One can argue that it is the little things and insignificant subject to raise, but from my experience it is by no means the case. On the contrary, our basic openness and flexibility of some of the things we can be proud of, as it helps to separate us quite a lot from many others in the international space.
However, I could well imagine that we could combine this openness and approachability with an awareness of how unique Danishness otherwise and a determination with respect to the limits we set, when some groups want to change our society and our culture to something that is far worse than what we have created and can create in the future.
Think about this small country, where we more or less know each other all together, and if not then we know the one who knows one. It is then completely unique. We as a society, one of the highest degrees of trust in each other, ie cohesion and one of the world lowest levels of corruption.
It can get a bit claustrophobic when you live in Denmark, but when there may well be a long time between that one is with Danes, you will be blown away and again fascinated when one occasionally encounters a Dane, you’ve never met before and talk for 10 minutes. like you’ve always known each other and are related either as family or friends.
The other day I received a call from a good friend who is Greek, raised in Germany and now lives and travels internationally as a successful businessman. He’s got a Danish friend and gave me spontaneously her into the tube the other day.
We had never met before, but when she just had to find a foothold in the situation with this stranger who is my good friend, I could help with some perspectives and exchanges. It took 40 minutes until my friend interrupted the conversation. As he said: “Do your Danish thing”. But it was also enough. We had mutual acquaintances, who often have, and the talk went.
The high degree of trust between Danes do that there are many things you initially do not have to discuss. You can quickly jump back to the heart and with confidence treat it that matters for the common benefit.
Here we differ from other people. Often several nationalities surprised and uneasy about our directness in the short term, but on closer acquaintance, it is precisely our openness, directness and honesty they also appreciate. You can generally expect that a deal is a deal and it is highly valued as it speeder all communication up.
What do I want to say with this article?
I want to emphasize that to get very far with flexibility, openness and curiosity about what is different; empathy and kindness makes communication much more effective and formed.
At the same time these same virtues become limiting, if not holding onto his good, wholesome and solid values - both as a country and as individuals – and recognize what makes one special, and what value it creates.
In other words, requires the reality of us that we can set clear boundaries and stand firm. The flexibility should not mean that other running us around the ring, either in Denmark or abroad.
It is necessary to have a realistic picture of themselves, to the right requirements to others, so it should not just be oneself and one’s “proper disclosure” that will carry the whole burden of the relationship, but guests in Denmark must also Romans do fly, and that we Danish immigration must adapt ourselves where we are and provide society with the best we have learned without letting ourselves be seduced by empty talk.
Here in Spain you have to adapt as a foreigner and even though the employee pays everything and help get the Spaniards still less respect for one if you do not learn their language and culture. In this way, it is not anything that can be weighed and measured in money.
And it should not be, also not “Danishness”. Danish culture has its justification in itself and requires no further explanation.