Hodge Podge: The Danish Thing

This week’s literary trail mix flavor is That Whole Danish Thing. It’s everywhere. One of the book clubs I’m in did a Danish theme this month (it was very hyggelig), so I read a couple of things.

  • The Year of Living Danishly – This is the book club selection, and it made for a lively discussion. The author did a great job of discussing various aspects of Danish culture that impact overall happiness. Although her attempts at application were not very helpful, it was easy to think of individual ways you might want (or not) to put the ideas into place in your own life. I will say that the things that struck me most are things that would require cultural overhaul and are thus not likely to ever be present in my life. But I’m still thinking about several things:
    • Danish society has a strong framework of shared traditions and rules. You’d think this would be stifling, but it really gives them freedom in their lane, versus American individualism, which leads to a lot of ambiguity and stress as we’re spoiled for choice on every front.
    • The taxes are high, but shockingly not THAT much higher than what I pay as a self-employed person (in the US if you are self-employed you pay an additional 15% on top of your regular tax bracket). And because Danish taxes and benefits are straightforward, there is a lot less stress and uncertainty involved.
    • Danish people trust each other. They leave babies in strollers outside of restaurants and shops. That sort of thing would send you to jail here. But I think trust also diminishes stress.
  • The Danish Way of Parenting – This book is a little gimmicky and heavily geared toward raising younger kids. I didn’t find much about older elementary or teenaged kids, but that’s ok. One of the premises of the book is that parenting is an ethnotheory–that is, we parent very differently based on our culture, and it’s hard to see our own bias objectively. Again, the take-away is that Danish people are not as individualistic as Americans. “They don’t enjoy drama, negativity, and divisiveness.” And that really sums up the difference, doesn’t it? Although I don’t think this book is a must-read, if you’re interested in the topic it did have some interesting insights, and perhaps more that you could implement in your own family even if you are unable to change your culture single-handedly.
  • Overwhelmed – Linked to my longer review, this book has a great section on Denmark and what makes it’s work-life balance so much easier. It would be a great companion read for the topic, plus it’s an excellent book on its own.

A few other links a ran across recently:

Have you read/thought much about the Danish trend? What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Hodge Podge: The Danish Thing

  1. People leave their babies just lying around outside of stores in Germany, too, so maybe that’s a general European thing? I just remember that I thought it was funny that if you left your bike unlocked for even two seconds, it would disappear, but you can apparently leave an actual miniature human being alone for half an hour and it would stay where you left it.

    One thing that’s difficult when reading any of these “X-Culture-Does-Everything-Right” books is to remember that these are ethnic monocultures. Danish hygge, French eating, Japanese work ethic…they all come from (and work well in) a culture where everyone is the same–not to mention, usually pretty small, geographically and/or population-wise. These approaches sound great, but how do you apply them in a country as large (geographically and population-wise) and diverse as the US? The European countries are struggling (not particularly successfully) with how to deal with their immigrant populations, as these subcultures grow too large to be assimilated safely into the historical culture of each nation. But these cultures’ point of weakness–dealing with immigrants–is the basis of our entire nation–and, I think, our strength. It’s a lot less stressful to live in Denmark or France or Germany or wherever, only if you are a Dane or Frenchperson or German. The costs for not fitting into the dominant culture are steep. I would like to think they are less so here.

    You might find this Guardian piece on the dark side of hygge an interesting companion to your other reading: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/nov/22/hygge-conspiracy-denmark-cosiness-trend

    Anyway. I like reading this kind of book (though I haven’t read any of the Danish ones yet) because it’s interesting to read about other ways of viewing the world, and because sometimes there are takeaways that are useful for my own family or life, like you said. Perhaps I’m just incurably American, but I try to remember that “one size fits all–doesn’t.” 🙂

    1. Thanks for the article link–that was very interesting! In the book club discussion, we talked about a lot of the issues you raised. And I agree that it’s helpful to read about other cultures because it gives us more insight into our own and helps us to think critically about our society and how we want to live in it.

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