Perplexing Denmark

John Lett (About) (Readings) (YouTube channel)

AS I PULL BACK and move many of the videos from my YouTube channel to private settings for clients, I have begun analyzing the analytics of many of the videos and the entirety of the package. Unequivocally, Denmark and Greece were the two countries where viewership counts were off the charts. While in Greece, I was just ahead of the 17 June elections and it was also the period when the Golden Dawn televised assault took place, therefore I can easily understand the spike in views. With Denmark, however, it is still somewhat of a mystery to me, as it is a very low-profile country. Furthermore, when looking at the US, the daily traffic was at its highest ever (more than 2.2 times average), and immediately after leaving there, a 60% reduction in that market ensued, with no further peaks.

I take this as a statement from viewers, particularly Americans, that we are becoming more interested in economic system alternatives. There have also been reports and studies for several years in succession claiming that Denmark is the happiest country in the world (1). Personally, I think happiness could be culturally biased, though in this case the emphasis was on security and stable conditions, along with leisure time, being weighted heavily (2). With the high taxation (Danish tax chart: 3) (lowest rate at 38% for people working at minimum wage) paired with high minimum wage at around $16USD per hour, and “free” health care, people are perplexed, curious, and sometimes open to a change to a similar system.

Co-op style housing in suburban Copenhagen. Exhaustive community planning was and is employed here from the 1950s conception onward. Photo by John Lett, March 8, 2012.

In the videos below, I did my best in March 2012 to explain as much about the reasons behind the social planning as possible, but also address the shortcomings and consequences. Particularly if you are a visitor spending money earned in another system, you will probably find the costs prohibitive to having a good time there, given that an American medium-sized cup of coffee is around $5USD and petrol/gasoline near $9 per gallon (13DKK per litre). What particularly shocked me was how close to poverty many people were living, in spite of appearances that indicated otherwise (respectable dress, going out occasionally to restaurants that are all quite expensive), though no one was homeless. 2011 and 2012 have seen many bank failures in Denmark, also. Furthermore, in spite of very high taxation, people still have to pay sizable sums at times for dental care, and also to endure austerity in situations like no longer receiving mail from the kommune (municipality) and thus seniors having to be taught by volunteer(!) instructors how to access community information from the web.

Not everyone is happy with Denmark’s openness, though no one is questioning the social welfare system as a whole. The possibility of moving to the euro is often as maligned here as in the UK. Photo by John Lett, March 12, 2012.

Finally, in order to really understand how a small, Nordic country operates politically and, to some extent, fiscally, it is a pleasure to watch the Danish series Borgen, often running on BBC Four. As a rule, people are aware of the disadvantages and hardships of the system, but there is a general but profound willingness to commit to it, as northern Europeans want to set an example of higher quality of living to all.

John Lett (About) (Readings) (YouTube channel)

DENMARK VIDEO COLLECTION

“Publishing in Denmark: Small, Expensive, but High-Quality Operations”

“1960s Danish Social Housing and Community Planning”

“Longest Pedestrian Street in the World”

“Gentofte and Hellerup: More Insights

“Explaining the Kommune, Woods”

“A Former Housing Estate, Gentrification”

“Tall Poppy Syndrome, Jante Law: Around Danish Parliament”

“Amalienborg: What Happens Across the Way?”

“Rosenborg Slot/Kept Woman”

“Will You Get With the Program?”

“Will Bikes Ever Take Over the North American and Australian Markets?”

“A Stroll Through a Copenhagen Suburb”

This is by no means a complete, exhaustive selection of the videos. These are temporarily available here and on the YouTube channel “SunShine8308.”

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5 Responses to Perplexing Denmark

  1. This blog continues to interest me and I really like the way a selection of videos pertaining to Denmark are right here, easy to select and view.

    I get a chuckle from time to time, when I’m not utterly annoyed, from people such as a former roomie of mine in the States … who said something to the effect, “What, you’re going on vacation AGAIN?” Yes, of course I am, even though this is a slow year for me here in France, financially, and my health is poor. We’ll just have to go away off-season and plan very carefully — we started looking for where to stay months ago, for example. We’ll drive a second-hand car, I’ll cook and we won’t eat in restaurants … I’m looking forward to it! One of the places we’re renting for a week has a private outdoor pool in what looks to be a very pretty garden! Yay! It must seem to my old friend that “I cry and eat kreplach.”

    • Denmark is kind of like extended family to me. I will say the good and the bad about the place, but if outsiders remark poorly about it, I would get defensive. If you want to see very bitter comments about a place, however, check out the very lively responses from the foreign (English) news websites in Denmark – the main bone of contention among expats is about not being able to integrate and also the the kind of taxation paid out. If I understand correctly, a lot of what is paid into the national pension cannot be collected by non-citizens, ever, which is an anomaly. Strange enough, in this regard, I know far more about Australia than anywhere else if individuals are seeking a move.

      These videos must be watched now because they are likely to be taken out of circulation; they are part of the bigger literary project here.

      • Hey, that sounds like what happened to me as an American! I started doing declared work from the age of 15 until 37 when I expatriated and will never see a penny of any of that! Worse, they do admit they owe me, but things are hopelessly lost (three times). A woman named Ruth runs or ran at least one bed and breakfast on that Westmann Island off Iceland, the one I never can spell … Heamay or something. We took a ship from the mainland to the island right away — it took about three hours and you kind of have to stay overnight because the same ship returns to the mainland a very, very short time later, just once that day, through the most dangerous port in the world. But the people at the ticket office for the ship will phone ahead and get you a room if you need it, which is what we did. I wish I could have stayed there longer because it’s a wonderful place, but I was there with Mr. Go-Go! Ruth is or was married to pretty much the top theatre man in Iceland and besides the bed and breakfasts and what he does with theatre, they have a cinema and show the “volcano movie” about the catastrophic eruption there in 1973. Ruth is German and said to me that even though Iceland was her happy home and she told me fun stuff about the culture I appreciated, although it was very, very easy to become an Icelandic citizen, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it because she’d have to give up her German citizenship, which she said was out of the question. I didn’t press her further but I had the distinct impression that was due to social benefits and things she’d accumulated. I thought, how silly! I know I will never get a retirement from France OR the USA and that’s just realistic thinking! My French spouse said this from day one — he’s always seen that the system here will not “be there” for us. Good for you for sticking up for Denmark, because it’s not fair to just slam anyplace. If it didn’t or doesn’t work for you, fine, but that has to be made clear. Otherwise, things deteriorate into nonsense such as “all blondes are dumb” or “dogs are dirty” or whatever. Unfair generalizations, often based on narrow-mindedness and … sour grapes! Oh, back to Iceland, while waiting for the ship, we chatted with a retired Danish couple. We were quite interested in how they were vacationing, and they spoke English, which helped, ha ha! They said they had to arrange for the rental car and most things from over in Denmark because once you get to Iceland, prices skyrocket. There is only one main road which circles Iceland, and it does not and cannot stay open all year, but they try. Route One I think it is called, hee hee! They said that once you know the basics of travel to and life in Iceland, which does take some doing, that’s a great way to enjoy the warmish Summer months. “Wild camping” is allowed, also (they were not doing that however). The wife then went on to ask what we thought of Keiko, the killer whale who’d been “rescued” from abuse in the USA or wherever, flown to the Westmann Island, and who was at that time not adapting to being reintroduced to the wild and who did die pretty quickly after that? I just rolled my eyes. She laughed but then got serious and said, really, to her, that is an obscene waste of money on a pointless project. The funds could have been used elsewhere and done much good. I agreed. When we got to Ruth’s place, it turned out the crew from the US had stayed with her there, so there were lots of posters and photos up of all that. Small world and a crazy one, eh?

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