For those of you who manage to keep up reading along with my trip, welcome to country number 27: Denmark! I got here in the early afternoon, on the ferry from Rostock to Gedser. Denmark is the birth place of the Vikings, Lego, Queen Margarethe II, Bjarne Riis, the Laudrup brothers and a wealth of fairytales. In polls, Denmark consistently comes up as one of the happiest nation in the world. I wonder if two weeks will be enough to unravel the Danish secret recipe for happiness.
The name `Denmark` was first recorded before the year 1000. Contrary to most other European countries, Denmark has no independence day because it never really became independent from another country. Denmark did get larger and smaller in time, mostly at the expense and benefit of Germany and Sweden. The Vikings were great sailors and the predecessors of the current population of Denmark left its traces in coastal regions all around Europe.
`Family ties in Denmark are not very strong`
Today`s territory of Denmark includes the world`s largest island Greenland as well as the Faroe Islands. When Denmark joined the European Community in 1973, Greenland still formed an integral part of the Danish Kingdom. After being granted home rule in 1979, Greenland opted to leave the Community and it has not rejoined since. The Faroe Islands have declined EU membership from 1973 up until today.
`Mainlaind Denmark` consists of the peninsula of Jylland, along with another crowd of islands. Most of these are squeezed in between Jylland and the Southern tip of Sweden. The capital city Copenhagen is located on the island of Sjaelland, which has rail and road connections towards the second biggest island Fynen and from there onwards to Jylland. Since July 2000, Copenhagen is linked directly to Sweden by the Oresund Connection: a combination of a bridge and a tunnel with a combined length of 16 kilometres. Contrary to most European construction works of this size, it was completed ahead of schedule by three months.
Denmark has roughly 5 million inhabitants. The national language is Danish, which is closely related to other Germanic languages like German, Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish. Although Denmark met the criteria for introducing the Euro in 2001, the Danes decided by referendum that they would stick to their own national currency: the Danish Krone. The Crown comes in denominations ranging from 0.25 DKK (25 Ore) to 20 Kroner in coins, and from 50 up to 1000 Kroner in banknotes. The 1, 2 and 5 Kroner coins can be recognised by the hole in the middle.
According to Allan (27), the Danish are a proud of their nationality. `We live in one of the few countries in the world where society functions quite well. We have few rich people but also few poor people. The middle class makes up the biggest chunk of the population. Compared to other countries, its members are quite wealthy. Unfortunately, Danes are also rather self-centered and materialistic by nature. They cannot easily be mobilized to fight for some cause, simply because they already lead comfortable lives.`
Tanja (20, photo) thinks that Danes are easily intimidated by people with different cultural backgrounds. `That includes immigrants, but also certain subcultures`, she says. `Danish are quite reserved and they will withdraw into their own comfort zone as soon as they are confronted by costumes with which they are not familiar. Integration was a big problem in the early 1990s. Except from the infamous Cartoon Controversy in 2006, the situation is now getting better, I think. Danes are slowly getting used to the very idea of immigration and integration.`
Tanja`s explanation about how Danish families work make me believe that I have arrived in a country that is completely opposite to Italy. `Grown-up Danes speak to their parents as little as possible`, she initially jokes. Tanja then tells that Danish children are educated to become independent members of society: `The older you get, the less important the support of your parents becomes. Danes are quick to leave their parental homes, even though some parents may keep supporting their children during their studies or early independent years.`
Tanja (21) says that parents will put little pressure on their children to go studying. `Whether or not you want to study is a personal choice. There is plenty of employment and also plenty of financial support for people to raise families at a very young age. The average age of marriage is relatively low: around 25. Some get kids straight afterwards, while others will wait up until their 40th birthday. That difference is quite big. Most Danes get only one or two children, which is actually starting to become a problem. Our population is too old and the health care sector is suffering under the lack of young qualified personnel.`
Anybody who does not get addicted to heroin should be able to lead a decent life in Denmark, as there almost as many support structures as there are potential problems. Tanja tells me that Danes complain about the high taxes every now and then ? the lowest income tax equals 42% of gross salary ? but they value the fact that they have little in life to worry about. Universities are for free and they often guarantee that they will find their students part time jobs on the sides. `They don`t just provide you a random job like cleaning toilets`, Tanja says. `The jobs are usually directly related to the field of studies, which make them vary valuable. Universities even commit to finding their students a place to live if they themselves do not manage to find one. Then there are rent subsidies, pensions for people over 65, proper arrangements for maternity and paternity leave.. Everything to allow Danes to have a pleasant life.`
Peter (24) thinks that the comfort also has a negative side. `Denmark is a pleasant country to live in, but some people find it quite boring. Young people experiment with dangerous drugs in attempts to make their life more exciting. Others see the comfort as something they need to protect from the outside world, which makes them conservative or even xenophobic.`
Magnus (19) calls Denmark and `almost problem-free` society, with few ongoing problems: `There`s some news about Danish soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, there`s news about ministers who are accused of having used their car for private trips, and some reports about knifings by second generation immigrants. Positive news comes from the sportive side. Football is very popular and so are handball, sailing, cycling and rowing. Most of the other negative news comes from abroad or from the capital. Altogether, there`s little to complain about living in Denmark.`
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