One from the vaults: Limited Choice

Through my colourful couple of years in London, I have a good working knowledge of several counter-cultures. One such “community” (ugh, what a word), like nothing more than to get a partner to make day-to-day decisions and otherwise limit choice to a narrow range. They then write long (and often derivative) poetry about how “free” they feel in this lifestyle and it is always the same: “because I do not have any choice about little things, I feel a lot better about my life.”

Wow, right?

What strikes me about life in Denmark is that it is *just like that*. Even without “my own Viking” to subtly manipulate me into being one of his belongings by bringing me to a country where I rely on him to translate everything and do my speaking for me; my social life revolves around him, his family and his priorities and my home decor and belongings reflect his heritage alone.

(Quick aside: I use that as a rule of thumb… if a woman calls her Danish-husband “her Viking” then there is probably a power-play at work with an uneven dynamic in his favour. It’s their choice, I am not judging but that’s one of the signs I use. Maybe you will too!)

Even without a personal one-to-one relationship with a controlling/manipulative Dane, I feel the same dynamic in my day to day life.

For example, there is very little choice in the shops. If I want to be happy, I have to sharply lower my expectations and hopes. Once this is achieved, I feel “free” just like those women I used to read on the internet.

In the street, people are breathtakingly rude. Back home, people pay good money to be treated in such a way.

I *say* the street, I do in fact mean *everywhere*. At work, in the street, in bars and even in my own home if I invite Danes back.

For example, I entered a café and a woman ran from the back of the room to the bar to get there before me. For example, at work I had to sit around doing nothing for more than half an hour because a colleague acted selfishly. She had every opportunity to act selflessly, I and a colleague told her three times (and in Danish, for what it’s worth), so don’t give me the “language barrier”, “praps she was unaware of what she was doing” guff. She knew. She did it anyway. For example, I have had house-guests say rude things to me in an attempt to shame me into acting in a different (more Danish) way even though the way I am acting is acceptable (in that it does not hurt anyone).

In a way, this is also freeing. My daily acts are separated from the expectation that they will be greeted with pleasure or acknowledgement. I may even be “punished” for acting in goodwill. This makes me much more secure in my idea of what makes me a good person. Did I hold doors open in the UK because I was “good” or because I wanted the smile from the person I was helping? Now, here, it only occasionally makes people visibly happy so if I keep doing it, it is because I am “good” and nothing else.

There is a downside, I feel like this is an easy way out. If I lived in the UK, I might be unhappy because there were too many possibilities, too much choice and too much chance of me having to think for myself. Here, straitened by having little or no choice, I feel a sense of euphoria. I do not have to think for myself! I do not have to worry about what to have for dinner: it’s going to be pork and potato! I do not have to worry about “is daycare the right option for my child?” because OF COURSE IT IS! I do not have to think of others first, I can just think about me! (To think that I used to waste time thinking “what would I do if an elderly person, a person with physical disabilities AND a pregnant woman/person holding an infant all got on the bus at the same time? Who would I give my seat to????” !)

But it is cheap. A cheap and dirty hack of my mind’s circuitry. If the only thing that can give me “joy” is if I have Georg Jensen cutlery or that weird paper lampshade thing, then life is exceptionally easy as long as I save up my øre to afford them (by being tight with money).

In the past what would give me “joy” was complicated by having to think deeply about my priorities and my interests and then narrow the possibilities down by what I could afford and what I wanted to spend time on. Here, that is not only unnecessary but ill-advised.

For example, a hangover from my free-range life in London, I am growing food on my windowsill. It makes me happy, I see green things every day and my food is super fresh. They are growing really well and I might have to transplant them outside now the weather is improving. This excites me on a level I am not ready to blog about yet.

Apparently, I understand now this should not make me happy because it is “weird” to grow vegetables on your windowsill.

Thinking for myself may have made me *think* I was happy but I can see now, that I was wrong. I should have done what everyone else is doing and only then I would be truly happy. Why didn’t I understand that people are only happy if they grow flowers  (one plant pot), on their windowsill and maybe a plant pot next to the front door step?

If you will excuse me, I feel a long (and derivative) poem coming on about how free I feel now that Danes have manipulated me into self-doubt and dependency on Their Words.

9 thoughts on “One from the vaults: Limited Choice

  1. Hi, great idea growing like that. When I lived in a 3rd floor flat, we grew tomatoes on the balcony – none of the neighbours there though it was weird.
    (They might have been undercover foreigners though!)
    Btw, what are you growing? Can’t really see it on the pics.

    I myself have a strong notion of personal freedom and individuality, which I’m musing about in my blog.
    But you’re right, the narrow-mindedness here is overwhelming! I especially notice it, when I have been visiting my sister in Barcelona and return to Denmark. it’s like having a bucket of water poured over me, when I come back. ;-)

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    1. Thx, but I and my best friends WON’T let ourselves be trumped by “Mr. and Mrs. My-Way-or-the-Highway-sen”!!!

      If you ever come to North-West Jylland, send me an e-mail and come visiting – I would be happy to show you around!

      (I haven’t written that much yet, but maybe my blog will become of more interest as time passes. Until now, it’s just some thoughts of mine about life, death and what’s in between – and how to cope! ;-))

      And I do hope, that the plants you’re growing, will come up succesfully!
      :-)

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  2. “To think that I used to waste time thinking “what would I do if an elderly person, a person with physical disabilities AND a pregnant woman/person holding an infant all got on the bus at the same time? Who would I give my seat to????” !”

    Have you ever been on the Paris metro? They have stickers telling you the appropriate order. Disabled war veterans come first. Then the ‘civil disabled.’ Then pregnant women, and then old people.

    I was amazed.

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  3. I’m not sure the lack of choice you mention should be regarded as a Denmark vs. UK thing.

    First, and least importantly, in some respects their’s more diversity when it comes to shopping here. In the UK, the shopping life is more monopolized. You don’t have supermarkets, you have Tesco’s, and they’re all selling the same c*** round the corner that they’re selling all over UK (and then, they have a particularly nasty business model and track record). You don’t have computer stores, you have PC World. You don’t have pharmacies, you have Boot’s. Etc. Every time I come to the UK I’m struck by the proliferation of chains. As for variety in things to buy, I mainly notice the difference in book stores (there’s no comparison. My favorite is Blackwell’s in Oxford).

    As for lack of choice in general … I think comparing life in your town as “Denmark” vs Cardiff or London as “UK” misses the point slightly. A small town in Jutland should not be compared to these cities, nor in my opinion to any town in the south of England. I think you might rather compare it to Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria or Peterlee in Durham – and I suppose you’d also find your choices more limited there than in London or Cardiff. If you lived a cosmppolitan life in Copenhagen and had to pick up you belongings and settle in Northumberland, you might also construct “limited choice” dichotomies, but the other way round. (One thing, though: These parts of England have beautiful landscapes. Jutland, not so much.)

    As for the rudeness and arrogance … I sadly think you’re right. The “Mr. and Mrs. My-Way-or-the-Highway-sen” is janteloven, and it has not been revoked yet…

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    1. Hmm, I guess part of it is that you get so used to how things are here that you don’t really know what people are missing. Denmark is a backwater, not saying it isn’t.

      (And yes, I guess you’re right – sorry ’bout that.)

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    2. And one thing is completely true: If you want to retain your choice and freedom in general, you absolutely can’t let yourself be sucked in by the petit bourgeois-ness of Danish normalcy. I find it important to stay away from people who hang on to these things and if impossible because they’re family, not let myself affect by them. The aggressiveness inherent in this normalcy can be most unpleasant, cf. the reactions many immigrants experience when they do things their own way.

      Still, I like to think that the things you’re up against if you want to be free and have choices are fundamentally the same regardless of country, at least in the West; I tend to think that the similarities are greater than the differences and I’d not have fundamentally more choice if I were living in the UK, Spain or France (three countries that I like and thus might emigrate to).

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    3. Another thing is that you might say there’s TWO Denmarks, or two aspects: There’s the Denmark that’s crammed and small-minded and unimaginative and intolerant and racist, and which seems to have the upper hand right now.

      And there’s a more open Denmark, which got us the reputation for being “open” and “friendly” etc in the first place.

      My friend Rune Engelbreth just made a picture poem giving sort of a historical angle on the “other” Denmark through time:

      Still, the “nasty” side may still end up sending many of us in exile within the next ten or twenty years. But let’s hope not.

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    1. I think your friend REL is doing a very good job at bringing more balance (and sense) into the medias. When this type of criticism comes from Danes, it has more influence than when we say the same thing.
      As for exile, this sort of pettiness has been growing throughout Europe as well as here. Where is one to go? The only real solution is to stay the course, appeal to people’s senses, and hope it will work.

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