Danish Election ’15

Here are the results of the election of 2015 in Denmark.

1. Social democrats (26.3%)

2. DF: (Danish people’s party) (21.1%)

3. Venstre (Liberals) (19.5%)

Plus 6 other parties getting between 3 and 7% of the vote:- Red/green alliance, liberal alliance, the alternative, radicals, socialist people’s party and conservatives, in order from most popular to least.

Now, in Denmark, no one party is ever in a position to rule alone. They would need something like 50% of the popular vote to do so, as far as I can tell. They must make coalitions.

If you add up all the ‘red team’ parties and all the ‘blue team’ parties, blue team wins.

Now, looking at those results you would think “Fair enough, blue team wins, headed by DF obviously” but you would be wrong.

The DF don’t want to rule. They don’t want to rule because they know their policies actually can’t work and the second they get to try them out, it will become abundantly obvious and then they will never ever be voted for again. They are happy for Venstre, who came third to rule so they can sit at the back and boo.

Why did they come second?

If you want my opinion, and I’m assuming you do if you have read this far. If you want my opinion, it is because of the work all the other parties have done in promoting them.

I am not even joking. The DF’s election adverts had NOTHING of substance in them. Nothing. Their first slogan was ‘trust and peace of mind’, their second was ‘you know what we stand for’.

Meanwhile, almost every other fricking party had something about the immigrants ruining everything. The Social Democrats had something about how they wanted to reduce crime, specifically burglary. Despite this being an overwhelmingly Danish crime, they still managed to blame the immigrants in the 50 or so words on their billboard.

The tactic must have been ‘let’s beat the DF at their own game, xenophobia works, let’s do it!’ but it’s the same thing that happens when I see a Burger King advert: I want to go get a McDonalds. They advertised the joys of xenophobia perfectly and people responded by voting for the market leaders in xenophobia.

Meanwhile, after what the red team did to the teachers during the lockout, there were a lot of red team voters who had to find red team parties that did not screw them over. I assume a lot of the red team vote was split by the decidedly un-red team policies the incumbents had been enacting.

Sidebar: Have you noticed that these parties quite cheerfully expend all their airtime on talking about how to tame Johnny Foreigner but spend all their power on dismantling the welfare state?

What I think should have happened, again, not even joking, is that the Social Democrats should have joined up with the DF and one other party and led a new ‘orange’ coalition.

The DF are socialist, the DF blame foreigners and seek easy answers to difficult questions. I am struggling to see the difference with the current SD.

I am pretty much done with Danish politics now.

Jantelov: A primer

Once a Danish-Norwegian wrote a satire sending up small town Scandinavia. It was called “A Fugitive Crosses his Path” and I read the first half when I could speak rudimentary Danish and can report it is about poverty and things “suddenly” happening every new paragraph. I may be one of the few people who have read even this far but everyone likes to quote the best bit.

In Aksel Sandemose’s jaded vision of Scandinavian village life, anyone who tries to stand out is smacked down. There are eleven rules that, I have to admit, I have read so many times that my eyes slide off them like they are covered in bacon grease. They’re basically “You’re nothing special so who cares”

In other countries, the same thing is known as Tall Poppy Syndrome or by the delightful analogy of crabs in a bucket pulling each other down if they try to get out. These rules have been used to justify everything about Danish society from queue jumping, to racism, to poor school performance, to ‘jokes’ where you upset your friends and back again.

Practically, what Jantelov does, is make everyone in Denmark a fucking nightmare to be with in public unless you know them personally. Since the informal laws of this fictional village in a book no one has read tell the average Dane that no one is above anyone else, this is naturally expanded to the following world-view:-

“No one is special, so get out of my fucking way.”

You see it on the mouth breathers getting onto buses before everyone has got off: you’re nothing special so why should you be able to get out of my way so I can get on? You see it in Ikea when people stop dead in the numerous chokepoints around the store: you’re nothing special, so why would I turn my head 45 degrees to see if you are in danger of collision with me if I stop suddenly. You see it in supermarkets when people shove you aside so they can get at the bread slicer you are still using. You see it in department stores when people let heavy doors slam in your face. YOU ARE NOTHING, ME FIRST.

Most of the Danes I know personally are awesome people, so I am not talking about them and I am probably not talking about you even if I haven’t met you yet. But even the Danes you regard as decent human beings can be affected by Jantelov when they make ‘jokes’ about what an asshole you are. This is fine because you can respond in kind. But they might expand it to make you remember your country is nothing special, especially if you are from the USA. If you respond in kind, they will cut you. That’s just how it is.

Jantelov makes bragging very difficult. You cannot be proud of your achievements or mention them at all, lest you make one of the other crabs in your bucket feel jealous. No great loss to the conversation. But you cannot talk about lah-di-dah ‘elitist’ stuff either, in case people feel like you’re being pretentious. So, you’re only allowed to talk about meatballs, how hard Danish is for foreigners and how difficult the word ‘hygge’ is to understand. I mentioned I was reading A Fugitive Crosses his Path at a dinner party and one of the guests looked like he was going to be aggressively sick on me. Also, you cannot brag in a job search situation either, you have to know people in Denmark who employ others and play badminton with them until they ask you personally if you want to work with them.

In many parents’ evenings, it is common for the teachers to tell the parents to stop worrying, the kid is good enough and shouldn’t we care more about their social skills? Coming from a culture where the parents just want to know their kid is making progress, this seems like a bit of an undershoot. ‘Good enough’ is not the issue. That is set by the average and the average moves with the group. Learning something new and getting better every day, how is that too elitist?

There are people who resist Jante for the most part. They are ‘most people in Denmark according to themselves’. But even if they refuse to pull down other crabs, they are still in a bucket trying to get out with claws around their ankles.

A friend of a friend was at a job interview where they were asked “How do you feel about your customers being  the upper middle class of Danish people… like me?” This story is passed around with amused disbelief by Danes. Who is this person who would consider themselves above someone else AND then share it with another person? Then again, the foreigners who hear that story think it is a pretty ridiculous question to ask. Then again, it’s not ridiculous if you want to employ someone who won’t try to pull at your customers’ crab legs.

Though perhaps I am not being fair. I believed I could tell the dinner party guests about reading Aksel Sandemose without making them feel sick to their stomaches at my presumption because the librarian that issued the book did so with a wry smile (he then went on to being one of my friends). There are plenty of people out there who are not threatened by intellectualism or individualism and of course there are plenty who know how to move through a crowd without inconveniencing every other person. Still, it’s got a lot to answer for.

Micro Aggressions and Stranger Danes

To preserve anonymity of the people I meet, I try not to tell stories that would give away individuals. I’ve had a few experiences in the last few weeks that I really wanted to talk about but there was no way to do so without invading the privacy of others.

I don’t know what happened but I suddenly had a flood of invitations to events where I would be an unaccompanied foreigner to a group of people that do not know me or each other. A wedding, a party, a training event, that sort of thing.

And I had to meet a LOT of stranger Danes.

Here is my Ideal Stranger Dane, of which I met maybe half a dozen at these events.

  • Starts out with a question or a comment not about where I come from
  • Talks to me about something interesting that we can both get stuck into
  • Finds things in common
  • Makes jokes/laughs at my jokes
  • Is patient with my mistakes in pronunciation/word order/correct word usage

Here are the things that are (more or less), involuntary that Stranger Danes sometimes do (and it gets on my nerves)

  • Shudders or pulls a face when they hear my accent
  • Keeps that expression on their face whenever I speak to them
  • Walks away/turns their back on me when I approach while they are on their own
  • Repeats everything I say back to me with a singy-songy voice as if teaching an infant how to speak
  • Does not return my smile (or if they do, it doesn’t touch their eyes)
  • Only makes eye contact when talking about crime
  • Looks pissed off when I say Danish is not actually that hard for an English speaker (the hard thing only being that it must be perfect or ELSE)
  • Looks super pissed off when I say I have been in Denmark for 6 years

Here are the things that are just thoughtless but are somewhat of a choice

  • Asks DURING Danish language conversations I am having with them, if I speak Danish
  • Asks after I have replied in the affirmative “But do you UNDERSTAND Danish?”
  • Tells me that I do not understand Danish, while I am listening
  • Goes on about how hard Danish must be for me
  • Only asks me about where I am from and why I came to Denmark
  • Ignores me after this information has been shared
  • Compares me pointedly with other people who are also learning Danish
  • Insists that if I have a problem with an activity it must be because of my shitty language skills
  • Tells me that I am not ‘integrating’ if I choose not to be ignored or patronised by choosing another activity or if everyone around me chooses to move away from me
  • Underestimates my intelligence vocally

There are plenty of foreigners who can handle this or do not notice it. But it gets to me after a while. Especially since, if I bring this up, some people will jump on me to tell me all this stuff happens because I am a fucking bitch who deserved it.

Well, it never happened in the UK and it never happened in France and it never happened in Germany. In the UK, I make friends super easily. In France and Germany, people are used to hearing their language being mauled and they’re cool with it. They just let you communicate and are more or less Ideal Strangers.

In Denmark, people are not used to hearing their language mangled and they have been infected with the idea that foreigners are bad. Our badness stems from not wanting to be part of the group and not learning the language to perfection. Look at Prince Henri, he’s pretty much reviled and his Danish is perfect… he just has a French accent. That’s enough for Danish people to think that he is a stuck up prick. That’s all it took.

Of course, none of the people who were less than Ideal were bad people. They are nice, decent, otherwise smart people. They just lack empathy, curiosity and self-awareness. So, those people didn’t get to find out about the things that we have in common or some awesome or interesting point of view that only I can share. They didn’t get to find out that I am funny. They didn’t get to hear what it is actually like to be foreign in their country. So. I guess I won that one?


Cultural Imperialism

I have lived in Denmark for nearly five years now. This is quite a long time and is almost the longest I have lived anywhere. (Record to beat: six years in Cardiff). When people ask me where I am from, I say “London” which is bollocks because I lived there for three years. I am almost “from” Denmark, statistically speaking.

Home is where the heart is
(Photo credit: countrykitty)

What is awkward about being a critical thinker abroad, is that I think critical thoughts but not many people think I should be allowed to express them. Back in the UK, I could criticise racism and boorishness to my heart’s content. Over here, even though this place is my home, I am seen as a terrible cultural imperialist if I say anything other than “how quaint!”

Here is a little story for you: I was walking down the street with a friend in Copenhagen and two very drunk older gentlemen stopped us so they could flirt. They spoke excellent English and we had a good chat. One of them asked if I liked Denmark and I looked sad and said no.

He said (and I didn’t make notes so this isn’t a direct quote, it’s a paraphrase)

“Good girl! It’s a terrible place. Terrible. Do you know what the three worst things about Denmark are?”

And he let rip. I will summarise: inferiority complex, superiority complex and Jantelov. Then he said:-

“Happiest country in the world my ARSE. They are all depressed. Everyone is mentally ill. Happiest country! And people refuse to take jobs they think are beneath them, so they end up on benefits and then they cannot get a job that is not beneath them because they have been unemployed and they stay on benefits for the rest of their lives. And the alcoholics, they stay sick because no one helps them,”

And I just listened in stunned silence. People are oh-so eager to tell me how the source of all small-mindedness in Denmark is “the old people”. This has never been the case.

If I say anything on these themes then I am shut down for being a cultural imperialist. I do not want Denmark to be like the UK. Very not. I just do not want to live in a country where it is seen as so routine and normal to call certain cultures ‘barbaric’ that it only makes the news if the cultures in question find out and hit the roof.

This is an awkward stage to be in: to feel at home in a culture but being expected to keep quiet about my opinions because I am not seen as really belonging to it.

Having your Danish Model and Eating It

So, what’s The Danish Model?

The Danish Model is a system of decision making which relies on discussion and consensus. If new working conditions are to be agreed with a union the Danish Model is allowing the union to enter into talks with their employer. Suggestions are made. Then compromises. Then agreements. That is the Danish Model.

In other countries, laws can be made by politicians to create new working conditions for state employees. This is not the Danish Model.

The Danish Model has secured great terms and conditions for workers. The administration cannot afford these anymore and need to scrap them. They need a do-over. The Danish Model prevents this. All that can happen under the Danish Model is compromise and incremental change.

The Danish administration seem to yearn for the more authoritarian systems of other countries but suspect that overturning the Danish Model might be unpopular with the Danish people. They might even be unable to scrap it entirely, without a democratic mandate.

In order to force through cuts to public services, they need to keep up the pretense of the Danish Model whilst bypassing it entirely.

The teacher lockout is the first example but there will be more to come.

The KL (nationwide association of municipal councils), is supposed to agree new conditions with the unions. They cannot actually negotiate, though. They have been given one term to agree to. The term the government worked out.

The unions have suggested many possible terms. Most of them worsen the working conditions for teachers and the majority (if not all), incorporate parts of the KL’s suggestion. The KL cannot agree to any of their suggested compromises.

The unions cannot agree to the suggestion made by the KL because it bollockses up years of hard work to achieve good working conditions for teachers. If they just accept it without  a fight, what on earth are we paying 500 kroner a month for?

After a short time (just over a day), of negotiation, the Finance Minister declared the talks “deadlocked”. He warned of a lock out. He enforced a lock out.

Patronisingly, the state minister has lectured “one or two Danes” who might be “confused” about the “hats” the Finance Minister has on. One hat is as the employer of all the unionised teachers. The other hat is as part of the administration, with their new plans for savings in schools. Confused? Hats?

As part of the administration under the Danish Model, he really should be staying out of it and only stepping in at the very last second as saviour of all Danish schools. He has been up to his nuts in these negotiations. He has been smearing teachers and making lots of pronouncements. The administration is so very baldly not objective. (And under any other model, that might have been acceptable. But not this one)

The plan has always been to force through these changes. If the unions do not cry “uncle” first, then the government fully intends to change the terms and conditions of teaching in Denmark by legislation.

What is tricky to balance are two factors.

Firstly: appearing to adhere to the Danish Model and only stepping in with legislation in direst necessity after a long lockout. This is so that democracy appears to be still functioning and the people do not become angry with the government.

Secondly, not letting the lockout go on so long that the people become angry with the government.

The children of Denmark are losing an uncertain number of days’ education so that the politicians of Denmark can keep up the charade of still subscribing to the Danish Model.

One suggestion that the unions made was to abandon the Danish Model of negotiations and take a look at how things are done in Canada. (Canada has had a lot of teacher disputes but seems to be coming through them now). The Finance Minister said this was disingenuous of them and a time wasting tactic.

Surely, the longer we can debate is actually time well spent, as children still get to go to school in the meantime?

What confuses me is how badly the government are playing the game. Given how much time they have had to prepare, compared with the teachers, this just seems a bit poor. The main tactic appears to be turning non-teachers against teachers. This is gaining some traction, in some quarters. But mostly, I think people appreciate the work that is done in schools. Even if some think that teachers could do more, people are not happy about negative campaigning and are aligning with the underdog. It is backfiring and it’s the only weapon they seem to have.

Also, for a group of people that want to keep up the act of maintaining the sacred Danish Model, they forget themselves too easily.

“We must adhere to the Danish Model and allow the two parties to reach agreement. Also, teachers are lazy, man, and our plans will improve Danish schools that are like totally crap.”

Machiavelli would be having kittens by now. JUST KEEP OUT OF IT, POLITICIANS. If they had only let Ziegler deal with it and then swooped in at the last minute…

“Oh, we were sure you would reach an agreement. How sad. Let us fix this for you with an emergency act of parliament!”

The teachers crying out “This is a stitch up! They had this all planned from the start!” would sound paranoid and crazy. But with all the political interference, people think that is a straightforward fight between the government and the unions. (Goes to show how little people are actually invested in the Danish Model.)

Meanwhile, back in The Manipulating People For Fun and Profit Show. Why in the name of all things good and holy, didn’t the administration come up with a wildly unrealistic suggestion, corralling the unions into suggesting their minimum acceptable price during the negotiation? Surely that is how things are done? If the KL comes with a slightly modified suggestion this week, so help me, there will be trouble. Tables will be flipped.

Like this.
Like this.

That will be several days of school my students missed out on. For a game.

And do they intend to do this for all the public servants that cost too much? Just insist on terms and lock them out until it is seemly to enact new laws? Every time? It is going to get old fast.

Just abandon the Danish Model and say the government gets to dictate terms of employment from now on. Seriously. Just drop the pretense. There is to be no more negotiation. The workers are not able to debate the terms of their employment. Only the government is able to decide these. If you do not like them, then tough. If you want to live in Denmark, you have to put up with it.

Dragging this out and holding children to ransom, just to save face and appear democratic, is ridiculous and cowardly.


Saw Kapringen last night at the local cinema. I very much recommend it. Good acting, good pacing, good story. Also, there’s a story line that revolves around arrogance which I think rang very true. It’s a bit bleak but that’s okay, right? Half the cast of Borgen are in it. Pilou Asbæk is in it and he is really good. He acts his little socks off. One thing that I liked about the film particularly was how it did not pull back from presenting things as complicated. There are no easy answers served up, no good guys or bad guys. Just a lot of guys in shit situations they would rather not be.

My cinema had invited a special guest to introduce the film, Rasmus Tantholdt off TV2.

Now, I don’t know what I was expecting but I was surprised by how measured he was. He showed great (and deep), understanding of the complicated situation off the Somali coast, he’s a credit to his people!

One thing he talked about that I didn’t realise was that it is not governments who negotiate for hostages’ release, it is outside consultants. They charge a lot *per day*, so there’s no incentive to get people back quickly. Apparently, if you are going to get kidnapped, you should be kidnapped along with American citizens. This means you will get Navy Seals coming to get you.

He talked about the Danish Defence’s presence and how having warships in the area has reduced piracy but that it was very frustrating for sailors that the pirates had to be put on a boat back to the coast because there is no easy way of punishing them for their crimes (unless they commit them against Danes and then, if they ended up in Danish prisons, what would stop them from claiming asylum?)

He tackled some really quite childlike ideas from the crowd about “building prisons” so gently it was actually quite beautiful.

My town (for their part), laughed inappropriately at a couple of things in his talk. The first was when a Somali woman off the news said “Well, what are the pirates supposed to do, the foreigners have stolen all our fish” (He came back on that and said “She’s not necessarily wrong, there’s no coastguard and lots of countries did overfish and dump toxic waste there in the past.”), and the second was when he showed a photo of a couple of Danish hostages looking scared and filthy. Yeah, that’s hilarious(!) Human suffering, trololol. My town, man, my town.

Anyway, I recommend you see the film. A lot of the film in English but you might need to wait for subtitles if your Danish is nil-to-basic.


The Danish state often exclaim that foreigners do not like to stay in Denmark. As many of them are cash-cows, educated expensively abroad, paying top rate tax as soon as they arrive and leaving before they need a pension or a nursing home; the government would like to know how to keep them here for at least their five year contract.

Surveys, studies and initiatives are launched. Awful Danes line up to tell foreigners that “Danes are stand-offish and so you need to work harder to get them to like you” at integration events. They are paid money to do this. Money!

Every time they ask, the foreigners reply

  • My social life effectively ended as soon as I got here. I guess I have friends who are foreigners but that is bitterly disappointing because I could meet foreigners literally anywhere, I wanted to know DANES, I wanted to get to know DANISH CULTURE by having DANISH friends.
  • The immigration authorities are wicked, arbitrary and a law unto themselves. If confronted with it, Kafka would say ‘The Trial wasn’t an instruction manual, you guys’
Austrian Writer Franz Kafka
Seriously. I was saying it was LUDICROUS and CRUEL.
  • Your taxes are quite steep considering the benefits that I personally can obtain.
  • Cost of living is too high and the products you can get are below par.
  • You keep telling me I am not wanted. At parties. In the newspapers. In shops. In the street. You keep saying that my culture and linguistic heritage should be disregarded. You keep telling me that I should forget everything about my past and become Danish. Even when I do this, it is never quite good enough. My accent is too foreign. My use of knife and fork is different. I don’t particularly want to cycle in the snow. I think mashed up liver spread on black bread is disgusting. I like to drink moderately or not at all. And even if I go all in and do EVERYTHING you say. You still laugh at me when I make minor errors. Right in my little face. Plus you speak too fast and leave me out of everything which makes me feel really rejected.
  • Your schools are a bit shit. Your daycare is neglectful and dangerous. Your universities are not as good as they think they are.

Anyway. Those are the running themes and they have been since I got here and apparently have been since they started noticing foreigners were getting the hump and leaving.

One of the parties in the coalition government wanted to find out what the haps were and arranged a “workshop”. This workshop was to find out ONCE AND FOR ALL how to make the process of integration better for foreigners.

This workshop got wildly popular because a Danish journo married a Turk, was badly treated and wrote all about it, to cries of wounded outrage from his lefty confederates. The party said “Yay! We are being proactive here, we have a workshop already planned on just this question. Political point SCORE!” and then “You can’t all come, we’ve only got enough post-it notes for a few dozen.”

At the workshop, according to reports, the chair of the party made a brief speech in Danish (“because my English isn’t very good”), apologising (“because I know a lot of you have only just arrived”) and then explaining that the rest of the evening would be in English to the heckle from a man who runs an Immigrant rights organisation (well, actually, it’s a “Danes should continue to have Danish rights even if they marry a foreigner” organisation. Kartoffel/kartoffel)


I mean, Denmark.

This was not performance art. And this was not challenged by the chair. In fact, his “mening” was accommodated and the workshop was conducted bilingually, (which is fine, there’s plenty of foreigners who only speak Danish as their second language and no English), Danish first of course. Which was still not good enough for this shit for brains.

From the looks of things, the workshop was just lip service. A lot of “listening” and then nodding and then saying “This is quite a difficult problem, isn’t it?” and then going home.

I think it is hilarious that he reacted like that. I feel guilty for finding it funny because it is pretty serious.

The problem that most foreigners from all backgrounds have in common in Denmark is the angry demand to speak Danish fluently from the start. The lack of empathy. The lack of consideration.

Most countries, you need to speak the language or at least a lingua franca to get by. This can mean in countries where the official language is already a world language (France, Spain, the USA, China, the UK etc etc), you have no wiggle room. The main language is pretty much it. World languages, however, have all the good teaching resources. There are classes, there are books, there are podcasts, there are many many speakers with which you can practise. There’s a market for it, is what I’m saying. You can get rather good rather quickly.

Denmark has a problem in that many (most?) of the language centres are pisspoor, you won’t find the language taught in your country unless you go to university to study it specifically, the books are not very good and the Danish speakers you meet can be impatient or unpleasant when you try to practise. (Not all, some. But you never know which “some” And the nice ones can go too far the other way and make you feel self conscious with faint praise)

So, you get here and you try and try. And you find it difficult at first and then Danes make an orderly line so they can tell you

  1. Danish is the hardest language in the world, and
  2. Speak Danish fluently now or I’ll cut you.

That’s one of the problems that almost everyone has. Whether you work at Vestas or sought asylum (or indeed sought asylum and then got a job at Vestas). You are being exhorted to speak perfect Danish whilst being demoralised at every turn. Why would a temporary worker luksus-immigrant want to get fluent in Danish? Run that by me again. They are here for five years max, you oaf. If they can order a coffee, get off their backs. This is an extended sabbatical for them.

And it’s NOT the fucking hardest language in the world. It’s not even top 10 for English speakers. If you can learn English, you can learn frigging Danish. Honestly!

Technical question: How did he hope to hear what the issues for the newest immigrants are if everyone was confined to speaking Danish?


Occasionally, I have to do break supervision. This usually involves me dealing with minor injuries on the school playground and almost certainly breaking up a fight. Little kids are the worst.

There are a lot of things I say in order to break up and prevent fights. One of which is



Now, as with all phrases I have never heard in Danish, there is always a moment when I say something new and wait to see if there is understanding. Or did I just shit the bed communicatively? The first time I said it, the children smiled and ran off.

“Ja ja!”

So, they get it and they understand it and it also amuses them. Win win.

I told my boyfriend and he said “That’s not a thing.” Not that it didn’t make sense, wasn’t grammatical or what have you. Just that it didn’t exist as a phrase. Well, whatever. I didn’t learn Danish just so I could say the exact same things everyone else was saying.

“Mmm, dine frikkadelle smagt DEJLIG, Tove.”

“Nåh, har du et nyt SOMMERhus, Jens?”

Fuck that.

I was wondering about why I had never heard the word “flink” outside of the book “Fucking Flink” and then, blow me, but I heard the word twice in one week.

I was joining a new gym, more of a fitness club for kommune staff. I might as well, for as long as I am on the payroll. The man showing me around the gym, said “We’re all really flink here, so if you get stuck, you can ask any of us.” Then he pointed out some regulars who waved. So, it IS true, the gateway to friendly Danes is a sports club!

The next day, I had to go to the kommune to pick up a key for the gym. The security guard sorted it all out for me. At the end, I asked “Hey, is this my security code here?”

“Oh no, your security code is the last four digits of your identity number. We’re flink like that, here.”

So, here’s to flinkness. I hope I see more of it.

Consensus and the Danish Way

At Danish folkeskole, children are given many opportunities to discuss issues. They have Danish lessons, “community” lessons and even their foreign language lessons have meaty topics like “race” or “poverty”. They are trained to say “jeg synes…” or “jeg mener…” (I think) and then give their opinion. They are then trained to hear another give their opinions. Then they will work on finding a consensus. And then everyone says “Thanks for the debate” and they stop.

A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto: Taso de...
og tak for kaffe

If an issue is divisive, you will hear Danes say “It’s a pity the vote was split,” as if polarisation is a bad thing. And not, as it is rather, just a thing. It is better for everyone, they believe, if they reach the wrong consensus than if the right decision is taken without full support.

You know what, that’s fine. It’s another way. The deadlock in Congress in the US is another. What’s going on with the NHS back home is another. There are LOTS of ways to make the wrong decision.

Where Denmark runs into problems is that this method only works if you can trust everyone. If people are trustworthy, if their opinions are genuinely felt, if their facts are checked; then you can do much much worse than just talking about it until everyone mostly agrees.

The problem is when someone is actively trying to mislead, outright lie or has the wrong end of the stick. As long as they are persistent and reasonably persuasive, the consensus will include their suggestions or proposals. No one will think to dig holes in what they are saying, no one will consider that they need to fact check. You have to trust people, you see. This world view is sweet and all, but it is useless in the face of scoundrels and fools.

Without the cursory checks that even basic critical thinking affords, there is no way to discern good ideas from bad. All ideas are equally valid.

This leads to terrible situations where people will vote for anything just not to be left out of the consensus. Where people will not look any more deeply than the headlines (even if it is their job to do so), where people get confused (and not angry), if you suggest that what they are saying is fraudulent or a lie. You are supposed to trust me, I don’t understand why you don’t just say “jeg synes…” and we can have another cup of coffee!

If you patiently explain how something might be illegal or morally reprehensible, the reasoning of children is employed again “But everyone else is doing it…”

Honestly, it is like living in a Jonathan Swift novel. Or that film with Ricky Gervais that wasn’t very good.

That’s not to say there aren’t any questioning souls here because there are. They are just not appreciated and are marginalised. It’s not “The Danish Way”, so there is no room for them. Jeg synes, at det er trist.