I would have done it for anyone

Northside is a great festival, everyone. It’s big enough to attract bands that I have wanted to see live for ages and it’s small enough that there is not an excessive waiting time for most things (and consequently people are friendlier).

Roskilde is friendly-ish but tempers flare from time to time.

Also, there is no camping at Northside, so people have less opportunity to get tanked up at their tent and then roll into the festival ground half cut. If you want to get drunk at Northside, it’s pretty much at regular festival prices.

Here’s a little compare/contrast for you. On the Saturday, I sat with a friend from work at a picnic table. I was not that bothered about any of the bands on Saturday, so was happy just to hear their sets from afar. I spoke to loads of people that day. Some of them were friends of friends, some of them were randoms. I spoke in mostly English but did have a couple of Danish conversations (with drunks) too. It was pretty great.

On Sunday, before the bands I wanted to see came on, I explored the indie area and watched some poets on the little stage. I also checked out an area for encouraging people to have conversations. There were little signs up about ‘don’t use mobiles’, there were games and a ball pit. There were also some conversation starters. As friendly and fun as that area was, it was pretty much just being used by children. The adults that accompanied them, they were sitting staring into space, not talking to anyone. I was only there for a short time so maybe it was a hotbed of conversation and contact between strangers at other times.

I felt sad for Danish people at that point. Their cultural expectation is that it is very rude to talk to anyone. That’s pretty much the same in the UK, unless more rudeness is committed by NOT talking. So, in the UK, it is possible to start conversations with randoms if you are, for example, in a special area dedicated to starting conversations with randoms. Or if you need to communicate or negotiate something vital (for example: it’s super rude not to ask “Can I pull this blind down/open this window/move this bag/get past you?” and a tiny bit rude not to say “Those doors don’t open at this stop, you need to walk down the carriage.”), whereas in Denmark, it appears to be rude to say anything in any of these scenarios.

This means they only get to speak to people they know and, I guess, friends of friends. Except Danes aren’t that good at blending friendship groups. I’ve heard of parties where the row club friends sit in the kitchen and the colleague friends sit in the living room and both groups try to pretend the other does not exist. Not to mention, these sort of parties with separate friendship groups are rare. No wonder they have no time in their calendar to meet new people, if they need a separate event for each of their sets of buddies.

Not that groups of Danes aren’t trying to get this to change. After all, I got to make these observations at a place set up by Danish people trying to get Danish people to talk to each other. There is definitely a movement to get these conversations going. They are needed, not just on a purely social level, but also to spark new ideas. Cities accelerate development and  innovation partly because people bump into each other and exchange their thoughts.

Anyway. On the way back from the festival ground, there are no buses past 11pm or something, so you have to walk a couple of kilometres to the next bus stop. It’s not as if the city council of Aarhus could lay on extra buses on that weekend, jesus. While I was walking to the bus stop, I noticed a man who was in a bad way.

He was weaving left to right in a drunk manner. Every time he veered left, he ended up in the bike lane. Bikes were coming past regularly and at a fair old whack. All he needed to do was badly time a left swerve with a bike and it would be goodnight Vienna.

So. I ran to catch him up and stood on his left. I marked him like it was netball, he slowed down: I slowed down. He sped up: he sped up. Then the inevitable happened and he swerved hard into me. I caught him and smiled. I said

“You alright?”

and he said

“No.”

I said

“Aww. Is there anything I can do to help?”

And he looked at me and he started muttering about how great this was and he hugged me. So we walked along, his arm around my shoulders. He asked me if I was Italian. He said that this would never happen. Never ever happen. This is so great.

I asked him if he needed to catch a bus or anything and he didn’t understand me. I tried in Danish. Even less understanding. He took my hand and said “I don’t understand you. Sorry. I’m Danish. But I understand THIS.” and squeezed my hand.

He asked me where I lived and I asked him where he lived. He pointed across the junction

“Just over there.”

Then he smiled and said

“Sorry but I have to run.” and he let go of my hand and ran across the junction. I yelled

“OK, well be careful!”

I think Danish culture is ready for people being more friendly and kind to each other. I know I saw a lot of people helping walking wounded after the many inevitable drunk-on-a-bike accidents all along that ring road. But it really needs more people being up for making contact and saying “You alright?” Prevention is always better than a cure.

Discourtesy and Unfriendliness

Before we start, for the speed readers, from the top, for those who cannot exercise reading comprehension skills in their second language, just in case I have not made that clear in everything I have ever written.

I DO NOT MEAN ALL DANES.

WWTFD?
Oh brother

What exciting times for courtesy-lovin’ and friendly people to live in Denmark! There is a perfect storm right now to bring the “flink” back.

First up, Lars AP, half-American/half-Danish, wants the world’s “happiest” people to also be the “nicest”. (I genuinely cannot tell if he believes Danes are actually that happy or he is blowing smoke up their arse so they get with the programme. And at this stage, I do not care). His book “Fucking Flink“, which I must remember to get out again from the library before he comes in the spring, is a small handbook of Random Acts of Kindness and also a manifesto for the Danes. The sort of suggestions he makes are pretty standard. From the basic: let people with one item go first at the supermarket. To the medium: strike up conversations in places you wouldn’t ordinarily. To the hard: throw street parties. To the … no… don’t do that: give hugs to people in the street.

If I recall my friendliness history, and I think I do, the Random Acts of Kindness movement was started in California over twenty years ago. As I understand it, it came as a reaction to the casual violence and unfriendliness of the 1990s. Ghostbusters II was released in 1989, coincidence? There was a problem and ordinary people moved together to try to solve it.

Lars AP says that he finds himself, through shyness, being less open in Danish than when he speaks English. Less interested in strangers, less friendly to people at social situations and less helpful. This construction of a bubble is often cast as “politeness” but I get the impression he is not so sure. And he is on a mission to make Danish people kinder and more interactive.

Second up, Thomas Skov Gaardsvig took it upon himself to bring courtesy back to Denmark in 100 days. The way he tells it, there are far too many people who practise terribly rude habits. The ones he names in his show are showing up late to parties, swearing at other road users, rudeness to people in uniforms, treating cashiers like machines, playing with phones at parties, not speaking to people sat next to you at parties, leaving dog shit everywhere, pissing everywhere…

Now, excuse me for a minute because I need a rant. How come Thomas Skov Gaardsvig can make a six episode series about these basic acts of discourtesy done in Denmark and say “The Danes need to be more polite”, “We need to bring politeness back to Denmark” and list things like “not talking to people at parties” and no one says

“THOMAS, I think you are very racist. There are rude people everywhere. You are making a crass generalisation. Not all Danes are rude. How insulting that you are talking about this at all. Why can’t you talk about the WORLD FAMOUS lamps? I hope you find a country where there are NO RUDE PEOPLE and good luck because EVERY COUNTRY has rude people! I have been to fifteen different countries and there were rude people in EVERY SINGLE ONE. Not just Denmark!!!!!! Anyway, the people not talking to you at parties were doing that because you are a total penis. IT IS JUST YOU parp”

Could it be… and I’m going out on a limb here… that Thomas has “freedom of speech” to talk about the culture of Denmark and I actually don’t “for some reason”?

What strikes me about Thomas’ shows are how basic the things are he is suggesting. “Say ‘Hi’ to the lady scanning your barcodes.” “Don’t leave your dog shit everywhere” and “Don’t attack people in authority while they go about their business.”

And you can “It’s only a few rotten apples” me all you like but this guy was going out with cameras to film the rotten apples and given he only had 100 days to film, he seemed to be VERY LUCKY at finding this vanishing minority of rude people. He even tested his friends by inviting them to a party by post to see who replied, who turned up late, who told off his planted “rude” guest, who talked to strangers. (If I recall correctly, most of his friends were very polite but the point is, he had no idea how many of them were the “rotten apples”)

He makes the point that if you ask someone “Are you polite?” they will never answer “No,” because they have no idea about themselves. They remember the times they were polite and forget the times they were rude (because it was a one-off).

What is happening isn’t that we have 90% rude people in Denmark, or even 15% or 5%, we have 100% people who are capable of being rude and are choosing to be more and more often. God knows why, possibly because “everyone else is doing it”. He is trying to exert social pressure to get people to choose to be polite most of the time. YAY!

What always strikes me when I go to France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK… is that YES there are rude people there but holy jesusfuck, there are sooooooo many polite people. Many many times more polite people  and the extra polite ones are more polite than the most polite in Denmark. Of course, they could make the same show for Brits. But “stand in line” is something almost everyone does, as is “pick up your dog’s crap”, as is “talk to strangers at parties”, as is “reply to invites”. The stuff Brits need particular help with is “don’t shout at authority figures” and all the stuff about road rage.

Yes. There are rude people everywhere. There are rude people in Denmark. It is enough of a problem in Denmark that a tv show was commissioned and a book written. Can we stop attacking the messenger (me, that is), and start thinking of solutions?

You are not a rude Dane and are VERY INSULTED, here’s a motherfucking gold star for behaviour, let’s work on getting everyone on board.

Lastly, and the person least likely to receive a backlash for her views on rude Danes, the Queen of Denmark suggested in her New Year’s speech that people should try to be nice to each other for a change.

Ok, so can we just accept that 1) I am not saying all Danes are rude 2) Enough Danes are rude for the GODDAMN QUEEN to mention it and 3) We should probably do something about it before it gets any worse?

Anyway, it’s exciting times for nice people. Let’s get our flink on!

FUCK YEAH FLINK

I was just in Føtex and I had some dishwashing tablets and I joined the queue and the man turned round and looked at me. And then turned again, and said

“You should go ahead of me, you have only one thing.”

And I said, “Oh, no thanks but that’s nice.”

And then when it was his turn to go, he turned round again and said

“No, I can’t make you wait behind me when you’ve only got one thing.”

So I thanked him and called him “flink” and isn’t that lovely?

Then, I was in the bookstore and in a queue situation and a lady stood to the side of me, looking like she wanted to start a double-queue and I thought “easy come, easy go” but when the lady said “Who is next?” she turned her head and said “I think she was.” ABOUT ME!

Two random acts of thoughtfulness and kindness! Fuck yeah!