Noble Savages

I’ve got a riddle for you. When is an international public relations disaster not a public relations disaster?

Give up? When it happens in Danish!

Denmark is not perfect. But the image projected far and wide of the country is glowing, as if it very well might be. All the green energy and social democracy and liberality! Imagine a functioning welfare state! Imagine a country where women are just as equal as men! What a wonderful country, I wish I lived there.

When the Danish state or a Danish company very publicly shit the bed, there are no international consequences. What happens in Denmark, stays in Denmark.

If you are stupid enough to write about what goes on in English, you will be labelled as bitter, hateful, negative, racist and sometimes even asked to leave. It is not enough for Dane-enthusiasts to disagree with you, they have to bring your character in to disrepute. Nice, guys. Nice.

Bringing the foibles of Denmark to a wider audience is not without its risks, people get really emotionally involved in explaining how because they recognise that Denmark has a good work-life balance and you did not mention it when you were writing about forcible ECT; they are actually “objective” about Denmark. So, that is one reason why not many people do not write about the dark side of Denmark. It’s often emotionally taxing and occasionally dangerous.

Another reason, is the language factor. If I tell you that “hold din kæft” translates as “shut the fuck up” and then the person that said it says “actually, that’s a lot softer, it’s more like ‘shut up'”; what are you supposed to make of that? Is there a difference? Does the difference matter? Why is everyone shouting?

Along with not being sure which translation is closest, there is the no small factor of having to put a lot of Danish news through google translate to check your facts. Google translate is okay but it can only do so much. So, unless you have a Danish speaking correspondent on the ground, you are not going to know what is going on. And that’s only if you know there is something you need to put through google translate. You are never going to read all the Danish news output on the off-chance someone shat the bed.

The last factor, and the most important, is the “noble savage defence”. When Denmark, Danes or a Danish company do something that is socially unacceptable, if people from another country inquire “What happened there? Why are you doing something socially unacceptable?” the answer is “It is our culture. We cannot help ourselves. No one will have been hurt by what happened. It’s how we roll.”

Having no idea if that is true, the interlocutor must take the Noble Savage at face value. They just do things differently in Denmark. We do not understand their ways and we must not impose our cultural values upon them. They know not what they do.

And thusly, this is how “everyone” knows that women’s rights have won in Denmark. Even when clear evidence shows that a major computing company (Dell), has no respect for women in technology because they invite someone (Mads Christensen) to “provoke” by disrespecting women. And then nothing happens because “everyone” knew it was a “joke”. (I knew it was a joke, didn’t stop it being stupid)

Firstly, there is plausible deniability “the translation you have is subtly wrong” and then there is “Danish people have no concept of “bad form” because we are so utopian!” and lastly there is “The illusion of people being offended/thinking it was stupid is caused by people not understanding how jokes work. It’s their problem, we did not mean any disrespect when we massively disrespected women. Many people weren’t offended by it, it’s fine.” (I wasn’t “offended” but it still isn’t okay)

This isn’t just about Dell. This also goes for police abuse of power, beatings and use of pepper spray on protestors. If you spray irritants on a sit-down protest in the US, it sparks memes and outrage. If you do the same in Denmark, literally no one outside gives a fuck. Because it’s just their way. Those savage Danes, they have so much free speech, it’s not at all a worry when the police torture protestors with stress positions and chemical weapons.  It’s just their culture.

Anyway. I thought that was interesting. (Note to angry Dane enthusiasts: Start your own blog about the good things in Denmark, put the links in the comments, thanks)