The Danish Utopia?

CIMG2186Last week Denmark hit the global headlines and was thrust into the forefront of American’s minds when Bernie Sanders, in the Democrat presidential debate, said that the US should be more like Denmark. He used the examples of the support parents get from the welfare state here and how Denmark looks after its working people and how America could learn from this.

Of course rather than taking this idea as a positive suggestion and for the US media to turn its eyes to what does work here, albeit in a much smaller country, the large element of the US media immediately took to its keyboards to rip Danish ideals to shreds. Despite Denmark not being a socialist country per se, that ‘insult’ was immediately bandied around. There is nothing the US right-wing media and its supporters hate more than this shadowy threat of socialism, which from what I gather they think means anything that may actually help the majority of people of a country from universal healthcare to a positive welfare state,  not the actual dictionary definition.

It comes down to something I have noticed for a long time. The moment someone praises or adopts something that differs from the norm, the immediate reaction is to assume this is a massive criticism and to take on an overly defensive approach. I read many articles last week where the journalists had worked hard to find all the things wrong with Denmark (and seemed to think it was Holland again as the concept of two separate nationalities beginning with the same letter (Dutch and Danish) is far too complex to differentiate) and the biggest one was the idea of higher taxes to fund this scary Socialist dystopia or utopia depending on the editorial slant of the outlet. Most of the criticism showed more about what it important to the US – consumerism. High taxes – income tax, purchase tax (25%), 180% tax on car purchase, carbon tax of 13 USD per ton of CO2 and then the price of everyday consumer goods (which the connection between purchase tax and also currency conversion between dollars and krone was ignored). Oh and the size of the country and the bad weather.

And yet Denmark still seems to consistently be one of the top three happiest countries in the world, far above the US. Baffling. Perhaps it is the smaller gap between the rich and the poor, fewer cars and less obsession with buying consumer goods, less pollution, a cost-effective approach to public services such as transport and refuse collecting, universal healthcare, shorter working hours (yet still rated by Forbes as being the best country for business), paid parental leave, heavily subsidised childcare and free education including university.

Plus we have hygge!


  1. I wonder if the Scandinavian crime series (all of them) contribute to some of the negative feelings of other nations, Scandinavia on the one hand offers a picture of hygge, happiness, social welfare working well but the TV shows demonstrate the unhappiness apparently beneath the surface. I don’t know, and should probably look up, the comparative crime rates between USA, UK and Scandinavia. I like to think crime is less prevalent in Scandinavia than the crime shows represent – there would be very few people still alive in Ystad if the Wallender books were representative of life there- but maybe I’m looking too positively. In 2005 my sister and I visited Christiania on my 50th birthday, I had told her it was a lovely peaceful place regardless of the open sale of drugs and that the residents were delightful friendly people. We wandered around, it was unusually quiet and the few people we met seemed unusually reticent. Only when we returned to the main streets of Copenhagen did I see the jyllandsposten billboard with the headlines that there had been a bloodbath in Christiania only a couple of hours before we arrived. Fortunately my sister doesn’t speak/read Danish so was blissfully unaware and went home with her vision of Denmark as a lovely happy peaceful place unsullied.

  2. @Northernstitches: I doubt crime dramas have much to do with how the US perceives Skandinavia. Partly because few Skandinavian crime dramas are easily viewable in the US, and partly because crime dramas are..dramas.

    My experience as a USer (since I’m a citizen of only one of the countries on the north American continent) is that USers are, in general, pretty xenophobic, while enjoying the pretense of being “friendly.”

    Re: USers not knowing the difference between Dutch and Danish: my experience (having grown up in the UK, France and the Netherlands, in addition to the US), is that USers also can’t distinguish between Swiss and Swedes. It doesn’t have anything to do with geographic proximity, and has quite a lot do to with geographic ignorance and an unwillingness to learn about other people and other countries.

    Cynical? Probably. Familiar with the experience? Yup.

  3. and it for these many positive reasons (as well as the attitudes and values of the Danish people/culture) that I long to relocate to Denmark! 🙂

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