It’s been a month here in Denmark now and it feels that time has gone by very fast! I have been engaged in all of my classes and I am greatly enjoying studying here. Studying abroad has made me gain a new curiosity for America. Learning about the Danish way of doing things makes me want to revisit and learn more about the American way of doing things. For example, in my core course we have been focusing on immigration policies and perspectives in Denmark. I realize I do not know much about the immigration policies in America even though I’ve been surrounded by many immigrants. I’ve become more interested in American politics and also more of a critical thinker.
I can say that one of my favorite things about Denmark so far is the social trust here. I love that I can feel safe walking home alone at night or that I don’t have to keep my belongings close to me on the public transportation or in public places. The social trust here in Denmark has a lot to do with the nation and welfare state here, which is why immigration has become so controversial. Perhaps it is worth it to pay such high taxes and maintain a homogeneous culture to feel this safe all of the time. Safety gives you a lot of freedom.
I feel I’ve become a bit “danishified” since being here. Earlier during the arrival workshop, a previous DIS student had described Danes as being similar to nuts – having a hard outer shell but being soft on the inside. In other words, Danes are more reserved in the beginning, but once you “crack” their shell, they become great friends. Danes may come across as more reserved since they do not like small talk. You do not generally start up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the train. If you ask a Dane “how are you” they will think you really want to know how they are, unlike in America where you ask this question to fill up the void as you walk past each other without leaving any actual time for a genuine response. I feel that the initial reserve from Danes is part of the reason why a social drinking culture has been established in Denmark. Drinking is essentially social lubricant for Danes. This is different from America, where the drinking culture (at least in college) is more of a binge one – excessive consumption in a short amount of time, aka drinking to get drunk. In Denmark it is acceptable and normal if a person only has one beer.
I realized the Dane in me today when I met two Americans who had only been in Denmark for 24 hours. Upon meeting them, they were immediately warm and open to conversation, asking us questions about our lives. They did not have an initial reserved shell, like the Danes. The thing was, although I did not have the Danish reserved shell, I was not immediately excited and as open to conversation as the new-to-Denmark Americans were (like how I would be back home). I think this difference mostly has to do with the fact that I tend to let the Danish people initiate things (handshake or hug?) since I like to observe as a foreigner and am at times shy to fulfill my own cultural norms if it’s different from what the Danes are used to (it might make some Danes uncomfortable if I hug them without getting past their shell, etc). Either way, I could see how spending more time here might make one conform a bit more socially.