A common question I encounter these days is, if I like Sweden better or Denmark. I refrained from answering that question for a long time, as either choice would be based on strong biases. For instance, Sweden was the first country that I lived in after having moved out of India and the overall experience was nothing but positive. I had to convince myself that if I had to give a reasonable answer, I should wait until I have spent a substantial amount of time in Denmark. So that the choice of Denmark is not based on my first impressions of it, or that of Sweden was because of the longevity.
It’s been fifteen months in Denmark. I might be at a better position to delve into this question, perhaps. Now that I have experienced the cycle of weather over this time and various aspects of the Danish society and culture. Do I still have a preferred choice between Sweden and Denmark? No.
I won’t commit to that, as yet, and play it diplomatically, but I can certainly point out some of the reasons for my increasing fondness for Denmark.
First, is it’s people. Danes consistently rank as the happiest people in the world, and of course, the question was if it really was true and if so, what were the reasons behind this coveted title. Answering this question requires meticulous research and metrics, but based on my personal experiences and brief analysis, I think the title is not far from the truth.
One of the historical reasons cited for Denmark being the happiest country in the world, also referred to in the entertainingly educative book “The Almost Nearly Perfect People” by Michael Booth, is that Danes have low expectations. Not in a negative way, but that they are content easily. It is not a bad thing right? If you cannot be disappointed easily, then you can stay happier. That Denmark was a vast empire — at one point had Norway, Sweden and parts of Germany in its territories — and has now shrunk to what it is, seems to have had an effect in shaping the mindset of the people. The notion “To make the best of what they’ve got” appears to have seeped into the broad ethos of the population.
While the reason mentioned above is contentious, there are several other superficial symptoms that can clearly fetch Danes the label of being the happiest country; at least, easily in northern Europe. There are also other factors, like Denmark being a welfare state, sparsely populated and affluent, adding to the equation. But, these are true for most other Scandinavian countries. Then, what else?
One of my early experiences of Denmark was when I would take trains via Copenhagen to reach Germany from Sweden. The famous Øresund bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark was the crossing point for the train when entering Denmark. The last major stop was Malmö in Sweden, and the train that was all hushed up in silence until then (for the last 3 hours), would suddenly burst out into some lively and loud energy. The latest pop music on poor quality speakers of smart phones would rattle the air, and more often than not, there would be a bunch of kids or elderly Danes (easily distinguishable as Danes) would be drinking from the green tins with silver inscriptions that are now so ubiquitous — Carlsberg beers. The walls along the tracks would carry provocative graffiti in bright colours and the place in general had an air of being more casual. As I have done these trips several tens of times and in most scenarios I could find this drastic difference, I ended up attributing this “happy-go-lucky” attitude to Denmark.
And it has not been far from the truth after I have started living here. Even simple things which were impossible in Sweden, like striking a conversation with a stranger, is better in Denmark (or is it only in Copenhagen?). Nonetheless, the friend circle I was able to build within the first few weeks has been quite amazing. This was one particular thing that ended up being quite hard in Sweden, in-spite of me being a student who would constantly interact with a lot of locals in Gothenburg. It is an important factor for a foreigner, if he/she can feel welcome, to assimilate to the local society. That certainly has made my stay in Denmark a lot more lively.
As you see, the general adjective that I seem to repeat in attributing to Denmark is that it is “lively”. It fits better than simply calling it the happiest country, for happiness is hard to quantify.
There are other interesting, but less flattering aspects of Denmark, of course. For instance, their immigration politics and behold — the language. But, I will deal with them in another post.