My initial impressions of Denmark were formed quickly, within the first few weeks, after meeting only a handful of Danes (and by now has been corrected for sampling bias). That I had lived in Sweden just before I moved to Denmark played a strong role in forming these impressions, which were by and large small increments to my impressions of Swedish culture.
One of the prominent aspects of Danish culture and that most (men; you will see why) are proud of is the fact that they do not hesitate to speak out even if it might sound crude or offend another person. This is in contrast to the assumed Swedish political correctness, which is legendary in Denmark for being extreme and overly sensitive. To paraphrase a friend, he believes Sweden brushes its problems under the carpet whereas Denmark likes to confront them. A typical example is the immigration debate. Sweden for a long time took in more refugees than the country’s system could handle and while there were, consequently, obvious problems of integration, it is perceived that Sweden was a bit late to openly acknowledge this fact. The brushing of problem under the carpet takes a metaphorical sense in this case with the ghettos that were formed in the suburbs of many Swedish cities. However, Denmark has been one of the most vocal countries from northern Europe to be discussing immigration politics. Until recently, Denmark was also taking in a lot of immigrants but the perception is that Denmark confronted the problems with integration more openly than Sweden. Not to say that Denmark does not have the same issues as Sweden or Germany with integration, but the perceived belief is that by bringing the issues out in the open there are no hidden surprises down the line — like a sudden majority for a right-wing nutcase political party.
This aspect of Danish point of view is commendable; to whatever extent it might be true. And this becomes a consistent theme of Danish social etiquette that criticism is honest and unfiltered. For an outsider it takes some time to get used to, but honesty is great, and one can quickly get used to receiving and giving out sincere feedback.
A related tangent to this social etiquette is the Danish humour which, at the outset, is crude and brazenly politically incorrect and is inescapable on a daily basis. I have mixed feelings about this brand of humour though. Let me present a case in example from a series of events, and we can discuss the merits of this sense of humour.
I was at a recent, typical, Danish house-party with several international people, and until it was pointed out I was not paying attention to the fact that I was the only dark-skinned person in a crowd of about 12.
A Danish friend bumps into me while I was settling down on a seat, and interrupts me with this quip: “Well my dark friend, what are you doing? You better get back to cleaning up our stuff”, with a wide grin and to the shock of couple of others. I smile and carry on.
For better context, it is a white-male conveying it to me while several others hear it.
While I have gotten used to this being Danish humour, it does seem to upset people, or make them uncomfortable. And maybe it does not get called out by others because I, “the victim”, let it pass. Personally, I am not offended by these silly comments, but certainly makes me wonder as to how skin colour stands out as an attribute that can still characterise a person. Of course, I could analyse the privileges in that joke and point out that it is entrenched in a colonial mindset heavily loaded with racist stereotypes perpetuated by toxic white-male complex.
Or I could let it pass and endorse it as a cultural nuance that is typically Danish and ignore it. But, I also feel responsible that by not challenging these “jokes” I might be enabling a toxic environment which down the line might affect someone else more adversely than me.
I have not made up my mind about what my response should be other than ignoring it. A close friend of mine thinks I should call it out but also sees that it is not my responsibility to educate a “sophisticated” person on how not seem a racist, even for fun.
I am interested in hearing what you think.