2015.08.18 Absolutely self-contradicting profiles

Are the Danes totally reserved or incredibly friendly?

The Copenhagen newspaper Berlingske is running a series of articles on "The Reserved Dane". How would you get in contact with one of this species?

The key seems to be to avoid putting them into a situation where they can't escape you. Denmark is not the only country where "good fences make good neighbors". The people we can't avoid must be kept at arm's length.

Danes may ride with the same people on the same train, sitting in the same seat every day. They may read or sleep or listen to music - but they probably won't talk.

The people you see every day for perhaps an hour of train riding should not be bothered. Because you may discover that you only have enough in common to talk for five minutes and how do you sit together peacefully day after day, feeling that now you have started talking so now have to talk, if you really have nothing to talk about?

It would be like "going through a divorce" - you may even have to sit in another part of the train to avoid the embarrassment!

Consequently, you must either find people with the same interests - assuring that you have at least this interest to discuss - or keep quiet.

Articles in the "Reserved Dane" series recommend sports clubs and work out studios. Here small talk can be initiated asking for help lifting weights or adjusting a machine. If the club/studio has a culture of arranging social get-togethers as well, you may get to know the people better. Eventually you may have a new friend.

This sounds very much like the American use of sports as a "common denominator"; assuring that you have something to talk about that is not too personal.

Then I turned the page in the newspaper and the same people who are so reserved and private has formed a Facebook group named "Venligboerne" - "The Friendlies".

The group has formed as a way to connect newly arrived refugees with Danes who will help them with practical issues: from translating and teaching them the local language to distributing hand-me-down clothes and furniture. Refugees speak warmly of the reach-out, of help getting the family reunited, of dinner invitations, and of making friends.

"The Friendlies" started when inhabitants from some of the far corners of the country (in as much as you can talk about far corners in this "Lilliput" country) decided that they would be welcoming to Syrian refugees. This is a very different attitude than what is commonly discussed in political circles where the refugees are a "problem" to be shared with the other EU countries. One is tempted to call it "civil disobedience".

The article does mention that the situation around refugees differs from many other immigrant situations in that displacement by war sends everybody on the run. Many of the refugees would not have moved if not for the war but might have held professional jobs in their home country. Many are "strong" from a socio-economic point of view.

The goodwill will be tested as more people in need question if the group is truly friendly and will also assist Roma, other immigrants, or people with mental diseases. But so far the concept has expanded throughout the country and across the borders to Sweden and Germany.

One can hardly describe the "Friendlies" as reserved.


P.S. Writing this, I became aware that actually there is no Danish proverb similar to "good fences make good neighbors". "My home is my castle" hangs on no Danish walls. As I look out the window, I see a plot of land where my family along with six neighboring families grew potatoes and strawberries when I was a girl. The same kind people who 40 years ago let the neighbors "farm" their back yard have lend me their house so my family can have an extended visit with my newly widowed mother. I am profoundly grateful.

There are many "friendlies" in Denmark. Just don't force them into a corner from which they can't escape.