A Danish Perspective

Values that help the Danes Survive the Lockdown due to Covid19

Kathi Caldwell '79, majored in Scandinavian Studies. She is a health care worker in  Cedarburg, Wisconsin

Having lived in Denmark for 23 of my adult years, and having a grown daughter still residing in Denmark, I feel I have a bit of an insight into how the Danes have survived and even thrived during a month-long lockdown. 

One must first realize that Denmark is a small and relatively homogenous country, well informed, well-educated and well "controlled" in that their incomes, their tax structure and their social welfare system makes it very easy to keep a tab on who, what, where and how they live.  They have a very thorough national registry that any benefit one receives from the government is tied to. There are many benefits, child care subsidies, social security, unemployment benefits, healthcare benefits…

This might be seen as a bad thing here in the U.S., but right now, given the need for something similar here to help the masses, (who are without income and in fear of losing their homes, health insurance, apartments and means to survive), it might not be a bad thing.) The Danes do not feel that giving the Government access to details of their life is restricting their freedoms. They see it as a necessary way to maintain their high standard of living and a way to fairly maintain systems that keep them well satisfied and indeed one of the happiest peoples on Earth!

While many in the U.S. fear getting sick, losing insurance, being able to financially survive this illness, Danes need not have those fears. They only need fear for their survival should they become infected. The expense of staying healthy, being hospitalized, or convalescing is covered by national healthcare.

Within days of the outbreak in Europe, the Danish government devised a strategy which included paying each wage earner in DK 80% of their income until the country got back to work. Because of their system of social welfare and in-depth information on each resident’s social-economic status, this was easily accomplished and executed.

Danes are also of the mind that the collective is as much or more important than them as an individual. Therefore, I believe, they heeded the advice of their medical experts and their Government and stayed home. We must note that the two bodies were not at odds and had a united plan.

Danes follow rules! They understand that they can trust the authorities, who do not lie to them (much), and never about life threatening issues. They have a beloved Queen who reinforces the Government’s dictates and to whom they show a lot of respect. The Queen of Denmark even went of tv demonstrating some stay at home crafts for the children! Quite entertaining and making her subjects feel understood and valued.

The Danish Government is complex in that it is comprised of a coalition of numerous parties. But this puts them in the unique situation that they must always compromise in order to stay in power. They also are very transparent with their people, who are extremely politically aware.  Should the government become unpopular, an election can, at any time, be called for and things could quickly change. This means that politicians have no idea when the need will come for campaigning, and therefore, use their time in office to govern and rule for the people whose confidence they must maintain. They do not spend 4 years campaigning for the next election as do our 2 parties. We have seen over the past 20 years how this has divided and stagnated our government.

I realize that this is very simplified, but I feel I must move on to something more powerful than politics: The Danish spirit!

Danes have deep roots and many traditions that bind them. They are very homogenous despite having had their share of foreign infusions through immigration and asylum-seeking populations.

They have an in-born sense of social welfare. Their taxes are high, so the more "well off" (socially, mentally and financially) can hold the less fortunate up. They accept the need for this.

 They also celebrate the fact that each individual has a strength and a value unique to them. They express themselves through these strengths, whether that be music, art, athleticism, debate, practical skills or whatever. They know that the unique strengths of each individual make them stronger as a society.

In these times of isolation at home, Danes tend to thrive because they have the ability to relax and enjoy a quiet, uncomplicated time. They, in fact, seek to create these moments and long for them in their usually busy and stressful lives.  There are many books written about "hygge" which is impossible for an American to truly duplicate or understand. Americans seem to crave constant input, constant stimuli- while Danes love just being. They know how to be happy, peaceful and relaxed in the company of themselves or a few others.  They derive strength and pleasure from creating this atmosphere of "hygge". It is truly remarkable how they can spend so much time doing nothing and come out on the other end with this amazing sense of peace and accomplishment.

There are even degrees of "hygge" where the greatest achievement is "rå hygge". (Loosely translated: pure, raw cosines) This might be accomplished simply with a pot of tea, cozy and comfortable clothing, the right company, and some knitting.  Americans struggle to relax, let go, and just be and could greatly benefit in these troubled times by learning to master the art of “hygge”.

This unique state of being is, I am sure, the real reason that Danes survived the lock down and will survive it again. They might even look forward to another opportunity to stay at home and "Hygge sig".