What has surprised you the most about Danes? (Anything you've found particularly odd?)
Danes have no word for ‘please’. As a well-brought up Home Counties girl who went to an all girls’ Catholic school, ‘please’ and ‘sorry’ make up a good 40% of my spoken vocabulary, so this took some getting used to (I had to learn not to just say ‘sorry’ twice as much – tempting when you first arrive and don’t know the language/anything!). This can make people sound very blunt, which I think is a fairly Danish characteristic too. Brits can be overly polite and not really say what you mean. That doesn’t happen so much over there. And they have the lowest levels of gelatophobia – fear of ridicule – anywhere in the world so things can get pretty silly/rude/drunk/debauched in Denmark at the drop of a hat. Which is nice.
If you were to give Denmark and the Danes a quick pep-talk, what would you say?
I’d say, ‘come on, try smiling just a little bit more!’ Danes are regularly voted the happiest country in the world
but you wouldn’t necessarily know it to look at them. It’s human nature to have a moan – and sometimes I think Danes complain just so us foreigners don’t think they’re all too happy and smug – but it’s important to be grateful for what you’ve got and realize life’s pretty good.
Oh, and the pork and potatoes. I don’t know what Jutlanders (where I live) think is going to happen if they don’t have potatoes or pork at every mealtime, but I’d like to assure them here and now: it will be okay. Yes, potatoes are pretty great. But there are other carbs out there…Try them.
How have Danes reacted to your description of Denmark, Danish culture and the Danes themselves?
They have been remarkably generous and good-humoured about the whole thing – I’ve had some lovely letters and emails and I get great feedback when I give talks and speak at events. Of course not everyone’s delighted about it, but even in a country of 5.5million you can’t please everyone. The book is published in Danish by Turbine in October, so ask me in a few months’ time!
What aspect of Danish culture/Denmark/Danes has been the most difficult for you to convey to your readers?
I think the trust thing is hard to get your head around unless you’ve experienced it. It’s all very well to tell people to trust more, but it’s almost like telling someone about being in love – you don’t know what it is until you feel it. Danes are some of the most trusting people in the world – thanks to their position in Scandinavia, the tiny population size and a government and system free from corruption. And trust makes you happier – because it gives you the headspace to live free from fear or anxiety to be more receptive to the good things in life. Living Danihsly isn’t perfect, by any means (see ‘potatoes’ and ‘smiling more’) but it’s a lot better in than it is in many other countries without any of Denmark’s advantages.
Would you recommend people to go on holiday in Denmark - and if so, why?
Hell yes, but don’t all come at the same time and descend on my favourite bakery or I’ll have to wait for ages for my ticket to get called to be served…
It’s an interesting place culturally, there’s good food
(pork and potatoes aside – Noma’s not the only great Michelin starred restaurant in Copenhagen), beautiful scenery
, historic landmarks (I live just up the road from a UNESCO World Heritage Site), beaches
, lots of outdoorsy adctvities
(if you like that sort of thing) and lovely design and fashion boutiques
(if you prefer that sort of thing). Plus you only need to spend a couple of days in Denmark to sit down, breathe, really look around you and – I hope – observe a different way of life.
From your point of view, what are the things that tourists should see & do when visiting Denmark and why?
, on the northernmost tip of Jutland, is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. It’s famous for having this amazing light that attracted Scandinavia’s best painters in the equivalent of Denmark’s Bloomsbury set and although today it’s more of a tourist destination for Danes, Swedes and Norwegians, the light is brighter, more ethereal and soul lifting than anywhere you’ve ever encountered.
Aros in Aarhus
is also excellent and the colourama at the top can really change your mood and lift your whole day (plus it makes for some great photo opps – your Instagram/Pinterest/Facebook page will never be the same again).