Comparing Denmark to America Is Unfair

It’s easy to find unity in a homogeneous culture

Anastasia Frugaard wrote about her family’s experience, moving from Denmark to America, in P.S. I Love You earlier this week:

Frugaard made some valid observations about the differences between the two countries, such as the sad state of NYC’s MTA and the prison-like school buildings.

My mom is Danish, and I lived in Denmark as a kid. It’s a great country, but it unnerves me when people compare the mostly-fair-haired society, total population 5 million, to places like New York City, where the cultural diversity is greater than anywhere else on the planet. This city alone has more people than the entire country of Denmark, and the people here come from all over the world.

A Dane telling an American to “chill out,” as Frugaard did in her story, overlooks the vastly different social structures in their respective communities. Of course Danes are happier and more relaxed. As Frugaard’s piece points out, the education system instills a strong sense of self via exploration. However, due to the social reform in the 1970s, the Danish system also instills a strong sense of identity. It’s easy to get along when you’re not so different from your neighbors.

There’s a homogeneous sensibility that runs through Danish culture. Just think about Danish design. That mid-century aesthetic continues to thrive in Denmark. Yes, it’s appealing, as it provides an elegant and practical motif to build on. But it’s not eclectic, and it’s not inclusive.

What Frugaard’s story leaves out is this: You can leave Denmark and become an American, but you can’t live in America and become a Dane.

In America, we have a lot of work to do, when it comes to figuring out how to elevate all our citizens to better standards of living. This is true. But we can’t look to Denmark for answers. If Danes had a history of unifying people from across the globe, then yes, we could follow their example. As it stands, no place shares our diversity, and it’s up to us to figure out how we can all get along.

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Writer based in Brooklyn, NY.

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