The eighth in a series of light-hearted columns about life as a foreigner living in the Danish capital.
Written for IceNews by Simon Cooper
If British media heavyweights the BBC and the Guardian are to be believed, Copenhagen is the ideal place to live – forward-thinking, environmentally-friendly, steeped in cool and dripping with edgy urban excitement. It doesn’t stop there either. In their World Happiness Report the UN recently unveiled Danish folk as the most upbeat and Forbes magazine have been purring over the country for years now. That’s it they say: Copenhagen is undisputedly the Holy Grail when it comes to life contentment. The words ‘Denmark’ and ‘happy’, alongside an image of a beaming young family strolling merrily through a park or field, help resound this theory through an online media we’re increasingly taking as law.
Oh yeah, happiness, I remember that. At least I recall how I grasped the concept before arriving in Copenhagen. Like many others from outside, I should guess – uninhibited free love akin to that of the west in the 1960s, only washed across one gloriously classless class of people. They’d be shiny happy people too, lit ear to ear with smiles and powered into infinity by beautiful, boundless legs and their otherworldly diets. In short they’d make the cast of the Sound of Music look like a smoky, stressful staff room at an inner city comprehensive school.
Whether Denmark is truly happy though is an issue for another day. What’s more relevant, and odd, about all this is that the situation seems to be something of a double-sided mirror. Whilst posts in the British press sing Copenhagen’s praises – in terms of everything from knitwear to green living through crime dramas (have you seen ‘The Killing’?), and the Danish press bask in it, foreigners here greet it with everything from indifference to pure disbelief and even contempt.
Usually I try and ignore the hang-ups certain people have about Copenhagen and how the reality might be a far cry from that, but at times it does get a bit too much. Why do certain people – namely British and American ‘expats’ (to use a word I hate) turn on the society that seems to offer them everything?
To separate one strand from a tangled mess of reasoning isn’t easy. One thing that does play a part, however, is that such people, using various means of justification, clearly demand something back from their adopted country – something more than social benefits built on sky-high tax. They wish for more in return. They want the Danes to be this way and that, to be visibly and forcefully smiley in the street; to step in line with their government’s generosity. Ideally, they’d rip the social spine out of Danish society and smuggle it back to their homelands where they likely consider people generally more likeable.
Happiness – whatever that is – takes on a different dimension in Denmark, and it’s one which maybe gets lost and readjusted in cultural translation by British journalists when they pay visits. Criticism of Copenhagen-adoring news stories though is generally lazy: the kind made by people from their ivory towers, and by those who don’t do nearly as much as they could to reach out to the Danes and include themselves in the native way of life. After all, it should be a two-way agreement.
And whilst the reality of living in a place usually always differs from a fleeting visit in rose-tinted spectacles, the media who report and the residents which retort should probably take each other into account a little more than they already do.