Recently I visited Denmark for the second time, and it blew me away even more than my first visit. This is mostly thanks to the amazing people I stayed with and met during my trip, but also because Danish culture is a really beautiful thing. If you don’t know what hygge is, you should learn ASAP. It’s become a regular word in my vocabulary.
My friend Karen studied abroad there 10 years ago and lucked out with the greatest host family in Denmark. She’s remained very close with them and with the school where she did her thesis work. So she’s back for a couple months teaching English (covering a paternity leave by the way, another reason to love this country!), and it just so happened that flights from Boston were unbeatable (thank you WOW Airlines). Karen’s family has welcomed me into their home twice now, and they’ve taught me so much about how wonderful Danish culture is.
We spent a lot of time at the school Karen is teaching at during my week there. To be fair, the school’s philosophy is very progressive even for Danish standards, but I was completely blown away. First of all, no one wears shoes. There’s a morning meeting every day that all teachers and students attend to sing songs and chat about relevant things. Rules exist, but they are more invisible than in other school environments I’ve experienced. For example, when we visited the 4th grade class, it was hard to ignore the handful of kids who chose to sit on top of the desks instead of in chairs. The rule-follower in me was itching to tell them to change their sitting status, but at the same time I loved the acceptance that, just maybe, sitting on the desk helped those students focus more on what they were being asked to do. After all, it’s a lot to ask an 8-year-old to sit still for 7 hours a day listening to things they may not really care that much about.
Most prominent in my mind is the fact that everyone trusts each other in Denmark. It can be felt everywhere you go. For me it affirms why Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world. A great example of this are all the prams you can see sitting outside of restaurants, cafes, and (at this time of year) Christmas markets. Inside those prams are babies, sleeping peacefully and safely within a general line of vision of their parents who are enjoying their meals inside. In the United States, this would NEVER happen. Yet in Denmark, as well as in other Scandinavian countries, it is so commonly seen that it doesn’t faze anyone. Because let’s be honest, who would steal a baby???
Another example is something I like to refer to as the hygge bus. This is a private bus for the students who attend the school we visited (which happened to be decorated for the Christmas season). Karen’s host mom encouraged us to take the bus to school, so one morning we found ourselves waiting alone at a bus stop. I was a little skeptical that this would work considering we’re not elementary aged children, but we waved down the bus when it approached, and sure enough the driver stopped for us – two adult strangers flagging down a bus going to a children’s school. Karen told the driver in Danish that we were going to the school, and that was that. No questions asked. Another thing that would NEVER happen in the United States (without some form of background check, official paperwork, and prior approval). It was such a nice feeling to be trusted and not questioned for going about our morning plan.
The U.S. (in my opinion) is not a trusting place. Of course everyone knows people that they would trust with their lives and more, but as an American I have not been taught to trust the general public as a default. Seeing these Danish examples of trust can be a little shocking (in a pleasant way) at first, but once you understand the sentiment behind it, it’s almost as if the oxygen there becomes easier to breathe. To me, it’s a way of embodying the idea of seeing the best in people. And I love it!
So a special thank you goes to Karen, Jette, Thomas, MorFar, and all the amazing people I met at my favorite school in Denmark for welcoming me into your lives for a week and showing me such a special time. You filled my soul with a joy that I wish I could bottle up and carry around with me wherever I go. Hillerød remains one of the most special cities I’ve visited in my travels, and I will definitely be going back someday!!