Monday, September 5, 2016

Country Spotlight: Denmark

Dannebrog. Image provided by Morguefile.com

Helllooo readers!
Well, it’s another Monday. And it’s another month. And since last month Lina was so gracious to to a spotlight post with me on Sweden, today I’m bringing along another friend to do another country spotlight for you. This surprise comes from the waters across the way of Sweden, a small country that has held a giant role in the history of the Nordic countries, and Europe in general. Today I want to introduce you to my good friend Louise! Louise, thank you sooo much for joining us here on the blog today and doing an interview with us. Why don’t you tell the readers about yourself?



Louise: Thank you for letting me join you, and I’m looking forward to tell you something about my little country!


So, as you already might have figured out, my name is Louise. I live in Denmark, a little less than an hour’s drive from Sweden. More specifically, I live on an island called Sjælland. It is actually smaller than the island Hawaii. I was a bit surprised when I found out.


I live at home with my younger sister and my parents. Officially, my grandparents also live with us, but they actually live on another island.


I’m 19 years old, and I’m in third and final year of Gymnasium. I’m learning Mandarin Chinese in school, and I have a basic knowledge of German, but my main subjects are Music and English.
I like travelling, and I’ve had the privilege to visit a lot of countries and experience their completely different cultures.

Emily: Well we’re so happy to have you with us on the blog today, Louise. And by the way, readers, Louise is by far the most talented singer I have ever known. She’s incredible. Not only that, she plays several instruments and can speak English, Danish, German and Chinese! She is very epic. :)


Alright, not that we have the introductions done, let’s get started with the questions!



Question One: You’ve got the spotlight now, Louise, so let’s start with a rather open ended question. What would you tell readers is unique and special about Denmark?




Louise: I’ll start with school. We have a subject, usually in second or third year of Gymnasium, called oldtidskundskab, or classics. We learn about ancient Greece and Rome, and read old letters, comedies, tragedies, and works by the great old philosophers. This subject is taught in high school in two countries in the world. Denmark and New Zealand. So claims my teacher.


We have no mountains in Denmark. Our highest natural point, a big hill, is called Møllehøj and is almost 171 meters tall. And the only place in Denmark where there are rocks, is on an island on the other side of Sweden called Bornholm.



Question Two: Last time we learned about Midsummer festival in Sweden. Could you tell us about that in Denmark? Or do you have that festival? Which sort of goes with this question: what is the biggest celebration you have in Denmark, what do you do for it, what are some of the traditions, etc?



Louise: In Denmark, we celebrate Sankt Hans Aften, Saint John’s Eve, and it’s nowhere near as nice (it is nice in another way) and pretty as dancing around a pole covered in flowers as I’ve heard they do in Sweden. We build a big bonfire and burn a witch made of old clothes. Sometimes firecrackers are put into the bonfire. They are called heksehyl in Danish, which means witch screams (sounds funny saying it aloud), as they make this screaming sound. Originally, building a bonfire was done for scaring evil spirits and witches away, and burning a witch is a newer tradition. Now it’s just something we do because it is a tradition.
We eat dinner with friends or family and then we go to the nearest bonfire to watch it burn. When it’s lit we sing a few songs. It can vary from bonfire to bonfire, but one song must be sung: Midsommervisen, The Midsummer Song. There are two melodies for that song, and there are no rules for what melody you should use.


The biggest celebration in Denmark is definitely, with no doubt, Christmas. In Denmark, we like to celebrate stuff the night before the actual day (we don’t do that with birthdays... That would be weird). It means we celebrate Saint John’s Eve, Saint Martin’s Eve, and Christmas Eve. We don’t do anything on the day itself.
From the end of November, you can tune in to Christmas music on the radios. Streets are decorated with fairy lights, spruce, hearts, and stars. People are skating on the ice rinks there might be. The smell of burnt almonds in the cold air... December is such a wonderful month!

Christmas Eve usually goes like this:

In the afternoon, we all go to a Christmas Sermon in Folkekirken. Sometimes they bring an actual message, and sometimes the only thing the priest knows about Christmas is that the only thing grown ups want for Christmas is well behaved kids and peace on earth.
Around 6PM the guests will arrive. Shortly after, we’ll eat. And we eat a lot. Roast duck, roast pork, white potatoes, sugar-browned potatoes, cold red cabbage, warm red cabbage, and brown gravy is usually represented at the Christmas dinner. Sometimes, we also get to eat half a baked apple with some sort of jelly filling. So we eat until we are full. Then we clear out the table and prepare for the dessert.
Viggo Johansen: God Jul.
But no dessert before singing all of the old Christmas songs! Glade Jul, Et barn er født i Bethlehem, Det kimer nu, and I could go on. If there is room enough, we will sing them while joining hands and dance around the Christmas tree. It looks like walking, but we Danes know that it is an art that takes years to master. Depending on the family, the presents will be opened after the dancing and singing. It can take hours. One present at a time. And finally, when all the presents have been opened, we are hungry enough to eat the dessert. Risalamande. It sounds French, but it is not. It is made of risengrød, a porridge made of rice and milk, chopped almonds, vanilla, whipped cream, and sugar. It is usually eaten with hot cherry sauce.
Risalamande.
And now there is one more chance to get a present. Because in the big bowl of risalamande, there is hidden one whole almond. The trick is to hide it well, if you are the lucky one to get the almond, so that all the risalamande is eaten and people are way too full. No cheeky smiles if you have the almond. If you do have the almond, I’ll give you some tips and tricks:


1) Get the almond out of your mouth without people noticing. It’s really important. Hide it under a napkin or in a pocket. There is a big chance that someone wants to search your mouth, so be prepared to be be asked to open your mouth and move your tongue around while sitting at the table.


2) Deny! Deny! Deny! No matter how sure people are that you have the almond, keep denying, and eat at least two additional portions of risalamande.


3) Point out that Mom might have it because she’s talking all the time. Or maybe it’s your annoying sister who has been smiling foolishly the last fifteen minutes. It could also be Grandpa. He has, after all, only eaten one portion.


4) When the bowl of risalamande is empty, laugh and show your family the beautiful whole almond that gives you the right to one more gift.


If you don’t have the almond, smile foolishly and make people think you have it, and deny it every time.
Finally, we can relax and eat cake, sweets, and chocolates. I think that’s what there is to tell about Christmas Eve.

Emily: My little sister loves the Christmas book we have that contains the tradition of the almond, she’s constantly asking if we can do that for Christmas. I didn’t realize they did it in Denmark, too! I knew of it from Sweden. :) This upcoming Christmas season I’ll be sure to try this. :D



Question Three: Alright, let’s talk about traditional Danish foods! What sort of special dishes do you folks in Denmark like to cook up for your families? Are there certain dishes that are only for special occasions? What are your favorite Danish foods?




Louise: First, I’ll make a statement. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, traditional Danish food is not for you. Unless you want to live off boiled potatoes, of course. Boiled potatoes go to almost everything. If you don’t know what to serve alongside meat, fish or whatever, boil some potatoes, and everyone will be happy. Especially my great grandmother. For her, there is no complete meal without boiled potatoes.
A few years ago, we had a vote about our national dish. We didn’t have one before, but now we got one. It also happens to be one of my favorite dishes. Stegt flæsk med persillesovs.
Stegt flæsk med persillesovs.
We fry some pork and eat it with boiled potatoes and parsley sauce. I could eat it all day long. Also frikadeller is popular. Again eaten with boiled potatoes. To stay in the genre of potatoes, I personally love potato soup with bacon.
frikadeller.
But we do live in 2016, so we do also eat a lot of food that are not Danish at all. Lasagne is popular, as well as pita. Sometimes we eat taco, sometimes springrolls.
But if you want a Dane to feel at home, make them a frikadelle and boil a potato or two.


flæskesteg.
There are no dishes that are exclusively for special occasions. The dishes I told about about at Christmas are mostly eaten on Christmas Eve, but if you want to eat flæskesteg in April, go ahead. People might look a little, but you can do it without it being a sin against the Danish traditions.


rugbrød.
I almost forgot rugbrød. How could I forget it? I’m ashamed. Rye bread is dark, bitter bread made of rye. I eat it almost every day, and I claim to miss it whenever I’m out travelling. When I get home and taste it, I find out I didn’t miss it at all. I think most Danes feel the same way as I do about rugbrød, but we still love it (You can even eat it with boiled potatoes). It is what makes Denmark, Denmark. No rugbrød, no Denmark.


Question Four: Now let’s talk about something that I think everyone who blogs, loves! Books. Denmark has had many authors that have produced some of the most well known fairy tales of all time. Could you give us a rundown of some of the most famous Danish authors, their books and also talk about your favorite books? (Your favorite books don’t have to be Danish, don’t worry! ;D)




Louise: The first one that comes to mind is probably the same one you are all thinking of right now. The good old Hans Christian Andersen. He was born April 2nd 1805 in Odense, the biggest city on the island we call Fyn. He wanted to dance ballet, but as you all know, he ended up writing some of the fairy tales almost every child knows. He also was really good at papercut.
Some of his popular stories include The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling and The Snow Queen.
If you want to read some less known stories, I would recommend The Story of a Mother and The Snail and the Rose Tree.


Then there is Søren Kierkegaard. He was a theologian and philosopher and is considered as the father of the existentialism. Basically, it means that you have some choices and whatever you choose will decide who you are and will be, and what your life is going to be like.
To be honest, I have no idea of what he has written, except that he has written a lot, and as far as I have heard, it should be quite heavy and difficult to read.


Fun fact, Kierkegaard and Andersen did not like each other at all. Kierkegaard wrote a 90 pages long review of  Andersen’s novel, but it ends up becoming personal and Kierkegaard criticizes Andersen and says that Andersen has no talent in writing. Some say that Andersen wrote The Snail and the Rose Tree with revenge in mind, and the snail is supposed to symbolize Kierkegaard.


Last, but not least, I’ll mention Ludvig Holberg. He was born in Bergen, Norway but worked and died in Denmark. Norway was at that time also under the Danish crown, so I’ll allow myself to call him a Dane. He is called the father of modern Danish literature. One of his most famous publications is called Jeppe På Bjerget, Jeppe On the Hill. It’s about a poor farmer called Jeppe, and he has a problem with alcohol. He drinks whenever he gets a chance, and when his wife finds out, she beats him. He states at some point: “Everybody says that Jeppe drinks, but nobody asks why Jeppe drinks.”
One day, he falls asleep on a dunghill and is made to believe he is the count, by the count himself. Poor Jeppe. He is not able to handle all that power.


My favorite book is a Swedish book called En Man Som Heter Ove in Swedish, En Mand Der Hedder Ove in Danish, and A Man Called Ove in English. It’s written by Fredrik Backman. It’s about this grumpy old man called Ove who gets fired from his job, and then he decides he wants to die. His wife is dead and now he doesn’t  have anything to live for. But it is not easy to commit suicide when your new neighbors move in and interrupt every single time you try.
My favorite line in the book is from when he is hospitalized, and his neighbor tells him: “Ove, you are really bad at dying!”


Emily: I really want to read A Man Called Ove now. You keep telling me about this book and it makes me so curious! *Puts on reading list*


Question Five: Just a couple more questions to go! How about you go over some Danish culture with us? What does it mean to be Danish, what are some common attributes about Denmark, and what are some things that are unique to your country and people? Would you say there are certain character traits many Danes possess or are expected to act like?




Louise:  Being Danish means that you have to avoid small talk, unless you find an old lady to talk to.
It means that you have to look serious on the bus and train, and do not smile unless people talk to you (which they shouldn't).
It means that you fill out the empty seats with empty seat neighbors before you sit next to a person in public transportation.
It means that if you sit beside a stranger in the bus, do not talk with him/her. Don’t even look at the person.
It means that you have to stop at every single red light you meet, even if the road is empty.
It means that the greatest way to start a conversation is to talk about the weather, and no, it is not considered small talk. It's all we have to talk about.
It means that you are a very social but reserved person.
It means that you have to have a really bad sense of humor and that you should love or at least understand sarcasm on a high level.
And of course there are exceptions to all of these.


Honestly, it's a difficult question. I don't really know what makes us unique or special. We are just us. Danes. In Europe. Mistaken for Holland/Netherlands. I went riding on mules in Grand Canyon last year. We were a group of a lot of Americans, a Dutch girl, and my sister and me. This American lady thought it was really cool that the three of us were from the same country.


In Denmark we have this unofficial law called The Law of Jante. I think it’s originally from a book, but it describes the Scandinavian/Danish way of thinking about yourself and other people, as far as I’ve understood it.
Basically, the law states:


  • You’re not to think you are anything special
  • You’re not to think you are as good as we are
  • You’re not to think you are smarter than we are
  • You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are
  • You’re not to think you know more than we do
  • You’re not to think you are more important than we are
  • You’re not to think you are good at anything
  • You’re not to laugh at us
  • You’re not to think anyone cares about you
  • You’re not to think you can teach us anything
And having a mindset like that is normal. Well, not entirely. I had to look up the law, but what every Dane knows by heart is that you’re not to think you are anything special and you’re not to think you are good at anything. And it sounds very negative, and it certainly is. So basically, that is what we think like. Not that you aren’t anything special, but that we aren’t anything special, but of course we do also somehow expect others to think the same way. It does, however, not mean that you can’t compliment others and tell them how good they are at something. As long as you don’t boast about how fantastic you are at dancing, or what it is you are good at. Let others tell you, and then you can tell them what they are good at.
I went for an introductory presentation about college in the US. For the sole reason I’m a Dane, I can get 60% off of the costs of college, but it’s still really expensive! I feel sorry for you Americans! My point is, we were told that if we were to apply we would have to write I think it was about two pages about how good we were at this, and how hardworking we were and so on. It’s not easy! We would have to write something a normal Dane would feel sick about reading, because you just don’t praise yourself like that in any way in Denmark, but we were told that if we did that we would happily get accepted into a college.
We have this word that functions as a noun, a verb, and an adjective, and it plays a major part in every Dane’s life. Hygge. Candles, a movie, playing games, just talking with friends, listening to music, laughing, going for a walk, drinking tea while doing your homework, all of it is hygge. It’s something that’s nice, warm, safe, fun, cozy, and/or relaxing. It’s a good social atmosphere.


So, if you, as a foreigner, decide to talk to a stranger in Denmark, you can freely do so. We don’t bite strangers, and we might actually reply in a friendly manner. I mean, I greet strangers when I go for a walk, if we for some strange reason make eye contact.

Emily: Goodness, how fascinating! And I’m so jealous you get 60% of your costs for college cut in the US because you’re Danish. No fair. ;) I think for extroverts and Americans like myself, the idea of not talking to people I sit next to on a bus seems so strange. How interesting!



Question Six: Now let’s shift to a bit more historical. What role has Denmark played in the shaping of Europe and the Nordic region? Could you give us a rundown of some of the most famous historical points that were pivotal in your country’s history? We’re all lovers of history, here, so share whatever stands out to you and we’ll be eager to learn!




Louise:
“Engang du herre var i hele Norden,
Bød over England, - nu du kaldes svag”


“Once you were lord in the entire North,
Ruled over England, - now you are called weak”
  • I Danmark er jeg født, H.C. Andersen


Once upon a time, a man called Gorm, with epithet the Old, had a child with his wife, Thyra. This child was named Harald, with epithet Blåtand, which means Bluetooth, and yes, he is the guy Bluetooth was named after. Harald would be the first official king of Denmark, though some sources claims his grandfather, Hardeknud, to be the first king.
In 900-and-something a Catholic bishop from Schleswig came to Denmark and made the Danish king convert to Christianity. He did that by wearing a red-hot iron glove, and when he didn’t burn his hand, Harald Blåtand converted and was baptized.
Harald Blåtand’s son, Svend Tveskæg, conquered England, so back then, we were still Vikings.
In 1219, Valdemar Sejr (Victory) made a crusade to what’s now Estonia. In a battle, a flag fell from the sky into the Danish camp. It was seen as a sign and a gift from God, and we won the battle. The flag is now known as Dannebrog, and is the Danish flag. It’s the oldest flag in the world that is still used, and the cross design has later been adopted by the other Nordic countries.
In June 1657, King Frederik III declared war against Sweden to reclaim some areas in what’s Sweden and Norway today that we had lost in a war years before. Sweden was at that time in a stagnant war against Poland, so January 30, 1658, the Swedish army walked through Germany and Jylland and crossed a frozen Lillebælt (the waters between Jylland and Fyn). They went over more frozen waters and captured Lolland, Falster, and Sjælland as well.
Frederik III hadn’t seen that coming and signed a peace agreement which led to a surrender of Skåne (including Bornholm), Halland, and Blekinge which now all are a part of Sweden.
However, the island Bornholm didn’t want to be a part of Sweden, so some of the inhabitants of Bornholm shot the Swedish officer who functioned as the commandant of Bornholm. Another agreement was made, and the Danish crown bought Bornholm back. And that’s the reason Denmark has an island on the other side of Sweden.
For that I am thankful! I am thankful that my dad isn’t a Swede and that my great grandmother can enjoy watching Dannebrog wave in the wind. For her it’s the most beautiful flag in the world.


We’ve ruled over England, Sweden, Norway, Estonia, Northern Germany, Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. Today, the Kingdom of Denmark consists of Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.


We have a queen, Margrethe II, and when she dies, we will have a king. He will be King Frederik X. Every other male heir will be called Frederik or Christian. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for centuries. If the crown prince's son, Christian, gets a daughter as his firstborn child when he grows up, she will probably be named Margrethe, but who knows?


Emily: I knew your monarchy was the oldest in the world, but I didn’t know that fact about the Dannebrog. Wow, oldest flag in use in the world, what a cool history fact!



Question Seven: Last question(s) on the list, Louise! Thanks for bearing through this with me. Could you share some things that Danes, and yourself, enjoy doing? What are some common activities Danish people like to engage in, and what are some things that you love to do as well? Finally, if you’d be so kind could you teach us some common Danish phrases with the correct way to pronounce them?




Louise: Danes like to bike. I, together with a majority of my school mates, bike to school every day. Rain? No problem, you can still bike. Snow? No problem. It might take a little longer to get where you want to go, but it’s just snow. Really windy? It might be difficult to bike, maybe you parents will give you a ride. Otherwise you can just pull your bike and walk to school. At some point, whether it be to or from school, you will have tailwind.


And for some Danish phrases, hmm.. What would be useful?


Hej -  hello - is pronounced like hi, but harder. Like a mix between hi in English and hai in Japanese.


Tak - thank you - imagine being British and say task, but without the s.


Rart at møde dig - nice to meet you - use guttural r and put it in front of art, there you have rart. At is just at. My best take on møde is m in front of the u sound in hurt followed by a th sound with less air and finally an e sound I can’t describe in English, so luckily, we can cheat a little and say m-u-th, with an extra long u sound. Dig is like dai. So, rart at m-u-uth dai.
I’m not satisfied with this description, but it’s the best I can do.


Farvel - goodbye -  far as in far and vel as in well but with a v. Far-vell.



Emily: I can’t wait to use some of these phrases at my work with our Danish customers, thank you!
Alright, that wraps up all the questions I have written up for you, Louise! Thank you sooo much for doing this with us, it’s been a pleasure and honor to talk with you. Do you have any questions for the readers you’d like to ask? They are more than happy to respond, I can assure you that!



Louise: If any of you have any questions, feel free to ask. I don’t really have any questions for you, but it has been a pleasure to tell you about my country, our traditions and history, and about stuff I like☺


Emily: That ends this lovely interview with my good friend Louise. Blessings, Louise, for doing this with me! I appreciate it! And blog readers, I hope you enjoyed getting some insight into the wonderful country of Denmark. :) God bless you readers and thanks for joining us today!

14 comments:

  1. That's so neat! Thanks a bunch for sharing with us, Louise! It's so much fun learning about other cultures and countries. :D

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Crystal! I know it means a lot to Louise, too. :)

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  2. Oh wow! This is so neat!
    Wow, Christmas time in Denmark sounds absolutely wonderful!
    It was great reading about you and your cool Danish traditions! :D
    Fantastic to meet you Louise! :)

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    1. Thanks for reading the post, Megs! :) Glad you enjoyed!

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  3. Wow! That's so interesting! Well done!

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  4. Anonymous9/06/2016

    I love these posts! ;) It's really cool finding out about different countries. I always find it weird when I'm somewhere else, like a different city or state, and the people do something totally different than I'm used to. Sometimes it can be a bit disorienting. :) It was really cool finding out about Denmark's rice pudding tradition. Norwegians have a very similar dish, with rice, milk, cinnamon, and sugar. When you find the almond, you traditionally get a pig and good luck for the year. Nowadays, people usually get candy, a special present, or something other surprise, because most people can't keep a live pig! In Norway they don't do the entire lying about the almond thing, because everyone loves the pudding so much they'll always ask for seconds (or thirds!) ;) That's probably my favorite Christmas Eve tradition.

    --KF

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    1. I think you'll find Sweden, Denmark and Norway share a LOT of the same traditions, they just have different names for them. :) Finland and Iceland, too, share some of the same culture but it's a bit different with them, particularly Finland since they're a Finno-Ugric country and not a Northern Germanic.

      Have you been to Norway, KF? You are certainly knowledgeable! :D

      Thanks for commenting!

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  5. REALLY enjoyed this post! LOVED the Christmas tradition, sounds like so much fun! :) And the food! I'm so hungry now. . . ;) The stories were awesome too; really I enjoyed this whole entire post :)

    It was nice meeting you, Louise! :D And thank you Emily for doing these posts, I'm loving them so. so. SO much!! :D

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    1. Glad you enjoyed, Blessing! And I hope to continue making these sort of posts for quite a while! :) Thanks for commenting.

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  6. Wow! So cool to learn the culture! :D Thanks Emily & Louise!

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    1. You are certainly welcome, Faith! Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  7. This was awesome! I loved learning about Denmark. I've always wanted to visit either Sweden, Denmark, or the Netherlands. Pretty sure I'm going to have to go with Denmark now!! *sigh* Someday ^.^ Thanks so much for sharing, Louise, this was very fun and enlightening! :)

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    1. Welcome to the blog, Abigayle, and so glad you enjoyed this post! I agree, all those countries you mention are on my list to visit as well. (And you ACTUALLY called NETHERLANDS by its true name! XD Not Holland, hehe.) My hope is to go in five years, and hopefully make a trip through the Nordics and visit Eastern and Germanic Europe as well. I speak some Russian and my friend is fluent in several languages, so we'll be covered. ;)

      Thanks for reading the blog and commenting, and welcome!

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Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any comments or thoughts you'd like to share I'd love to hear from you! But do be thoughtful of others and please, no swearing or badmouthing, or I'll have to delete the comment. Thank you!