Monday, 7 July 2008

Denmark: Bizarro Sweden.

I’ve just spent the past week in the north of Denmark. Some friends of mine rented a house right on the coast near a town called Løkken.

I didn’t really expect Denmark to be much different from Sweden at all. It is only a two-hour ferry trip from Gothenburg. At its closest point Denmark is only a 15-minute ferry trip from Helsingborg and Copenhagen is only a 20-minute drive from Malmö. In theory Danish and Swedish are similar enough to one another that Danes and Swedes can still understand each other. Not surprisingly few Swedes consider a trip to Denmark as going abroad.

For me being in Denmark was a little like being in Sweden in some sort of parallel universe. Everything was similar but subtly different, hence a bizarro Sweden. (Bizarro world is a term from Superman comics that was later made popular by Seinfeld. It basically describes a world where everything is reversed and/or inverted from the norm. For example in Seinfeld Elaine enters a bizarro world when she meets a new group of friends each of which resemble her original friends in some way but have completely opposite characteristics.)
The money is still called kronor and it is issued in the same dominions as Swedish kronor but the notes are different colours and the coins different sizes. The flag is also basically the same but with a different colour scheme. Written Danish looks very similar and even with my limited knowledge of Swedish I was able to understand many words. Most the words are basically the same with the odd letter or two changed. They also have a slightly different alphabet. Instead of letters like Ä and Ö the Danes have letters like Ø and Æ. Words are also pronounced differently so that they sound familiar yet still noticeably different.

In some aspects Denmark was very different. The landscape in the north of the country where we were staying was completely different. The whole west coast of Sweden is basically large mounds of solid rock leading to still lifeless sea, with plenty of forests inland. Denmark by contrast was completely flat and relatively barren. The west coast consisted of a long sand beach with white sand and decent surf. It was the first actually beach I’ve seen since leaving Australia. In all it reminded me of the Shetland Islands and the less spectacular parts of the Great Ocean Road (the part between Anglesea and Apollo Bay).

Architecture was also noticeably different. Rural Swedish homes are typically large wooden houses painted in bright colours. In Denmark most buildings were small and made of brick. We spent a day in Aalborg and it reminded me more of Germany than Scandinavia.

Denmark also seems to be one of the few European countries that allows smoking in pubs and restaurants. Having spent the past year in a country where smokers are forced out into the cold and onto the street, it was a little disconcerting to be in a restaurant where everyone was lighting up straight after their meals.
But the biggest cultural shock was being able to buy beer, wine and aspirin from a supermarket on a Sunday afternoon, as opposed to buying them from a state owned shop during business hours.


Raiha said...

What an interesting and descriptive post! I have always been a lover of Sweden, but remember the first time when I went to Denmark and noticed how different everything was- especially the people! Everything seemed so much more relaxed and accessible. It kind of reminded me of the difference between New Zealand and Australia in terms of personalities- i don't know whether you would agree? Swedes tend to be more reserved like Kiwis and the Aussies are more outgoing like the Danes :-) Thanks for the read. Raiha

NotQuiteDanish said...

I think Danish words are pronounced (or not pronounced *at all*, which is more often the case) so differently that even Danes have trouble understanding them :)

Anonymous said...

Nice to read your post about DK. I am also a foreigner residing in DK and just want to correct you that smoking in pubs / bars / cafes are not allowed anymore since early this year

Nic said...

I've heard this from a few people now. I don't doubt it but I can assure you that every restaurant and pub I went into allowed smoking indoors. So maybe Løkken and the far north of Denmark have their own rules, or they're so far away from the central authority of Copehagen they feel they don't need to follow them?