Do you know that very special feeling that solely derives from listening to someone saying something that’s so blatantly wrong that it renders you speechless? Normally, when you hear a claim or an argument that’s obviously built on false assumptions, contributing your knowledge of the state of reality to the discussion is the only right thing to do. I think that correcting wrongs is one of the strongest urges of the human race, actually. And thereby also one of the urges that’s most difficult to bridle.
But sometimes the wrongness of the claim or argument is of such vast proportions that it makes your urge to correct it so vehement you can almost taste it. The things you want to say are so plentiful that it’s too much for your articulacy to handle and all that comes out of your mouth is: “But…”.
And then you get your act together and you formulate your rebuttal to perfection and you’re just about to take it into practical application when your brain says: “Wait a minute! If the person in front of you has not been able to determine the level of absurdity of his or her conception by his or her own capability, what are the chances that what can be said in the amount of time you are willing to spend on this thing, will do the job?” And your brain realizes that it’s a futile endeavour and all that comes out of your mouth is: “But…”. Again.
Do you know that feeling?
I do, because I study Danes all day long.
Let me give you an example: In Denmark we have something called Efterløn, an early retirement plan that makes it possible for practically everyone who has been working for 30 years to retire at the age of 60 instead of the 67 years of age that otherwise qualifies every single Danish citizen for State Pension. When this was first introduced in 1979 it was a brilliant idea, if you ask me. The difference in physical degradation caused by different jobs was much bigger than it is today. The health of a 60-year-old lawyer was simply much better than that of a worn down 60-year-old farmer or factory worker. And on top of that the unemployment rate of young Danes was out of control at the time.
All in all, it simply made good sense to let the more fragile part of the workforce out of the pen and frolic on the green pastures of the society that they had built themselves.
Things have changed now. A report from the Labour Market Commission recently showed that the health of citizens on Efterløn is the same as those still in labour. And the number of 60-67-year-olds with jobs is only half the average of the other member countries of the OECD. The cost of this is 37 billion kroner per year in pensions and lost taxes. You could run 9 fully staffed and equipped Central Hospitals for that amount of money. Every economics expert you can think of has been begging the Danes to reform Efterløn for years.
Surveys on this subject are frequently made and published. They more or less all show that the amount of Danes who find Efterløn a life-threatening danger to Danish economy is around 80%. And the percentage of Danes who think that Efterløn should NOT be the subject of even the subtlest of adjustments is – you guessed it: 80%!
This is where the but-buts kick in.
Here’s another one for you: Danes use the word ‘integration’ a lot these days. And they always use it in sentences that somehow point out that ‘successful integration of different cultures’ means that all other cultures have conformed to the Danish one.
Small clusters of descendants of Danish immigrants are scattered all over the world, from Dannebrog, Nebraska to Tandil, Argentina. It has been obligatory for every Danish Prime Minister for the last 50 years to visit at least one of these during his reign (‘her reign’ has yet to find use in the Danish language) and just as obligatory to laud the community for its efforts to “uphold its Danish roots and values through generations”.
The Danish version of ‘but’ is men, but don’t throw the English word into oblivion if you’re in the process of becoming Danish. Saying it out loud can help you practise one of far to many different but undistinguishable pronunciations of the letter ‘å’ as in ‘båt!’ which is Danish for the sound from the small bulb horns that circus clowns carry around.