Understanding Danes, Denmark is my quest

This shadow of Emily, our bull terrier, reminds me of trying to understand Danes and the Danish culture: ever changing and elusive.

In planning my second trip to Denmark this September, this writer feels more grounded. More grounded than my first trip last September where I was traveling alone, had a few hick-ups along the way, but largely enjoyed the trip. Now I understand that like a good bottle of wine, Denmark and the Danes are to be savoured and enjoyed. Unlike a cheap bottle of beer (is there such a thing?).

Since 2010, I have been writing about Danish Canadians and Danish Americans in my corner of the world in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada. My editor at Den Danske Pioneer allows me great latitude in coming up with different stories and features in my attempt to ‘cover’ the various Danish communities in British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington.

As a transplanted American who moved to Canada in 2006, I tried to get a handle in my head just what is a Canadian? And what are the marked differences between Canada and the U.S.? There are ever-so-subtle differences. Like the history of how each country was formed. The U.S. was born from a revolution against the colony form of government while in Canada no revolution was ever fought. Or to put it another way, the U.S. was the rebellious daughter of Mother England while Canada was the dutiful daughter.

I see great similarities between Danes and Canadians: nominally polite and considerate (and I work in an inner city hospital ER where not-so-kind and considerate patients challenge the nurses and doctors every day from the marginalized population we see) and above all else, and okay with the idea that they as Canadians don’t have to be the ‘top dog.’ A commentary people in the rest of the world make about the U.S. and sometimes Americans.

If one was going to stereotype a ‘typical’ Dane, what would that be? Does one have to be born in Denmark? Look or act a certain way? Believe in the deity in one way or another?

I was hoping the Danish historical movie, The Royal Affair, would win the Oscar for foreign film. Partly as an American of Danish heritage, partly to widen the understanding and education (even in the fictionalized Hollywood form) of Denmark and its history for movie goers. Unfortunately, it is now relegated the the dustbin of history. Untold millions never will see it. As opposed to millions more who would have if the golden statue was awarded to the movie’s film makers.

I will continue my quest in understanding the country my paternal grandfather left as an 12-year-old boy with his naturalized Uncle Jens. Denmark when he left in 1902 was so different than today: thousands of Danes were immigrating to Canada and the U.S. because of economic hard times. There was no welfare state. Today, people want to move to Denmark (I would jump at the chance to live in Denmark for six months or a year…) and along with that is the ever-growing tension between cultural differences between native-born Danes and new residents. I don’t understand the tension because I don’t live in Denmark. But I do want to understand it. And that, in a nutshell, is my hope and desire in reconnecting with Danish venner (friends) and making new ones. Taking in more of the culture, be it in the hustle and bustle of Copenhagen or the rural setting in Jutland. Suspending my own preconceived notions about Danes and Denmark – easy said than done – is my continued quest.

Who is willing to help me?

–  30  –

By Scott Larsen • February 25, 2013



  1. Posted February 25, 2013 at 10:33 pm by Jutta from GERMANY | Permalink

    I have a question to you: will you take EMILY
    with you to denmark? What do you think about the “abolition of dogs” (sorry, I don’t know the right expression)esp. because your dog is on the list of dogs not grata.
    Greets to you

  2. Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm by Scott Larsen | Permalink

    Hi Jutta –

    What an interesting bit of information (which I love). I didn’t know about Denmark’s attitudes and laws regarding dogs, especially bull terriers. I will have to do some research and post my findings on my blog. Oh and btw, Emily is staying home when I visit Denmark and Germany in September. I used the photo of her to help describe the hard-to-understand Danes and the Danish culture for me is like a shadow: elusive. Scott

  3. Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:31 am by Ivan Heckscher | Permalink

    Hello Scott..
    Good luck writing about the Danes but I am not so sure you will ever get to know how the Danes are or think.
    One thing for sure and that is you need to understand the “jantelow” before you attempt writing about the Danes.
    They live by it, and they love how the government are taking care of them.

    That’s it.
    Oh yeah I forgot, I live in the San Diego area of California.

  4. Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:19 pm by Scott Larsen | Permalink

    Hello Ivan – Thank you for taking the time to response to my blog posting, Understanding Danes, Denmark is my quest. Yes, I have read about Jantelow and even wrote an article about this word and set of attitudes in Den Danske Pioneer newspaper. Last September, I met a number of Danes, young and old, coming from different social and economic backgrounds. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that the younger generation of Danes is less likely to subscribe to Jantelow, compared to older Danes. In regards to your statement that Danes love how their government takes care of them, I met a number of younger Danes who don’t believe this. Again, the more I search in my quest, the more I learn about the Danes and the Danish culture with one take-away: one view doesn’t fit all. Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to write. Scott

  5. Posted February 26, 2013 at 4:49 am by Maya Bram Sommer | Permalink

    Hi Scott

    I just read your interesting blog.

    I have a master in cultural encounters, work as a project manager for a project called “the cultural ambassadors” and have family in British Columbia (a great percentage og my grandmothers family immigrated to Canada after 2. ww).

    So I would very much like to help you get a better understanding og Denmark and the conflicts between native-born and new residents:). You just say when:).


  6. Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm by Scott Larsen | Permalink

    Hello Maya – I am indeed touched that you are offering your help to me. Would love to know about The Cultural Ambassadors profect as well as on a personal note more about your family in B.C. Looking forward to your help. I will get back to you about some ideas in what I am interested in pursuing regarding Danes and the Danish cultture. Again, many thanks for your kindness in offering to help. Scott

  7. Posted February 26, 2013 at 11:44 am by Trine Teglskov Nielsen | Permalink

    Dear Scott. What an interesting quest. I think I might be able to help you. I teach at a High School in Denmark and I was thinking about having my students reply to you, as a term paper. They are learning how to blog, and sometimes the papers turn out better, if they are authentic. Do I have your permission to post your blog to them and have them answers your questions to the best of their abilities? ( They are first year high school students, so their English might not be superb- but ther are Danish 🙂 ) best, Trine

  8. Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:06 pm by Scott Larsen | Permalink

    Dear Trine – I am more than flattered that you want your students to reply to me as a term paper project.Yes, you have my permission to post my blog and in return me to see their answers about my ‘quest.’ If I may ask, where is your school located? Scott

  9. Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm by Dorte | Permalink

    Hi Scott,

    Interesting quest you are on. I in my mid-fifties, born and raised in Denmark, and have lived in Vancouver, BC since 2006, so I do know the Danes very well, and might also be able to give you a spin on some Danish/Canadian cultural differences should you find it relevant. Good luck. Dorte

  10. Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:28 pm by Scott Larsen | Permalink

    Hi Dorte –

    Thank you for writing. Excited that you and I live so close. Maybe we could meet for conversation over coffee sometime. Scott

  11. Posted March 5, 2013 at 12:10 pm by Trine | Permalink

    Hi Scott. Sorry for the late reply. The students are quite excited and have started writing. Their papers are due Monday March 18. Would you like them to post their replies on this tread or by emails? I prefer you read the originals they write ( meaning before my red marker hits their papers). Btw. We live in Slagelse, which is a town with 50,000 people just an hour south of Copenhagen! Trine

  12. Posted March 18, 2013 at 6:30 pm by Dorte | Permalink

    Sounds good with a coffee one day, Scott. Say when. Dorte

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Nothing Rotten in Denmark

Scott Larsen

Interest in his Danish grandfather who emigrated to the U.S. made Scott explore his Danish roots. He has done extensive genealogy on his Larsen family - but there's always more questions. A longtime American journalist who lives in Canada, he has visited Denmark, wrote about his travels on this blog, and hopes to return to the 'Land of Hamlet' someday.