Peculiar cultures and traditions exist all over the world that often confuse those initially exposed to them.
Smashing dishes at wedding showers in Germany, monkey buffets in Thailand and cracking people over the head with coconuts in India are just a few examples.
Denmark has its own fair share of traditions and cultural aberrations that can leave newcomers reeling in disbelief.
Over the years, many compatriots have probably wondered why the Danes pour cinnamon on each other, guzzle beer on trucks when they finish school or seem to have an almost fanatical aversion to curtains.
Silence in the prams
But what perhaps surprises expats the most upon arrival is the Danish propensity to let their children sleep alone in prams outside…even in the cold winter months.
It can seem surreal to come across throngs of prams parked outside daycare centers, in front of cafes or in communal back gardens.
Prams cost thousands of kroner these days – not to mention the priceless assets sleeping inside – and to outsiders, leaving them unattended can invite some sort of disaster scenario.
But according to Gert Tinggaard Svendsen, professor at Aarhus University and author of ‘Trust’, there is a very good reason why it doesn’t happen.
“Letting your child out like that is the strongest expression of trust, and the Danes are world champions when it comes to trust,” says Svendsen.
“And that is a great advantage because it makes life much easier. It is about parking prams outside, unmanned shop stalls in rural areas and the Danish welfare system in general. Here, everyday life is smeared with a higher degree of trust.”
There are ample numbers to support these claims.
A recent survey revealed that 77 percent of Danes said they trusted each other – the highest rate in the world. High levels were also recorded in the other Nordic countries.
Svendsen explains that Danes trust that most people will find a way to contribute, so that we can all have access to social services such as healthcare and education.
The few who do not live up to it are looked down upon with contempt. As Svendsen puts it, it is a kind of handshake culture. Their word is their bond.
From warriors to no worries
And that bond is steeped in historical context and links back to the time when the Danes raided large parts of Europe as Vikings.
Svendsen says that because the vast majority of people could not read or write at the time, it was crucial for the survival of the various groups that they could trust the words of others.
And as power became more and more centralized under King Harald’s ‘Bluetooth’ rule, the development of the rule of law meant that more trust began to creep into society as trust in strangers began to become beneficial – just like in trade.
“When agreements were made, they were sealed by one’s word. There were no written contracts. So that is a possible explanation for why the Danes entered this path of social control and more verbal tradition instead of writing everything down.”
Svendsen says that some people describe it as being naive. But he maintains that the Danes are naive because it pays to be naive.
“There is money in trust,” he says.
Something rotten in the Empire State
But while the Danes are known for a multitude of exports, not all their elements of trust fall smoothly abroad.
For example, there is the famous story of Anette Sørensen Habel – the Danish woman who spent 36 hours in police custody in 1997 for leaving her baby unattended to sleep in a stroller in front of a cafe in New York City.
Cafe patrons and staff reported her to the police, who arrested Habel and charged her with child neglect.
The police refused to believe her plea that it was standard procedure in Denmark to let her child sleep in a pram on the street.
Habel’s one-year-old daughter was placed in foster care and was not reunited with her mother for four days. Habel sued the city of New York for 135 million kroner, but lost the case when a judge ruled that the police had acted legally.
Good for pleasure, business and babies
Back across the pond, the high level of trust in Denmark is also one of the reasons why the country is consistently among the happiest countries in the world, Svendsen believes.
He claims that trusting others makes you and the person you trust feel happy.
Svendsen pointed to research by Paul Zak, the founder of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, which shows that trusting others releases the natural hormone oxytocin – which is associated with warm, fuzzy feelings felt when hugging and lower levels of stress and anxiety.
And cooperation based on trust also results in better business.
Svendsen refers to a famous quote from Vladimir Lenin who said “Trust is good, but control is better”, which he has transformed into his motto: “Control is good, but trust is cheaper”.
For example, the Danes save time and legal fees in many smaller transactions – informal agreements are often used and very rarely will anyone feel cheated.
“It’s about conveying our competitiveness and explaining why we are doing so well. You need some control, but too much control is the enemy of trust. Most people will behave well without control, and too much control indicates that people do not trust them. They won’t like that here,” notes Svendsen.
“When you add up the sum of all this, it means that we will be happier and more competitive.”
Another segment of the population that may ultimately gain is the infants themselves.
Research shows that fresh air and sunshine help babies sleep better and regulate melatonin levels.
In short, we create a win-win situation, concluded Svendsen.
The post Surprising Denmark: It’s a matter of trust appeared first on The Copenhagen Post.
Source: The Nordic Page