The Canonized Denmark

Having a day off (or rather: taking the day off; we have time off from school to prepare for exams, so on paper I have other, “better” things to do), I have had the time to do some kitchen stuff while listening to the radio. Listening to the news at noon, I heard the news that a new canon on being Danish is being created, and this time, the public is being invited to join in. This is done through the website

I’m often in doubt about how to feel about that, about a canonized version of how or what it is to be a Dane, Danish, of and from Denmark. As far as I’m concerned, it’s more than just having the beetroot-colored passport (det rødbedefarvede pas, as we lovingly call it in Danish). Trying to canonize what more it is, then, is of course an attempt to put it into words and to create tools to teach new fellow citizens what it is to be a Dane.

On the other hand, though, it seems to be setting a very specific pattern of what that is. Knowing the government and the way it (or any government, really) want to streamline things, making mobility or flexibility somewhere near impossible, it makes me nervous that we have to have a description, a canon, of what that is. If what makes us feel Danish isn’t included in the canon, then what? Are we wrong? Less Danish? Not Danish at all? Not necessarily, no, but feeling wrong or an outsider because you – or part of you or who you are – isn’t on a specific list, be it because of ignorance or otherwise, is awful.

But I do see the point of having that tool to teach new citizens of what “we” are, and I really do appreciate that the public is being adviced. I do see people either not taking it seriously or using the opportunity to point out what’s wrong with society today, but still. I do hope for the best and that those in charge use this opportunity to make the best of it, painting an accurate picture, however it may look.

A suggestion that was featured in the news item was the Danish language. It was said that without the Danish language, there is no Danish culture; it’s our predominant way of communicating. Somehow that really spoke to me, but perhaps I see it the other way around – because learning about a culture is a big part of learning a language to me. There is the tone of voice, the values of a culture that can decide whether the poeple of a culture take something they say seriously and whether or not you should take what speakers of the language say seriously, there are elements of or behind imagery helping you to understand what the imagery means, and there are elements like humor, sarcasm, and irony; is it widely used and to what extend – is it obvious or too subtle to understand to an outsider? And so on.

I’ve had a few thoughts running through my head of what I think is part of being Danish, and the last lingering thought leads me to the conclusion that I would want one thing to be a part of being Danish: adaptability. Not because we have to change for the sake of change – not at all! – but because it sometimes officially seems as if Danes just don’t want change and want everybody else to assimilate to one uniform culture when the reality is that we could actually gain something positive or constructive from those who aren’t like us. Many of the things we consider to be Danish today came from other cultures and other places in the world; potatoes are from South America, carrots from Pakistan, our predominant religion is from the Middle East, our Christmas tree comes from a German tradition, and so on – even the dish that has been chosen as our national dish isn’t all that special or specific to Denmark! It’s frikadeller – flippin’ meatballs! Even if the Danish culture is defined as a monoculture, we’ve adapted and included elements of other cultures, countries, continents, etc. before. At the same time, I do think that it’s perfectly natural that one should adapt (not assimilate, but more like integrate – there’s a difference!) to the culture of the place that one moves to. So there: adaptability!

So, over to you… If you’re a Dane: what are your thoughts on the canon? Is there anything you find is especially Danish, and would you want to find it in the canon? If you’re not a Dane: is there anything you find is specific to, characteristic, or descriptive of your country or culture?

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Posted in Culture, Denmark, On language(s)

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