Marta Odsherreds Efterskole
FACTS ABOUT DENMARK FROM A SPANISH PERSPECTIVE
First of all, I would like to introduce myself. I am Marta, a Spanish volunteer living my experience in Odherreds Efterskole, located in a small town called Fårevejle Stationsby in Sjælland. If you are reading this, it is because you are thinking about volunteering or even in a few months you are in Viking lands. So, my advice would be… go ahead! I can assure you that it will be an experience you will not forget, and it will help you to discover new cultures, but above all, to know yourself.
My role in my project is to teach Spanish, assist in English and design classes, weekend duties, kitchen duties and above all, enjoy with the students during the activities and trips, which have made me share thoughts with my colleagues, students and students’ families.
We agree that there is no culture better than another, because they are all unique, but living in a country different from yours makes you see the cultural differences that make each country special. Before coming to Denmark, I knew was that it is one of the happiest countries in the world, which was full of bicycles, and famous for its good educational system, but above all the tolerance and respect that the Danes have. The cons? The weather … but not because of the cold or the rain … but because of its instability, which in the end you begin to know what resignation is. So, after almost a year living in this wonderful country, I have dared to explain many curiosities that Denmark has from my Spanish perspective, so here we go:
– How are Danes known?
According to the UN, Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world. Maybe the answer to the riddle behind this good vibe is the meaning of the Danish term hygge.
There is not a translation for that word, but the rest of the world translates as “the cozy” or “the familiar.” So, it was one of the reasons why I decided and motivated me to choose Denmark to start what is being one of the best adventures of my life.
– It is the country of the bicycles.
Since 1880, the citizens of Copenhagen have used the bicycle to go to work. For over a century, riding a bicycle has been the fastest, easiest and most ecological way to get around the city. that its capital has more bicycles than cars. And mention that Denmark has more than 11,000 km in cycle lanes.
– Different ways of being social.
Most Spaniards live a large part of their social life in public space. People meet their friends and family in bars and restaurants full of life and above all noise. And in the Spanish culture the friends of your friends are always welcome, it is easy to have many contacts.
What is not common for a Spaniard is to spend an entire night at home, as the Danes do, inviting friends to dinner with red wine and candles, an example of the famous Danish ‘hygge’. And the excuse that the Spanish give to this is due to the climate and the price level, but it is also a matter of mentality. As a Spaniard, I can ensure that way of socializing at home without the noise and distraction that is in a bar, it can almost cause a little anxiety for many of us. And if Denmark has more bicycles than cars, I can almost say that Spain has more bars than people…
– “Dannebrog” and the respect to its flag.
I remember the first time I visited Denmark, my head whirled because I wanted to understand such amount of Danish flag in everywhere. It is sad, but even though Spaniards love our flag, the use of this in Spain, the is associated with being fascist due to our history…
Do not think that everyone flaps the flags casually… The situations which caught my attention were:
- Happy Birthday! No matter how old they are, as Danish tradition dictates, make sure you have a lagkage and a Danish flag ready on the table.
- Welcome home. Note when you arrive at Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen. You will see the faces of many families and friends waiting in the arrival hall flapping their small flags and waiting for the person who has just arrived, to show delight.
- On public transport. If when you get on the bus you see that there are two flags waving at the front, it is because it is either the birthday of a member of the royal household or it is a national holiday.
But what I have learnt after almost 10 months in Denmark is the fact that for the Danes its flag is the most precious symbol, so much so that it is associated with birthdays, holidays and national sports. You cannot raise the flag before sunrise, and you cannot lower the flag after sunset. There is a type of superstition about this, and that is that they say that if it is not done correctly it will go to hell…
– Free education
Education is free, both at the institute and at the university or in further studies for all European citizens. Even books are free! As if this were not enough, university students who work at the same time as studying, in addition to not paying for such studies, acquire financial support from the government… In other words, the dream of any Spaniard.
– Hierarchy at work, what´s that?
Stereotypes about boss-employee relationships do not have to be true, and this is demonstrated by Danish companies.
A clear example of this would be my own experience. Since my arrival at this efterskole, my bosses have always tried to make me and my colleagues feel at home, and let’s not forget that I am a simple volunteer. The most important thing for them is that we feel that we are contributing little by little to the story of Odherreds Efterskole, a story of which we are all part. Something that strikes me a lot in this country is that the experience that each one has is not valued so much, nor the university degrees, but what each one is worth. They have full trust on you. Something that most Spaniards should learn from, since the psychology of the work of the Danes is light years away from ours in Spain because the value of trust and loyalty are present on a daily basis. The Dane generally respects himself or herself and has taught some foreigners to do so as well.
– But… What about the word please?
After living here and studying Danish, I have realized that in the Danish language there is no word “please” but they thank you for everything, therefore the general rule is that is impossible to say tak too many times. So, the standard version would be tak/mange tak/tusind tak, which is thank you or thank you very much. Selv tak! which would mean “you are welcome”. “Thank you for the food” (tak for mad) at the end of a meal to thank the host or even the chef. And my favourite one is of course “thank you for today” (tak for I dag) is said both to friends, at work or at school. In my opinion it is super nice to thank someone for his or her day, and I will borrow this when I go back to Spain.
– Improvisation is a word that does not exist in the Danish dictionary.
From my point of view, improvisation can cause to the Danes to be in a state of stress that sometimes, rightly so, I do not blame. But we Spaniards like to improvise plans from time to time to make life a little more fun and not so planned.
My boyfriend is Danish and something that I found very funny was that birthdays or a simple dinner with the family was planned almost three months in advance. And what to say that these kinds of celebrations are planned in detail: “the wish list” is more of an “order list”, so nothing surprising with an unexpected gift.
A Spaniard may find it difficult to get used to this planning mania. It takes a couple of weeks for a Dane to find space on the calendar for a coffee, instead of taking it NOW. I understand that it does not count as an excuse, but many Spaniards have a less strict perception of punctuality. For us to say “I´m coming” can mean in four hours and there is nothing wrong, but that is not understood by the Dane who takes it literally. An appointment can be changed if something happens, without offending anyone. For a Dane, a date is a date, and last-minute changes are not always well regarded (I have noticed that they get nervous), which, on the other hand, may seem rigid to a Spaniard.
To conclude, I would like to add that learning a new language, being rewarded for your effort, practicing English and interacting with people from all over the world makes you grow as a person, mature and see life in a totally different way. You don’t have to go abroad to get what you want, but you do have to face yourself to decide what you want to do.
2019/2020 Children and Youth the Danish Way: ESC11-2019-010