University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Comment: Judging the (“non-judging”) Danes

In this featured comment, exchange student Emmanuel from Singapore discusses how even the open-minded 'non-judging' Danes, slip and become judgmental

Denmark’s one of the few countries in the world where it’s perfectly OK to have sex with animals (as long as the animals don’t suffer), openly admit you visit “swingers clubs” to spice up your marriage and even have a Queen who’s well-known for being a chain smoker.

Danish people are known for being open-minded and non-judgmental. After all, they were the first country in the world to legalize pornography (in 1969) and same-sex civil unions (in 1989).

Danes are so forward-thinking that they were even eventually fine with residents in an area called Christiania declaring independence from the state. There, hippies and tourists live the “high-life” with weed being openly smoked and sold on the streets.

To the Danish people, it’s simply their universal right to live life exactly how they want to. Even if that means dressing in Converse shoes and a T-shirt for work instead of a stiff tie and shirt – something which would probably offend the stylish sensibilities of a French person (you can almost imagine one protesting in a thick French accent, “have somme digniteee!”).

Educated, nonreligious… and tolerant?

How did the Danes get this “non-judging” value system? Well, maybe it’s got something to do with how non-religious Danish people are. Denmark’s a predominantly Christian country, but only 5% of the population attends Church services. Interestingly, despite this poor turnout rate, over 80% of Danish people are members of the Church of Denmark. This may be because of the membership perks – non-members pay higher fees for a graveyard burial! Nothing wrong with a little pragmatism.

Perhaps being such an educated society also helped with the development of their modern and liberal attitudes. This is where I get slightly antsy – Danes might never really empathize with how many students (like myself) slog away with balancing school and a part-time job to pay off our student loans. That’s because school’s not only free in Denmark, but the nanny state government even gives them an allowance during their studies. Their idea of the stresses of student finances, might entail deciding if they should go to Portugal for a holiday in the summer, or if they should pick up a job distributing flyers twice a week at the airport, just so they don’t get too bored during the summer break.

I’ve made Denmark and the Danish people sound almost perfect. They don’t judge, they tolerate differences, they’re educated and (some of them) are high on weed. However, living with 11 other Danes has allowed me a peek into the not-so-perfect aspects of Danish society.

The truth about Danes

Despite what Danes and even non-Danes proclaim Danish people to be, I’m going to reveal the truth about things (praying my housemates don’t beat me up or steal the food in my fridge) – Danes judge, just like everyone else.

They judge how ‘Asian’ I am when I work late into the night or take photos of food to post on Facebook. I can’t help it, I love pretty food and showing it off to the world. They also judge when I don’t buy økologiske (organic) food from the supermarket. So shoot me if I don’t believe that the choices of one consumer can make a difference to all the problems of the food industry.

On a heavier and somewhat complicated note, Danish people are so tolerant of differences, that they can’t see anything wrong with their intolerance for certain aspects of Islam, which they poked fun of in cartoons in 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad. After all, freedom of speech is their universal right, no?

Making the world a better place

So maybe the Danes aren’t so perfect. But hey, that makes the rest of us (judging, intolerant, student-loan paying non-Danes) feel a little better about ourselves.

But more importantly, I’ve a deep respect for the Danish people and all the efforts they’ve taken to break away from the shackles of discriminatory mindsets and laws. Sure they’re not completely non-judging, but they’re doing a lot more than most people (with their viking determination and strength) to make this world a better place (for you and for me). So kudos to them for that!

Stay in the know about news and events happening in Copenhagen by signing up for the University Post’s weekly newsletter here.