Opinion 28/2-12 6:44 17

Comment: A good ‘dan’splanation’ for everything

Photo: Kelly Draper
Denmark is number one at everything… Or not, writes this week's columnist

What I find the most interesting thing about living in another country is working out if something is a cultural difference or just the actions of a minority (or individual).

For example, there is a website which mocks hateful churches in the USA. It is pretty funny and very well researched.

They had a piece about why God hates Denmark.


What amused me the most, until tears of laughter rolled down my face, was the earnest attempts of Danish kids to engage with the trollery. 'That's the Finish(sic) flag!' and 'Pippi Longstockings was Swedish, idiot!' and so forth. Then the trolls on the site would reply with scripture or wordplay or outright barefaced denial of the facts. ('The flag looks fine to me' was my favourite.)

Amongst my friends, we call this behaviour Dan-splaining where a friendly Dane tries to school the foreigner. 'We just use the flags for celebrations!' they patiently tell us, when we, sort of already kind of, knew that, we just thought it was, you know, weird...

You picking up what I am putting down?

Best at this, best at that

A similar and equally annoying blind spot is when a Dan-splainer tells me that Denmark is the best at something that they are not the best at.

For example, a Copenhagen restaurant won a fine dining award so now Dan-splainers tell me that Denmark has the best food in all the world. Or a study several years ago finds that Danes are 'satisfied', so I am told that Denmark is the current happiest country in the world.

Or they get it completely wrong and tell me that Denmark has the best schools (really: top 20), or best health care (really: top 40), or highest taxes (really: top 10), or hardest language (not even close, try ‘one of the easiest according to the CIA’).

Trusting superiority

Thing is, it is hard to blame them. The news often runs a ‘Denmark Number 1!’ story when it is true but rarely runs the ‘Oh, number 11 now, oops!’ story the next year. Could that be considered a form of ignorance? To blindly believe that your country is the best and not look for evidence to the contrary? (hint: yes).

Nowadays, I do not even bother to correct them at parties. Short of bringing a stack of bar charts to every social gathering I attend, all it would be is my word against theirs and that is not very convincing. Or convivial.

Though, I was thinking about it and maybe it is not even a ‘Danish’ cultural phenomenon. I see this because I am an outsider. No Dane would Dan-splain to another Dane, presumably. Similarly, if I were a Dane in Britain would I say the same thing about Britsplainers, trying to explain Britain to me and claiming their country invented EVERYTHING?

It is possible. However, I still think there is a bit of Danish cultural phenomena at play. There is a little bit of taking things at face value which comes from trusting too freely. There is also a bit of a superiority complex too, which comes from the way the news seems to highlight only the hype. How do you deal with Dan-splainers? Have you realised you have been guilty of a cheeky dan-splaination in your past?


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I remember numerous other

By Thomas Haupt on 20. April 2012, 10:29.

I remember numerous other articles in the English section of the post with topics such as "cheap Danes", "unfriendly Danes" and so on. Here is yet another, and I think it's sad that this seems to be a general theme here.

Gosh, it's almost like

By Kelly on 24. April 2012, 7:51.

Gosh, it's almost like someone drew a picture of Denmark and defaced it in a blasphemous and horribly offensive way. STOP THEM!

The perfect specimen

By Heidi the less enthusiastic one on 20. March 2012, 10:19.

Ms. Draper, I believe I may have uncovered one of the best Dansplanations I've read in a long time:

http://cphpost.dk/culture/culture-news/outrage-noma-fails-get-third-star... I will paste it in its entirety. (Background: this is a reply from a Dane to the erroneous assumption that the restaurant Noma probably even charges for water.)

"I certainly don't disagree about the often missing service in DK! And some of us is working hard to change that... but be patient please :-)

However, you never pay for water - you pay for the waiter who pour the water, the one serving it, the one taking the class to the dishwasher, the person washing it, the person putting it back in its place. And the fact that everyone gets a decent pay is something a lot of Danes fought for for a long time! Remember when everyone from Noma had a t-shirt with the guy washing the dishes at Noma when winning worlds best restaurant?!? Because he couldn't come with them due to visa issues? That is also Danish!"

It has all the important elements of a Dansplanation: The Dane starts out acknowledging a problem, then very earnestly he argues with a ridiculous sounding excuse. Finally, he finishes with a burst of patriotic flair.

I suspect if he decides to respond to the incredulous comments after, he will become increasingly hostile, and probably make vague and unfounded insults about other countries. I predict he will make the assumption that American servers grovel for a tip.

Re: perfect specimen

By Kelly Draper on 20. March 2012, 15:26.

That's a good one! I also like the way the dansplainer assumes no knowledge of "mark up" or "service charge" on the part of the foreigner. We have to have the idea that restaurants are businesses explained from first principles in order to get to the core idea:

"tap water isn't inclusive. The trade off is that tipping is not expected."

I am almost surprised that they don't explain what "money" is while they are there.

hi everyone from hamish the kiwi

By hamish on 1. March 2012, 15:20.

i could not for one minute avoid commenting on this one . let me get this straight ....... there is a american coming to live in small town denmark and criticizing denmark for being blind and thinking it is number one in a few areas ? . the words adequate to describing the nature of this hypocrisy escape me . America is without doubt the most conceited and narrow minded country on this planet .

Not American

By Kelly on 2. March 2012, 11:51.

Hamish, I actually come from a country which is the least conceited and broadest minded on the planet. Am I now allowed to speak?

(J/k my country has normal levels of conceit and narrow-mindedness)

hey Kiwi

By Iversen on 2. March 2012, 9:17.

Point one: Knowing the author, I can confirm that she is not nor has ever been American.
Point two: It's a bit silly anthropomorphizing a country, I mean really. Countries have no feelings one way or the other, therefore cannot be conceited or narrow minded. People, on the other hand, have no problem with these concepts, and of the over 300 million people in the US there are a few with these qualities - and a few without these qualities. I'm even noticing a few people with these qualities from the lovely country of New Zealand.
Point three: Personally, I don't care if something is number one in an area, and neither do most expats I know. However, we do take exception to constantly having opinions pushed at us as facts. Danes are welcome to believe their country is the best, most natives of countries feel the same about their own. But let us make up our own mind on whether we agree with you, and if not, then allow us the courtesy of having a different opinion. This is where many problems lie, if we have a different opinion than someone else we are told we are ignorant and to leave. That would make anyone cranky.

Where do you get your info on the US

By Blue on 1. March 2012, 14:38.

Oh wait, that's right! It originates from US news sources! New sources that occasionally contain dissenting, critical voices about the country and its inhabitants. ShOw me some critically thinking, dissenting Danes and I'll be happy(happier) fOreigner.

Danish Phenomenon?

By Sandy on 29. February 2012, 13:34.

I'd be more inclined to say that it's more of a human phenomenon. First of all, trollery is meant to provoke reaction and it certainly isn't exclusively Danes who fall for satire (http://literallyunbelievable.org/ for reference; I highly doubt that the majority of these responses are from Danes.)

Secondly, can you honestly say that you've never exaggerated about or oversold something that you were proud of? If you can, congratulations on being a better human than I. Still, there seems to be a difference only in terms of degrees between someone saying "this pizza parlour has amazing pizza!" and "this pizza parlour has the most amazing pizza!". It's not like they're claiming that Denmark is the most multicultural nation in the world. If they wish to continue thinking that they're the happiest country in the world, what does it really matter unless they're planning on writing a peer-reviewed paper on it? (Forbes claimed them to be number 2 in November of last year. One spot difference. Do you really care? Oh, and Norway was number one, and they basically speak the same language save for an odd accent, so can't we just group those bum-chums together as taking the title? Source: http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mef45ejmi/02-denmark/#gallerycontent).

As for their superiority complex, you gotta admit that they have a pretty great country, and national pride is certainly not unique to Danes. In fact, their self-claimed level of superiority seems to be far outweighed by other nations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_exceptionalism for one example). And in reference to the comment about breast-feeding, you don't honestly believe that only a Dane will repeat the words of some bogus report that they've read? (Have you ever heard of Fox News?) And in fact, I have met many highly critical Danes who, even though they love their country, have their qualms about it.

The queries presented seem to be fairly universal to me, or perhaps some people just haven't had the luck of meeting Danes with a more critical eye. That, too, can be attributed to our human factor, because from my experience that critical eye is rare in all parts of the world.


By Kelly on 29. February 2012, 19:49.

I'm not sure if I *am* saying that only Danes do this or that. (Or that all Danes do this or that, for that matter.)
Am I saying that?

Yes, of course you are.

By Heidi the less enthusiastic one on 1. March 2012, 8:43.

Yes, of course you are. That's how criticism or observation by an outsider in DK works. ;)

Hmm. It must be that us

By Blue on 29. February 2012, 19:37.

Hmm. It must be that us foreigners only come into contact with "the bad Danes."

No, no, it's worse than that.

By Heidi the less enthusiastic one on 1. March 2012, 8:44.

No, no, it's worse than that. We've only come into contact with Copenhagen Danes. It's different in Jylland and on Fyn.

Here are just a few of my best-loved dansplanations

By Heidi the less enthusiastic one on 29. February 2012, 11:54.

Favorite dansplanations:

"That product is more expensive here, because here in Denmark, we only accept the highest quality." (Said in reference to my wondering why a commonly available product such as a blank VHS tape costs 10 times more.)

"It is because Denmark is much more advanced at diagnosing cancer." (The answer by Danes to explain Denmark's insanely high cancer rates.)

"it is because we are better at detecting tears than other hospitals and we are also better at registering them. Its because of our efficiency." (In reference to the high number of abdomen cracks during births at Skejby Hospital: http://jp.dk/aarhus/article2669947.ece)

"Danes are nicer." (A Danish man's explanation for the lower crime rate among native Danes.)

Ooh, ooh, the hits keep coming!

By HEIDI THE LESS ENTHUSIASTIC ONE on 29. February 2012, 15:57.

Here's a beaut:
"I think the way you express yourself to a dance (The way you actually approach them) is more of a factor then what you say. I think we in Denmark have a lot of respect for another when we are in public. But we are not socially awkward or grocery store robots. I think you must have met too many family moms and fathers when you have shopped. They usually just want to get the shopping over with so they can spend time with their family. Personally I feel comfortable when I am in a store and often walk around the same isle more times thinking about what I could make for dinner.

The thing with talking about our system is right though. Especially if you come from America. Our system helps everyone in society and people can get help as long as they ask for it. We really feel like our taxes give us something in return. Yes there is cases of where money is not put in good use such as private smoking boxes for politicians but compared to other countries we generally get pretty nice stuff for our money."

Then again, Sandy up above did a very spot-on imitation of a dansplanation in hir comment. Um, I assume s/he was being satirical, no?


By Seth on 28. February 2012, 10:15.

I get your frustration with the Dansplation, but we have the same problem in the US with people using the internet, one sided media reports (see "yellow cake" "uranium" and "Iraq"), or "general knowledge" (i.e. opinion) to argue their points.

Also in the U.S. this type of reasoning tends to lead to more more dangerous conspiracy theories: GMOs cause cancer/allergies, vaccines cause autism/retardation, gay marriage ruins families, abortion leads to suicide, Islam commands its tenants to kill Christians etc...Anytime someone argues with opinion and rumor over facts it's annoying, but at least the Danes are relatively harmless in their Dansplanations. We used our rumors to invade Iraq for the better part of a decade.

Re: understandable

By Kelly on 28. February 2012, 15:10.

I heard of Danes telling a breast feeding mother that "breast feeding is poisonous" because of one dodgy report that came out (which was retracted soon after for being dodgy), so I'm not sure if the US has the patent on dangerous conspiracy theories...

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