Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Home Thoughts From Abroad, Part VIII: Danish Time

Most museums and "places of interest" in Denmark close at 5:00pm. Some close at 4:00pm.

Visiting here from the US-- where everything seems open pretty much all the time-- it can be rather inconvenient, for visitors.

Sarah was commenting on the way everything seems to close so early, and yet there are lots of people on the streets of Copenhagen at 11:00pm. It made me pause and ponder the Denmark of my childhood, as well as the Denmark of now... along with some of the socio-cultural reasons for what I have now come to think of as "Danish time."

I remember the frustrations from my childhood, when I finally would get my mother to agree to go to a place like the Copenhagen Zoo, or perhaps the Natural History Museum. We'd start getting ready, and we'd take aaaaaalll this time to get ready to leave, then it would take aaaallll this time to get there... by which time it would already be almost "closing time," so we'd have only an hour at the zoo, since my mother wanted to leave at least 1/2 hour before official closing, so as not to be caught in the throng of traffic during the final moments.

Now, I am an adult visiting Denmark... trying to "show off" where I grew up, while dealing with places of note that are open from 11:00 to 4:00 or 5:00.

There are many things I appreciate about living in the US, one of which is the fact that things are open during hours that make more "human sense." Let's face it, most people are working, between 11:00 and 5:00. And when you are on vacation, you tend to sleep in and get a late start. Which, in turn, clashes with exhibits closing at 4:00pm.

As I thought more about this, it occurred to me that Denmark-- as a culture-- continues to function under a value set that is centered around "being" with your friends "after hours," rather than "doing" with your friends.

The way I remember Denmark in my teen years and during visits in my 20's, it wasn't that people never socialized, it was that people socialized at each other's houses, rather than "out." "Going out together" might entail sitting at an outdoor coffee shop or local pub for several hours, talking to friends. Don't get me wrong, Danes do go out to the movies, theater or pubs... but the whole idea of "doing an activity together while out" is far less common in Denmark, than in the US... and this tendency continues, today.

It's hard for me to comment on whether this is "good" or "bad;" it is merely "different." I'm not even sure if it's an editorial on core societal values, or the "Danish way" is simply a result of things always having been this way, combined with a resistance to change. Many Danes can be somewhat smug and arrogant about the perceived "superiority" of the Danish Social Democracy... and although I have been guilty of some of that, myself, there are good reasons why I live in the US, rather than in Denmark.

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