Since I wrote my last post about a key thing that I don't like about Danish culture, I figured I should talk about one of the aspects that I do really like. The realization that led to this post happened during a recent afternoon trip to the Copenhagen Zoo.
The Zoo is a short bus ride away from my apartment so my housemate and I decided to go after class the other week. After checking out the new baby hippo and reading up on the Asian elephants we walked up to the otter enclosure. Much to my surprise, the glass barrier only came up to my waist. The front of their habitat was a pond and a large log was floating right next to the glass. An otter was perched on the driftwood and when he saw us looking at him he stood up on his back legs to say hello (yes, I speak otter). I swear to god I almost reached right over and patted his cute little head but I stopped myself when I realized that I was actually about to reach in to a zoo exhibit to pet a wild animal. That's when it hit me: this would NEVER happen in the States. Someone would have definitely touched the otter, taken him home or hopped over the fence to swim with him. In Denmark, the Zoo trusted that no one would do such a thing so there wasn't a ten foot wall, moat and lasers separating us from the animals.This example sounds silly, but the Danish tradition of trust is a cornerstone in their culture. They are a society that follows the rules. No one jaywalks. Women leave strollers with sleeping babies outside stores because they know that no one will take them (except, of course, people like me who are obsessed with Danish children).
Trust in society is why the welfare state works. Danes trust each other to contribute and they trust the government to provide for them and thus everyone does their part. The Danes are very private people; they trust that they can walk down the street and not be disrupted or distracted by anyone else. Everyone has their personal space and the right to not be bothered and nearly everyone respects that. To an outsider these tendencies can seem cold but after living in Copenhagen for nearly four months I've come to really enjoy this value. I've never felt unsafe walking around and I know that I can get from point a to point b efficiently and without interruption. I have no doubt that the loud, push-and-shove mentality of the States will be quite a shock. I enjoy my quiet morning bus ride to school and love being able to explore the city in solitude despite being surrounded by hundreds of other people.
I'm getting a handle on the Danish way but I guess it's the American in me that wants to pet zoo animals and not wait for the crosswalk symbols. I'm still tempted to adopt a Danish baby but I suppose animals are easier to care for so I may have to settle for a stolen otter. He'd be in good hands. Trust me.