Copenhagen: Personal Space

Posted on August 7, 2006


personal space.jpg 

by sabine behrmann
For the majority of Danes the summer holidays are over. They have returned from the beaches around the world and faced something they usually aren’t aware of: the rudeness of their fellow countrymen.

Shopkeepers had been complaining about it earlier this year. And the head of the Danish University of Education, Lars Henrik Schmidt, has even written a book about it, concentrating on Danes experience of anger. One of the points he is making is that Danes have to deal with many more strangers today than they are comfortable with and this makes it difficult for them to keep their countenance, partly because they do not know how to do it.

Well, what do you expect from a language that lacks the concept of something like "please"? You can’t simply ask your kids to speak politely if there is no simple way of doing so and they would be forced to rephrase their sentences in a way completely unsuitable for – let’s say – a five year old.

Add to this the way people are on first name terms with each other and you can easily see how the general attitude assumes a familiarity between people that easily and quickly breeds contempt.

In Denmark your personal space is invaded all the time, no wonder people are getting touchy. They have no way of protecting themselves and each other against these invasions because they are supposed to be the natural effect of a way of lige where everything spills over into everything else.

Returning home after three weeks without telephones, computers, and news on tv, and after having thus re-established one’s sense of personal space the Danes who complain about their contemporaries’ rudeness may just need to get back in shape.

Or they might start a new trend and promote the politeness they find lacking in others.