Copenhagen: Of Locks and Lice

Posted on September 19, 2006


by sabine behrmann

Having lice is an experience that you will not find in any guide about the 115 things you are supposed to have done before you die.

But if you have children in Denmark you may not be able to avoid it, either. Last year 46 % of all kids between the age of 3 and 13 had contracted lice. In 1997 there were "only" about 33 %.

This is not due to lack of hygiene. Rather on the contrary. Lice love a clean and fragrant environment – but the idea that they are a sign of poverty and poor standards is deeply rooted in many of us.

There are a couple of reasons why Danish children fall victim for these small critters as often as they do. One of them is the way childcare is organized in this country. There are many children grouped together, so when little Matthias brings lice to the local kindergarten, it is quite likely that all his friends will get them, too.

And the parents. Because lice do not discriminate against grown-ups, although this would be quite a relief. Having lice is definitely not a laughing matter. It’s most of all inconvenient, and confusion reigns supreme where treatment is concerned.

Do you put everything in the washing machine? Or is the icebox a better solution? What about the stuffed animals? And the cushions? Do you have to get your hair cut? Or is shampoo enough?

And which one do you take? How many treatments? For everybody in the family? Including the canary?

In Denmark manufacturers of lice-shampoo do not have to prove that their product works – which makes the situation even more complicated. Because in the end some people just give up.

However, they do not react as prissy as a pharmacist in Munich in 1990, who lowered his voice discretely when I asked for lice-shampoo. It really gave me the impression that we were talking about a venereal disease not an illegal immigrant from Scandinavia that had traveled there in my daughter’s locks.