If you want to know what makes a foreign culture different from your own, there’s nothing like a culture clash. This month, Danish and (corporate) American values clashed when Danish author Peter Øvig was banned from Apple’s online bookstore. Why? Because his recent books, Hippie 1 and Hippie 2, contain some photos of naked people. Sure, any forlag (publisher) has the right to say yes or no to a book. A lot of Danes, however, were very upset, and some prominent politicians made complaints about ”American” censur [sen-SOOR] (censorship) and snæversyn (narrow outlook).
We Danes generally take pride in our frisind [FREEsen] (liberalism, literally ”free mind”). This hasn’t always been so – if you were to time-travel to the 1950’ies, you’d find a much more formal Danish society (with people wearing hats and calling each other mr and mrs). But in the 1960’ies, with Beatlemania and everything, people started to drop the formalities (such as the polite pronoun De, you) – and, in a few cases, their tøj [toy] (clothes). One such case was the annual feminist summer camp on Femø (an ø, island), where women gathered to discuss their rights and be naked in the sun.
Today, only a few real ”hippies” survive in Denmark, but the spirit lingers on. Danes have a very relaxed attitude to nøgenhed (nakedness). Photos of topless hippie women, as those in Øvig’s book, hardly offend anyone. They’re seen as a part of Danish cultural history.
Just being naked, of course, has nothing to do with sex. That said, there isn’t much hush-hush about ”it” either! In fact, Denmark was among the first nations to legalize pornographic pictures (in 1969).
Many Danes take a lighthearted and secular (non-religious) stance on life. That sometimes creates conflicts with foreigners who view things like sexuality and the body as something sacred or very private. I know some visitors to Denmark have a hard time getting used to Danish men AND women using sexual words in public, or seeing newspaper cartoons of politicians having sex, etc. But that’s not something that makes a modern Dane blush. (Most Danes find it far too prudish when American TV stations beep away swearwords.)
Sure, the nudists have their own places in Denmark too, and people here have just as many hæmninger (inhibitions) as elsewhere. But I think it’s fair to say that the general atmosphere is (still!) another than in most US states, for example. That’s just something you should be aware of – in case seeing a naked man swimming along a public beach or watching a woman breast-feed her baby at a café unsettles you.