Danish Language Blog

Memories of Yesterday Posted by on Mar 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

This is a continuation of yesterday’s interview with the ethnographer Ulrik.

A klaphat (clapping hat) is basically a baseball cap with ”hands”. It was invented in Denmark in the 1980’ies, and is mainly used by football (soccer) fans. You pull the cord below your chin, and the hat ”claps”… (A ”klaphat” may also mean an ’idiot’, so take care with this word!)

Are the Danes living in the past?

Good question! I think we sometimes are. I think all of us occasionally fall back in a kind of romantic thought about something that we imagine used to be, when everything was free from trouble. Some Danes say that a lot of bad things started happening in the wake of immigration. These people are sticking to a frozen image which is totally overblown. There were other bad things before – they’ve just been forgotten!


Do you have an alternative image for these people to stick to?

A Buddhist would say one should always live in the present. The past is gone and the future still lies ahead. I think that’s a good philosophical rule of conduct. I don’t know if it’s always possible to implement it in real life, though… I think that if one strives to focus on the moment now, a lot has been reached.

I can perfectly see that you sometimes need to cling to the past. That’s partly what we’re doing here at The Ethnographic Collections. Our archives are a way of keeping the past alive. However, it’s not just about the past. The past can be used to throw light on the present, or even the future!

I for one enjoy glancing at family or childhood photos. It gives me a good feeling that I can look back at something that is nice to think about!


Looking at Denmark in the year 2012, what can you as an ethnographer say about the Danes?

Ten years ago, Denmark was known for its frisind (liberalism, broadmindedness) and its openness towards other cultures. Enormous amounts of money were given to projects in the Third World and to aid in general. The last ten years there has been a political movement away from the values that I feel Denmark represented. It reached its peak during the Muhammad Cartoon Crisis [in 2005 a Danish newspaper caused an uproar in the Muslim world by printing cartoons that tried to depict the holy prophet of Islam – many Muslims felt hurt and wanted an official apology, while most Danish politicians used the occasion to defend absolute ytringsfrihed (freedom of expression)]. But as a rule I feel that we’ve become more egoistic and less interested in ”soft” or spiritual values. That said, I do think we are now moving towards a greater interest in things other than flat tv screens and big houses and expensive summer holidays!

But what’s particular about the Danes? If you ask a Norwegian, he’ll say that Danes are the Italians of the Nordic countries, that we are lively and that there’s a lot of things going on! That’s not the way we see ourselves, though. Somewhere I still have the idea of a Dane in white tennis socks and klaphat, a kind of frisind mixed up with a solid Social Democratic sense of justice. The atmosphere may be a bit provincial too, that is another thing we Danes are known for. You can’t ”flap your ears” too much here, they might get caught in the machine!


Which topics would be interesting for an ethnographer in Denmark?

In my study years we read a text by Prakash Reddy, an Indian anthropologist who’d spent some time in the tiny village of Hvilsager, Djursland. It was quite peculiar to see ourselves as an ethnographic study object! I think a lot of things would be fun to look at. A farmer’s relationship to his animals – that would be interesting.

There have actually been very few studies on Danish culture by outsiders who are able to wonder at some of the things that we Danes say or do. Being met with an outsider’s view of our culture is fun for Danes too! All of a sudden we get to think about some things we hadn’t considered before. It’s the same kind of wonder we as Danes experience when we are looking at indigenous peoples in Africa or wherever we might go to learn from other cultures!


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About the Author: Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.