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The Battle of Stereotypes Posted by on Aug 30, 2014 in Fun, Society

Jylland, du er hovedlandet”. Jutland, you’re the main country. Ever since Danish national bard H.C. Andersen wrote those words (in 1859), people from Sjælland (Zealand) have resented him for it. Andersen himself was from Fyn (Funen), the middle island, but spent most of his career in København, so why couldn’t he see that the island of the capital was ”hovedlandet”, instead of some backwater-ish peninsula where noone really went anyway?

AarhusLoc

Thanks to Niels Elgaard Larsen at Wikimedia Commons.

Foreigners are sometimes surprised that Denmark is so diverse. If you leave Copenhagen and go to, say, the West Coast of Jutland, the culture and the atmosphere really change. A friend of mine once went into a McDonald’s in Western Jutland, accompanied by a Copenhagener. The Copenhagener wanted to order something. The girl at the counter kept asking him what he was saying? True story.

Før eller siden, sooner or later, you’ll encounter the regional stereotypes of Denmark. There is a kind of love-hate relationship between Jylland and Sjælland. Jyder (Jutlanders) call Sjælland Djævleøen (The Devil Island), and often make jokes about the whole island being ”Copenhagen” or even a part of Sverige (Sweden). To many people from the capital area, however, Jutland is a faraway land of dimwitted farmers. It’s almost easier to take a plane to Thailand than getting on a train to provinsen (”the province”).

Now I’m being unfair towards people from places like Roskilde or Køge, but the stereotypical sjællænder really is a københavner. He talks a lot, at least twice as fast as his Jutish friend. He’s smart (clever) and fræk (cheeky). He likes to boast and exaggerate things with gestures and colourful language. He enjoys honing his swear-word skills. He’s very direct, and never misses a chance to throw a witty remark at the lady in the bus. He finishes a lot of phrases with ik’? (not?)

The stereotypical jyde is rolig (quiet) and sindig (sober-minded) and a bit slow. He talks slowly and his dialect doesn’t ”jump” so much as the Copenhagener’s. He enjoys quiet life and nature. He rarely says things directly, preferring silent empathy. He finds the Zealandic way of communicating a bit arrogant or even effeminate. He uses words like træls (irritating, tiresome, laborious) and københavneri (”Copenhagen-ry”, too much focus on the capital). He’s very trustworthy. For that reason, the guy talking about gardens in Danish Television is often a jyde.

The stereotypical fynbo is happy and meek. He has little of the Jutish melancholia or the Zealandic urgency. The Funen dialect is a bit singsong, so that’s probably why we have this stereotype. Fyn is also a very nice and charming ”garden” island. As the saying goes in Danish: Fyn er fin. (Funen is pretty.)

I don’t know a lot of stereotypes about bornholmere, people from Bornholm. They eat a lot of røget sild (smoked herring) and their dialect is almost Swedish, due to the fact that this part of Denmark lies closer to Sweden than the rest of the country.

 

BTW. Do you know the comic Scandinavia and the World? It is drawn by a Dane, and it makes a lot of fun about stereotypes! It’s mostly about countries, but here’s a drawing of the different Danish regions! 🙂

 

 

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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.


Comments:

  1. Carsten:

    You should probably edit the part about Bornholm. I am from Jutland, but have lived on that island on a year and have read about their history and culture to try to understand them better. I was there as a volunteer, traveling around the island talking to dozens of locals every day. Today, most of them speak an ømål dialect that, to a Jutlander like me, sounds a lot like Zealandic but with only a slight to non-existing hint of the heritage of the Bornholm dialect. It gets stronger the older the person is, and the more out in the countryside they live — so, you don’t really hear it much in Rønne unless you’re talking to someone who’s from another village, perhaps for work (after all, 30x30km means everyone is taking the bus eveywhere, but especially toward Rønne, for work), or if you are out in the middle of nowhere, maybe visiting farmers or some of the few people they have who do seem to live a pretty secluded life (even though the island is so small, you can actually find places where you’ll stand at someone’s front door and won’t be able to spot more than a couple of houses in the horizon). The Bornholm accent is one of the Scanian dialects. Historical linguists consider Scanian an East Danish dialect group, well, if they have to designate it (since it’s really just part of the Scandianvian dialect continuum), but Sweden insists it is South Swedish. Basically, the Scanian dialects are between Zealandic and Götamål. UNESCO actuallly added the Scanian language/its dialects to its Atlas of Endangered Languages. Sweden will not recognize that Scanian is a separate language, hindering the dialects of Bornholm, Halland, Blekinge, and Skåne from receiving special protection, preservation plans, or any recognition as a regional language. Moving on from language to history, Sweden did take over the Scanian areas in the mid-1600s, but Bornholm successfully fought Sweden’s dominion and was able to hand itself back over to the Danish king. The closest you’ll get to Sweden in Bornholm is probably the Swedish houses built in Rønne — now some pretty exclusive neighborhoods — as, as I understand it, an apology for having bombed the island during WWII. Let’s go back to modern-day Bornholm and culture. Sure, the island is known for its smoked herring. There are smokeries in a lot of town. But I’ve eaten in dozens of homes, and no one ever served me that. It’s all been pretty typical Danish food. I usually had to get the “exotic island stuff” (like the magnificent Bornholm mustard) at the grocery store by myself. One thing that is for sure, though, is that they like their island, they are proud of their attractions and enjoy their nature. And they are people who are really, REALLY happy about the idea of the closely knit local environment. People know each other, often by first name. They see each other on the street again and again, something that’s a bit different than most places in Denmark. They talk (and gossip!) about what’s going on on the island. You’ll see some of them gather at local stores like the icecream store in Gudhjem or the pizza shop in Hasle, basically just coming in to talk to the familiar owners and hear the most recent stories about what’s going on. Bornholm is also the poorest municipality in Denmark, so you’ll definitely see that in the culture and the atmosphere there. Young people can scarcely advance beyond high school (might be some vocational education there, but that’s it?) so in them there’s always the dilemma of having to leave to make it in life or not. As a Jutlander, there are also many things that I found familiar about the way people on Bornholm are. The reservedness, the low-key-ness. But — and maybe it’s because I am from Eastern Jutland where the population density is higher and where some of the biggest cities and the most economic activity of Jutland goes on — they still seem that tad more Hobbit-like, more provincial, more proud of their history and naturally reveling in their uniqueness in all of the kingdom. Also, more practical with their hands. But, importantly, and this goes back to the thing about the enjoyment of the local environment, they also appear to be much more willing to talk to people. In Jutland, it’s a bit more “my house is my castle” and that kind of farmer-y, liberalist kind of way. On Bornholm, people not only often leave their houses unlocked when they leave, they happily disclose it and take pride in it when you’re visiting! Ah, another thing I should add that was a major cultural difference for me. They are far more religious than elsewhere. You see tons of churches, including Methodists and Baptists. Their Jehova’s Witnesses are also quite active. They even have Mormons, although it’s a small community. They care about religious issues, for example the debate about whether women should be able to be priests in the Protestant national church became a big controversy. They talk openly about how they prefer their sermons at church, and some of them deliberately avoid the “black” priests while you still generally get the impression that people are actively religious. This also means that, in my experience, you’ll find Christian holidays actually being kept. Stores will be closed at times that you don’t normally expect in the rest of the country because you’re used to people just going to work anyway or the town being open, at least. I never went to Protestant church while I was there, but I understand from some of the people I talked to that you can see fully booked, even overcrowded churches during Easter. Also, there’s a surprising amount of cultural diversity there inasmuch as there’s a tiny but vibrant community of Burmese people who are connected to the Methodist church there. You can even get sermons in Burmese, they have a dedicated priest for that. I saw that one a sign. And you’ll see religious slogans on buildings various places, crosses or verses. So, anyway, I don’t know you’ll summarize all of that into a stereotype about Bornholm or whatever but I just wanted to inform you about a bunch of things. It’s a really rich place with some really interesting people that the rest of us really don’t get to experience as anything but “den dejlige feriø” and don’t really relate to in any other way than to call them “reserve Swedes”. It has become one of my favorite places in Denmark and one that deserves more mention than a quick paragraph with a minimal of information near the end of your post. Thank you 🙂

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Carsten @Carsten – Thank you for all this useful information on Bornholm! 🙂 Sorry for the brevity – I really don’t know a lot about Bornholm… (And the article is about stereotypes, not the ”real thing” which is always different from people’s prejudices.) I think I’ll explore a bit more and write a blog post about Bornholm instead. Stay tuned…