(Just creepin' on some nuggets at the bus stop)
I can't get enough of Danish children. They are ALL blonde with blue eyes and they have been dressed in full-body snowsuits (with boots and mittens of course) since October. They waddle around in their puffy coats and scoot down the streets on miniature bikes. I swear to god I melt every time I hear a bubbly little three-year-old say something completely unintelligible in Danish. As cute and innocent as they may appear, Danish children are much more independent than their American peers. I've taken the public bus with middle schoolers and waited at crosswalks with unattended first graders. This would never happen back home and if it did, it would probably make the nine o'clock news.
My Danish class has a cultural component to it and we've talked a lot about the Danish school system. Preschool and kindergarten here is much more focused on socializing. Preschool teachers have a different title than "regular" teachers and parents would be horrified if they actually taught their children anything. The point of the early years is to play, make friends, and learn to be social. This was amusing to my class but as we talked more about the progression of education, I came to realize what--in my mind--was really lacking in the classroom: competition.
There's actually a term for this phenomenon. It's called janteloven (or the Law of Jante in English) and it basically says that it's inappropriate to hold your success over another. It has ten key points which all basically say you are not any better than anyone else. It's a pretty radical idea by American standards but has been embraced on many levels by Danish culture. I was happy to learn about this philosophy because it finally gave a name to what frustrated me so much about Danish culture.
I was never that involved in sports so I've never really considered myself to be competitive; since I've been in Denmark, I've discovered that I am, in fact, extremely competitive in a different sense of the world. If you know me personally maybe this isn't all the that shocking to you (but hey, at least I'm learning to identify my flaws). I don't necessarily feel the need to win, but I do like to be right. I'm pretty convinced that the world would run more smoothly if I did the planning. I like to be in control, I'm opinionated and I'm stubborn to a fault. When I apply for things, I usually get them. I have no problem saying something or someone is better than another. Honestly, how can you go through life and not think that something or someone is the best?
For Danes, everyone is equal and all ideas are welcome. While I appreciate being open minded (and this is actually a quality I like to think I have), I can't wrap my mind around nothing being "the best" or "better than" in the Danish sense. You know what? I'm good at writing. I know I am. And that's ok. I can also acknowledge that I suck at spelling, can't hit a tennis ball and will never be a scientist. That's ok! You're probably better at something than I am and I still value you as a person. That's ok too! Perhaps my insistence that my way is better than the Danish way only goes to prove their point but if nothing else, I'm learning way more about myself and American culture in general than I ever expected to learn in my Danish class.
I'll be coming back to the states with new a perspective on my own personality and that's perfectly ok with me. Self-discovery is an important part of studying abroad and so far I've discovered that I have a competitive streak that I never really noticed. I will also insist that my future children wear neon snow-suits if it ever drops below 50 degrees...but that's a lesson for another day.