America, We So
Want to Be Like You
By Tobias Ahnfelt-Rønne
Translated By Anne Thye
16 May 2012
Edited by Hana Livingston
Denmark - Politiken - Original Article (Danish)
We hear so much about you here in Denmark. We love hearing about you because it is exciting to learn about people who are so like us and yet so different.
You are Americans – you are nationalistic, freedom-seeking, inspiring, enthusiastic people with cravings for Coke and fast food. You are home to the brightest stars, the best scientists, the biggest economy and the coolest cities.
At least that is how you’re portrayed in Denmark, when we see you in a positive light.
In a negative light we see you as narcissistic, Christian, weapon-mongering ignoramuses with an inclination for warfare and corruption.
It is the negative sides I want to write to you about. Not because I don’t care for you – I do. I love the USA and I hunger for your culture. I love your musicians, directors, actors and writers. Rather it is because I want to understand the darker sides of the USA, and why your citizens put up with occasionally blatantly unfair treatment.
A couple of years ago my thoughts were set in motion by a survey that showcased the Danes as the happiest people in the world. The news made it across the Atlantic, all the way to Oprah, who immediately had to venture to the blissful little country in Northern Europe.
She interviewed a couple of Danes and tried to grasp the reason for our joy. The conclusion was that we have a good welfare system – and something about using bikes. “Can this be true?” I thought. I made my own conclusion about this conclusion:
A welfare system like the Danish one is built on one of the highest burdens of taxation in the world, which halts our development.
It is incontrovertibly expensive to run a company in Denmark. As a result, we have issues with companies moving to other, more lucrative places. That means increased unemployment, and employment is precisely the prerequisite for happiness, if you are to believe the famous survey.
On the other hand, we are given a lot of security in return for our tax money, because security is the fundamental building block in a welfare society. Free schools, hospitals, universities and cash benefits ease our worries in life, and the less we worry, the more time we have to be happy.
You live in a society where “tax” is a dirty word to the same degree as “communism” or “hell.” You think everyone is the architect of his own fortune and the government should stay out of the citizen’s business as much as possible.
The United States is the land of opportunity, where you can come from nothing and end up with everything. That, at least, is your self-perception. Reality teaches us otherwise.
Poor people in America remain poor. They attend the worst schools and can’t afford to go to college.
They can’t pay for a doctor’s visit, and when they finally have the means it is often too late or no longer worth the money. Money is a key word in the United States, because if you have none you’re either a soldier, a criminal or a free rider who needs to pull himself together.
Of the three choices the best is probably becoming a soldier, as it is the only position that comes with some honor.
Unfortunately America is nation almost constantly at war, and thus it is incredibly dangerous to serve in the army. As Danes, we are aware of that, seeing as we have followed you through thick and thin and several wars by now. Our former prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and George W. Bush were pals. And many worthy Danes have died under foreign skies in the fight against America’s more or less imagined enemies. As a thank you, Fogh was later appointed general secretary of NATO.
Your army predominantly recruits in the poorest areas, since life there is so meaningless you may as well gamble it away. Our army is made of irresolute young people who “seek adventure” (a quote from the film “Armadillo”).
Another problem in both the United States and Denmark is the media. Your news is based on two premises: hatred and fear. Inspired by American news stations, these concepts are seeping into Danish media.
On a completely average weeknight you can, from the comfort of your sofa, watch murders, violence, home robberies, terror and war. I’m not saying these news stories are not relevant in the evening news, but the way they’re told stigmatizes certain communities. In the United States it is generally the black community. In Denmark it is traditionally the immigrants (read: people of Turkish, Somali and Iraqi backgrounds) and increasingly Eastern Europeans and Romas who are targeted.
The media never fails to mention the nationality of the offender, and the crimes that make the cut for our evening news are mostly committed by people of non-Danish ethnicity.
Thus we are on our way to an increasingly timid society. Danes now feel within their rights to utter minor racist statements that only ten years ago would have lead to headshakes and lawsuits.
Naturally, you are worse off, America. You need to hide guns under your pillows and shut yourselves behind thick doors with alarms and multiple locks. But we’re only one step behind you.
We increasingly monitor our homes, and several people have stated that they have weapons ready near their beds as you never know when an Eastern European might come and rob you. We haven’t (yet) gained the right to buy guns so we have to do with the likes of baseball bats and knives for now. As you can see, we resemble you quite a lot.
There is no deeper moral meaning to this text. No one is better than the other. But it is clear that Denmark looks up to its powerful big brother, USA.
We try in many ways to be like you, so we take in the good with the bad.
The United States inspires us; we cannot get around that fact. Sometimes I just wish the inspiration was mutual. Otherwise fear and pessimism will slowly but steadily consume us.
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