Culture Shock: A Fantastic Reason to Travel
"Copenhagen Harbour" (1874) - Ioannis Altamouras (1852 - 1878)

Culture Shock: A Fantastic Reason to Travel

Written by Emilie

Topics: Traveling

I’m writing this at the Munich airport during my layover, which seems appropriate for a piece on transitions.

In about eight hours, after five long months abroad, I’ll finally be touching down in Montreal. In some ways I will be returning to a past life- familiar faces, places, a culture I know well. But in another sense, It feels like I’m starting afresh.

For one thing, I won’t be a student for the first time in 20 years! (Feels fantastic by the way.) I also have a clearer sense of my current purpose, which involves embracing all of my interests as they arise and encouraging others to do the same.

With my trip (and the year) coming to an end, I thought it would be a good time to reflect back on my time in Denmark and pull out some things I’ve learned about the value of traveling in general.

Gaining a Keener Awareness of your Own Culture

I felt oddly Canadian at times, like when we were studying environmental law and the teacher spoke about the environmental regulations vis-à-vis beavers… Several of the European students had no idea what beavers were (perhaps a translation issue), but when one of the three Canadians in the class piped up with “it’s Canada’s national animal”, I felt oddly proud. It was strange.

There were other, more subtle things too. For instance, it turns out we are polite. We are also fantastically diverse, both culturally and with regard to FOOD (God, I cannot wait to eat some fresh vegetables/fruit!) We also know how to celebrate Halloween properly.

But at the same time, we have some things to work on.

Bringing Home the Best Aspects of a Foreign Culture

I didn’t love everything about Denmark. They can keep their obsession with rules, their distant attitude towards foreigners, and the harsh wind. However, there are things that I adore about the country. If I could bring a bit of Denmark back to Canada, this is what I’d choose:

Hygge

Danish culture revolves around this idea of hygge (pronounced kind of like ‘huu-gue’ ). It translates loosely as ‘coziness’ and consists of things like staying in with close friends, eating sausages around a fire, lighting a ton of candles, and being warm, festive and happy. This value may have come about as a reaction to the harsh whether, but either way, I like it.

Cycling

Thirty percent of Danes bike to work. There are bicycle roads on practically every street and cyclists rarely have to bike in traffic with the cars. You see parents biking their children to school in these little crate things that look like covered wagons and are attached to the front of the bike. It’s adorable. Driving is not encouraged, in fact there’s a hefty monthly tax that must be paid by anyone who drives a car in the city.

Equality

My absolute favourite thing about Denmark has got to be the sense of equality and mutual respect that I felt in public spaces. Nobody stares at you or judges you. I noticed no rudeness or misogynistic behaviour directed at women. Everybody was just left alone.

In fact, even waiting for the bus was strange at first. See, back home, the men typically let you on the bus first if you’re female. It’s just common practice. In Denmark, however, this is not the case. It’s first come, first serve. Nobody will move out of the way. They just expect you to be assertive and take care of yourself. I actually really like this quality.

Similarly there is perfect integration when it comes to sexual minorities. I could walk down the street holding hands with a girl and nobody would bat an eye. No stares, no comments, no smiles even. Total non-issue.

Sadly however, the overall sense of acceptance does not extend as readily to racial minorities. I didn’t notice any racial tension myself, but from what I’ve heard, Denmark has some problems… It is a very homogeneous culture too.

The Personal Value in Traveling

Traveling is of course valuable on a personal level too. Being alone in unfamiliar waters is empowering no matter where you go. It provides you with a clearer sense of who you are, where you’re going and what you want.

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These are just a few great reasons to travel, but there are countless others. What have you gotten out of your time overseas?

5 Comments

  1. jesse says:

    culture shock: yes! I agree on this one too. If you find out that your acceptance of people from a different culture is poor, you may want to travel abroad, or to other cities with different cultures.

    Durring my one year service to the Nation after graduation from the university, I was assigned to serve in the eastern part of Nigeria. And by birth and by origin am from the West. Many of the attitudes of the east were strange to me, but I learned their way, learned their language too. Now I know the part of their culture that is fun and fine and I use it. Good post ! awesome.

  2. Emilie says:

    Hi Jesse,

    Very interesting to see how universal these things are. I would imagine that traveling also provides you with good ‘cultural translation’ skills when, for example, you’re interacting with people from both cultures. You’re probably more able to help them understand each other, which is a pretty cool skill to have.

  3. Brian Gerald says:

    I too noticed that queer folks are readily accepted. One of my Danish friends got dumped by his girlfriend around the same time that his gay friend got dumped by his boyfriend. Guess how they comiserated? They went to a bar… a gay bar.

    I also sensed a bit the racial tensions you talk about. Denmark may be the happiest country on the planet (literally. and I tell everyone who will listen) but it’s also VERY homogenous. So, that makes it a bit easier. I felt very accepted but then again I don’t look very foreign… tall(ish) white guy with blonde hair. It’d be interesting to see if even having dark hair (but light skin) changes things… Interesting interesting.

    Anyway, I almost said “I’m super jealous” but “I’m super inspired” is more accurate.

  4. Emilie says:

    Hey Brian,

    It’s funny how when you talk to Danes, they kind of laugh off the ‘happiest people on earth’ title. They do seem to love themselves though- with good reason. Actually, there was a line in my Intro to Danish Law text book that was like “Danes love to be Danes.” Literally. The other line I loved was “A bag of money in the cradle does not keep a baby fed and clothed”. heh..

    It’s a great country but also has a number of contradictions. Certainly makes things interesting.

    Thanks for the comment. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures when you head over there (and I totally believe you will. :)

  5. Janet says:

    wow, I would love to visit Denmark simply because I know it’s the “happiest country”!! How cool is that? And yes, I’ve met Danes and tell them that and they do laugh it off :D That’s so true. I guess maybe they get that a lot… :D I LOVE that they bike everywhere and driving is discouraged! Biking is also prevalent in Portland. Are you still living there??

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