A true testament to human kindness dropped through my letterbox. I hadn’t ordered anything off the internet so I was excited at the thought that someone might be sending me a surprise pressie.
The first clue that this was something entirely different lay in the Danish postmark “Hittegodskontoret, 2720 Vanløse” Lost Property Office (or Found Goods Office, as they say in Denmark and which makes much more sense, when you think about it).
A squint down into the Manila envelope unmasked my long lost old grey wallet! And a note from the ‘COPENHAGEN POLICE LOST PROPERTY OFFICE’ (in English this time) saying “We hereby send you your item(s) that we have received as lost property, Yours faithfully…” No request for the, not inconsiderable, postage nor compensation for their trouble.
My omni-storage wallet was snaffled last summer at the bustling Copenhagen Airport, while I was too distracted by my Welcome-to-Denmark-red-pølser-with-everything. And a Carlsberg. Idiot. No chance of seeing that again. No not the Carlsberg.
And so began a nine month journey round my wallet, through two countries and several pairs of shadowy hands, the last one clearly duty bound to swing by the local cop-shop, who dispatched it to the Copenhagen Found Goods Office, who found my address and made sure my wallet found me. In London. Civilised society at its very finest – and at its very Danishest.
What had started life as a sorry example of the worst in human nature had come full circle to celebrate the very best in human nature.
Somewhat overwhelmed, I picked through the familiar kids’ drawings, old family photos, the nearly full Caffè Nero loyalty card, a crumpled tube map and a hand written yellow Post-It note saying Fundet på gaden – Found on the street. A £20 book token even lurked amid the pack of assorted cards.
This was way better than a birthday! I decided, there and then, to treat myself to a new book. In honour of all the unknown Scandi folk involved in my wallet recovery, Helen Russell’s latest effort The Year of Living DANISHLY was a nobrainer.
I was actually just getting into expleting my way through Owen Jones’ The Establishment but hey, here was a perfect opportunity to conduct a living What Would Borgen Do comparison study. To compare and contrast in real time, I resolved to read a chapter of The Establishment every morning and a chapter of The Year of Living DANISHLY every night.
That being the case – do yourself a favour and add both The Establishment and The Year of Living DANISHLY to your reading list. Available at all good libraries – if yours hasn’t been turned into luxury apartments, do check before you set out.
The two books are about as different as they come, apart from this:
- Both are eye widening page turners. Owen Jones will make your entire being boil with white rage, while Helen Russell takes you on a life affirming, curious year-journey with plenty of LOLs along the way.
- Both tomes are landmarks in their respective genres, packed with meticulously researched facts about the relative state-of-the-nation of UK and DK, so buckle up for a roller-coaster culture clash.
Reading the two books, side by side, I was reminded of the old joke:
Q: How do we begin to fix Broken Britain?
A: Well, I wouldn’t start from here.
Page after page illustrate just how far apart lie the cultural references of the two countries. Deceptively so. Much further, in fact, than even I had imagined, and I’ve been living it for several decades now.
But, all the while, the heart of the juxtaposition had somehow eluded me. My book experiment was to provide this insight: The control of our community lies not with the elected establishment at all, it lies with us – the electorate. The culprits of all our ills are not the self-empowered 1%, but the disempowered 99%. And before you tear into your keyboard, here’s the upside – the solution is also us. The same 99%, and we alone, control the levers of a healthier, happier society. If only we realised. If only we acted on it.
So don’t blame the state, or the police, or the unemployed, or Michael Gove, or the BBC, or the House of Lords, or the voting system, or the landlords, or the trades unions, or Nigel Farage or the bankers. Gaze into the mirror instead.
The key is right here at home, in every house, flat, hostel, campervan and cardboard box (the swanky ones with cardboard keys). Right here, inside everyone’s head. And it consists of just two letters: W and M. The key is the “WE” and the “ME“. That’s it. Nothing else. Danes are WE people, Brits are ME people.
Every page of A Year of Living Danishly oozes with the communal sense of WE. Few everyday, and not so everyday actions are taken without considering the impact on the community – good and bad. Meanwhile over in The Establishment the British ME shouts out from every paragraph, shaping every decision taken, by everyone, everywhere, about everything millions of times every day – it’s like an iceberg.
‘What’s in it for me?’ seems to be at the root of every UK political campaign slogan – from a cold fear of immigrants to destructive tax bribes for house buyers. And it’s the people – every single one of us – who fall for it and allow society to warp into whatever shape it can get away with. The 1% are in no hurry to change anything, why should they? They’re having the time of their lives.
An observation often made by visitors to Denmark is how much the Danes complain. All the time they beef and bellyache. They rant and rave at their politicians, in the newspapers, at Council meetings, at each other, at the ballot box. And they’re supposed to be the happiest people on the planet?!
Well, will you wake up and smell the coffee. It’s precisely because the Danes complain so much that no one gets away with flinging them a bum deal. Oh, one does rear its ugly head now and again, for sure, but faced with the formidable might of a politically engaged population, any attempt at polarisation soon melts away.
Of course there are hordes of fine upstanding Brits doing their level best to even the score but, by and large, the ME rule prevails on this Sceptered Isle. Granted, the Scots do proudly parade their altogether more WE friendly face and the Welsh and N.Irish are beginning to get the hang of it. Why, even on English soil [teeny weeny] Green shoots of mutual concern for the common good are peeping up here and there.
The Danes go to the polls next week – all 88% of them. The country is facing identical challenges to Britain: Immigration, NHS, welfare spending, jobs, growth. Currently the right wing parties are tipped to win but, although they’re slightly less WE than the left of centre parties, they’re nonetheless further left than New Labour, Blue Labour, True Labour, Screw Labour or whatever the party calls itself nowadays.
Probing The Establishment Danishly is an object lesson in how powerless the average Brit is made to feel – from cradle to grave. The British sense of “we know it’s all wrong, but what can we do about it?” is endemic and those, who are screwing over British society, know it. So they blithely carry on hoovering up their spoils, laughing all the way to the bank. Why wouldn’t they? They are ME people, after all.