My cousin alerted me to a post Megan McArdle wrote about Denmark and Danes, about trust and what we could learn from them. I have a slightly different take, although it’s from over fifty years ago. But I think that my perspective still has some validity.
In September 1963, with my newly minted PhD, I accepted a one-year postdoc position at the Technical University of Denmark. It was a time of ferment in the US, especially after the Kennedy assassination that November, and Johnson’s pushing for action on civil rights. A lot of racist bile cropped up in the media and was published in Denmark as well. My colleagues Gunnar and Erling were constantly on me about how terrible we treated Negroes in our country, implying that such a thing would never happen in Denmark.
I, of course, tried to explain that, yes, it was terrible but that we were working on it — as the 1964 Civil Rights Act subsequently showed. But before that passed, I brought up to them something that I noticed locally, that I hope they could explain: why were all of the menial workers, street sweepers and the like, apparently Greenlanders (recognizable due to their Inuit descent rather than northern European descent)? After I brought that up I never again heard about the mote in our eye. Yes, I’m sure we can learn a lot from Danes about mutual trust, but let’s be a bit moderate with our praise.