Oprah drops in

Denmark was recently featured on Oprah, partly because of the buzz it’s gotten as the happiest country on earth, and partly because she was here anyway in order to push for Chicago’s olympic bid.

In the first clip Oprah tours an apartment that is portrayed as being fairly typical. But it’s not even close to being typical. There are some typical things about it, like the extremely compact refrigerator (by American standards), but most of it is not at all typical. The “cave” where the kids live is quite strange. Sure, Danish bedrooms are often small, but that’s more of a closet than a room. And the parent’s bed and bedroom is extremely unusual — it’s in the freakin kitchen! I’ve been in dozens of Danish homes and never seen anything like this apartment.

Oprah visits a “typical” Danish home

The second clip is more interesting. The babies sleeping outside thing is shocking to Americans but I already can’t imagine the alternative. We regularly go out to dinner and leave Ellen outside. It’s too loud and stuffy inside anyway. (We have a “baby alarm” so we know if she wakes up, but Danes have been leaving babies outside for long before that technology was available.)

Women around the world

Then there’s a scene where they talk (very briefly) about marriage, economics and religion. It’s quite clear that Oprah does not understand — or believe — how non-religious the average Dane is. She half-jokes “Maybe you believe but don’t know you believe.” Not likely in my experience. And while it’s not true that “the churches are empty” it is true that the majority of Danes go to church only for weddings and funerals. There are exceptions, of course, but church-going believers are in the vast minority in Denmark.

The highlight of the whole segment though, is near the end. Oprah asks if Denmark is socialist. Nanna responds,

“Well, you may think so, but we don’t necessarily think of it as that. We more think of it as being civilized — that you take care of your old and your sick and you make sure that people get well educated.”


The part about leaving work between four and five, and the focus on spending time with family is accurate and is something that really surprised me when I got here. As an American I could not believe that an office would regularly be empty by five o’clock, but it’s true.

Overall the whole segment tries to put Denmark in the best possible light, often over-simplifying and sometimes stretching the truth. For example, they repeatedly say that unemployment pays up to 90% of your salary for up to four years. Even with the “up to” that’s really stretching it. You’d only get 90% of your income if you’re a member of a union and you were at the very low end of pay in the first place. If Lisbeth can’t find a job in January she’ll be on unemployment. She’ll get about 50% of her salary, and that includes her union benefits. If she wasn’t a member of a union, the government would pay about 20% of her salary.

3 Thoughts on “Oprah drops in

  1. Calvin on December 1, 2009 at 6:22 am said:

    Cool post…not the most profound comment, but…Cool post.

  2. Calvin on December 1, 2009 at 6:25 am said:

    I mean my comment is not the most profound…not the post. The post is cool.

  3. Beth Rose on December 6, 2009 at 11:45 pm said:

    Very interesting! Your knowledge and perspective brings balance and insight.

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