Today I had my first field study of the semester for my course “Equality in Scandinavia: The Welfare State.” Throughout this course we’ll be focusing on the welfare state that exists within the Scandinavian countries (Denmark and all of its land, Sweden, Finland, Norway) as well as how their government works and how the citizens live in these countries. To start our semester with a first hand experience, we visited the Danish Parliament also known as Christiansborg because it was formerly used as the royal residence as well as housing the government offices.
Our professor Kristian brought us to a room where we met with former Minister for Food and Agriculture, Mr. Dan Jørgensen. Mr Jorgensen spoke to us for about an hour on a variety of Danish political topics, especially immigration. Between his presentation and questions asked by my classmates it was clear to see a distinction between the trust that the Danish people fell for their fellow countrymen and the uneasiness they feel towards outsiders. For instance, most Danes feel completely comfortable leaving their baby strollers outside a grocery store while they grab an item or two and walking home at all hours of the night doesn’t pose any problems. But it appears much harder for Danes to get used to people of other areas immigrating to their country, possibly for fear of the unknown.
One example that was discussed was the act of speaking in English between Americans and immigrants. For Americans to speak English is common and most Danes enjoy the opportunity to practice speaking English to them. Yet if an immigrant from, say, a Middle Eastern country spoke English, they would be less well received than the American. While I don’t believe that this would happen in every interaction with every Dane, it does show how tricky it is to navigate the question of immigration in a country that has traditionally not dealt with that topic on a large scale.
Another part of the conversation that surprised me was how all of the political parties represented in parliament (there’s currently 9) are much farther to the left than even the most staunch Democrats in America. Even the conservative parties in Denmark advocate for the social programs that the government provides because they see the positive affect it has had throughout their county. And while most parties say they’ll lower taxes, most people don’t want their taxes lowered a significant amount because that means there would be less money for the social welfare programs that they love.
After this visit I feel as if I have more insight on Denmark’s politics and their people. At the same time I still have many unanswered questions. For instance, why are these people so trusting of one another and their government? Is it because they live in a small country Is it that they’ve just been more accepting for so long that it is second nature to them? Are any of these traits and practices applicable to the United States or is the US so big that nothing like this would work at the federal level until we solve some of these problems at the local level?
I guess all of these questions are ones I think I’ll probably be asking throughout the semester, so I’ll keep you updated on what I find out. For now, enjoy some photos I took on our little tour throughout the building!