Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Big and small differences

I love the topic of how Denmark and the US are different. I don't know where I feel more at home. Sometimes, the glass is half full and sometimes it's half empty. Here's a list of differences the reader may or may not be aware of.

Some obvious ones are:

Equality vs Inequality. That's the biggest difference; the one I will never get used to. In Denmark, the entire middle 95% have essentially the same quality of life. Success isn't rewarded like it is here, and yet this doesn't really bother Danes. Surprisingly, the "poor" (who make more money than the median US household income, mind you) still bitch and moan about how the "system" is out to get them. And boy, I would never even be able to say something like this in Denmark without getting funny looks. So it sounds like I would prefer the US system, but I don't. The inequality is everywhere. Unfairness is everywhere, every day in the ER.

Religion. Americans don't realize this. Scandinavians notice it immediately.

Politics. Just two parties and nasty us-versus-them partisanism. It seems like Danes love discussing politics, whereas Americans get tight sphincters if you ask them who they voted for. Probably a product of the two-party system in America, which few people seem to question.

But here are some smaller differences.

Amateur sports. Open the locan paper in N├Žstved, Denmark, and the sports pages will be about the local adult amateur teams. Some of these teams are semi-pro, sure, most mostly it's regular working folk playing national level handball (olympic handball to you North Americans), soccer, tennis or badminton or what have you. Open the same size local paper here and there are almost identical articles about kids' sports. Danes are unable to comprehend how big kids' sports are here. If a local kids' team is excelling nationally in Denmark, it leads to some coverage in the paper or local TV news, but you can't compare it to the focus on kids' sports here. You could take any of the local high school track teams in La Crosse and they would probably be able to beat every single junior track team in Denmark (except maybe two or three). But then kids graduate from high school and college and it just drops off. A top Division 3 college sprinter can go from being, essentially, a full time athlete to an old man after outdoor nationals his senior year. This topic could fill 10 blog posts, so I'll leave it there.

Pro sports. Wisconsin has the Packers, Bucks, Brewers and... I dono't know, maybe a female basketball team,? There used to be semi-pro basketball league. In the summer there is minor league baseball in maybe 10 cities. Let's say around 10 pro sports teams. Denmark has, what, 200 pro teams in a number of sports. I don't get it. One could argue that college sports fill that role in Wisconsin, but it's still interesting. I should mention that both Wisconsin and Denmark have populations of about 6 million.

Public radio. I love public radio here as do most people I talk to. Wisconsin has Wisconsin Public Radio, whose programs are partly produced by NPR. Denmark has 5 public radio stations and at least two of those are far from popular. What gives?

The price of food. Not a subtle difference, but still. It blows my mind that I drive to work and my dinner is a 99 cent burrito from Taco Bell. 99 cents! And I get full from this burrito.

Hmm, there are more but the Girl is home...


PiccolaPineCone said...

Certainly I have been struck by the uniformity in standard of living for the vast majority of Danes that you & SLG describe in your respective blogs. I found the same thing, to a somewhat lesser extent in Italy. It seemed that everyone, regardless of their job, had an income of approximately 1000-1500 euro per month.

What about obesity levels? Much less in Denmark I would guess??

What about happiness and life satisfaction? I seem to recall that one of the Scandinavian countries (or possibly the Netherlands) had one of the highest rates of happiness in the world despite having very little sun. On the other hand I think Finland has really high rates of suicide??

p.s. wow it has become really challenging to leave comments on blogger, this is my third attempt to prove I am not a 'bot, after this I am giving up.

Fast Bastard said...

Well, PPC, you'll most likely be surprised by this but Canada and Italy have almost identical income inequality. Both have GINI indices of 32. Denmark is a little more equal than that at 29, whereas Sweden is the most equal country in the world at 23.

The US is by far the least equal country in the wealthy west at 45 but is quite equal compared to most emerging countries.

It is true that Denmark was deemed the happiest country in the world a few years ago and there were all kinds of strange "Denmark specials" on CNN and BBC. Some skeptics felt that it was a matter of how the surveys were translated and that the Danes answered that they were content moreso than happy. We Danes were certainly surprised to how happy we were.

A huge difference between the US and the rest of the Western world is the lack of universal health insurance. The doctors at my hospital - the doctors - have a $2000 yearly deductible and a 20% copay. Having a baby costs $6000 in cash. Most American families are just one back pain or Hodgkin's lymphoma away from financial trouble. It causes a lot of stress that Canadians and Europeans never experience. Of course, if you are healthy, you get to keep more of your income in the US, which encourages personal responsibility and promotes health.

There is never an easy answer.

PiccolaPineCone said...

I am surprised that canada & Italy have equal Gini coefficients. I first learnt about that statistic after a business trip to Brazil (gini coefficient 53.9 and boy is it ever evident everywhere).
The stress of providing health care for one's family is tangible every time I go to the US to visit family. I know many an american who stick with unsatisfactory, underpaid jobs bc of the health care coverage. Do you really think it encourages Americans to be healthy though? I would guess (to lazy to research) that Americans are not healthier than Canadians where health care is "free" (front page story in the newspaper today about patients giving cardiologists envelopes full of cash for preferential treatment in the public system)

johny said...

The US is by far the least equal country in the wealthy west at 45 but is quite equal compared to most emerging countries.


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