Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

A Curious Danish Society Standard

The buzz of extra foot traffic and intense police presence didn’t faze Lior Foighel as he toasted rye bread and readied lox for a traditional Danish sandwich.

Outside, it looked like any other gray day in Copenhagen. Colorful rows of houses stood out against the gloomy skies, as did the flowers and the lack of fear.

“I’m not afraid at all,” Foighel said.

Danes, as a whole, are just like Foighel. They aren’t afraid.

Unlike the locals, when I first arrived, I wasn’t so sure of anything. Since arriving jet-lagged and culture-shocked in August, I’ve come to see Copenhagen as a second home. If you were to meet me in the winding streets, I’d be wearing all black, stuffing a pastry in my mouth and attempting to bike all at the same time. I’ve always felt safe here.

My sense of security was temporarily shattered when my phone started buzzing with alert emails about the attack at a blasphemy debate in the Osterbro neighborhood. I tried to nonchalantly dismiss my family and friends’ fears and continue my Valentine’s Day plans unhindered, but after another death outside a synagogue later that night, I was officially afraid.

I thought about the aftermath of the Boston bombing and how rumors led us to fear that the suspect might be fleeing through Georgetown to relatives in Maryland, right across the river. Although I was young at the time, I also remembered the fear we all felt after 9/11 and how community discussions seemed to spread the uncertainty, not quell it. I expected panic in Denmark. I was wrong.

Despite this weekend’s terrorist attack that rattled Denmark and the rest of the world, hysteria is noticeably absent on the streets of the Danish capital. Children dressed up for Fastelavn, the Danish Carnival celebration and frolicked in the streets of Norrebro. Right around the corner, Omar el-Hussein, openly identified as the gunman responsible for killing two and wounding five at a cultural center and a synagogue in Copenhagen, was killed by police early Sunday morning.

Denmark’s societal norm of trust as well as a cohesive national identity are large parts of the lack of fear I’ve seen. And, as an outsider, I’m really impressed.

My Danish teacher hit the nail on the head when she told us that trust is the glue that ties her society together. In 2008, 88.8 percent of Danes responding to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development survey said that they had a high level of trust in others. In the United States, only 48.7 percent felt this same high level of trust. Danes tell me all the time that they would never pay such high taxes if they didn’t trust their neighbors to pay theirs.

Denmark has also historically revolved around a strong national identity. In 1864, when faced with a threat to its very existence in the form of the Second Schleswig War against Prussia and Austria, Denmark was forced to become self-aware and to cultivate what it means to be Danish. Although the country is becoming increasingly diverse, an overarching community identity is comforting. “Hygge,” a Danish word that can’t be directly translated but encompasses concepts of coziness, also encourages a warm, communal environment. Danes light candles and gather together to eat cake and drink tea (this alone makes me want to be Danish) during the cold winter. In this same way, they gather together now to stave off fear.

“I’m so proud of being Danish right now,” Foighel said. If Foighel, a young Jewish man whose own bar mitzvah was defended by the same volunteer guard who was shot outside the synagogue, can be resolute, so can we.

Compared to Danish friends living in Norrebro who likened the surreal scene to an American movie, or to fellow Americans trapped in the streets when public transportation halted and bars went into lockdown after the second shooting, I was unscathed. The proximity was what initially unnerved me — Krystalgade is three blocks from the Danish Institute for Study Abroad, and whenever I dragged myself to the gym last semester and promised to eat no more Danish wienerbrod, I passed el-Hussein’s neighborhood. As I write this, police walk by a window of the cafe, heavily armed. Everything feels a little too close for comfort, but the size of Copenhagen also leads to the remarkable lack of fear I’ve seen.

At the synagogue downtown, chattering teenagers wearing matching scarves lay flowers on top of the already heaping memorial. Others bike slowly by, curious but determined to live their lives again.

I’m no longer afraid, and, for the most part, neither are they.

Kylie Mohr is a junior in the College.

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