I’d long suspected it, and during my time living Danishly, I’d become convinced of itadmits Helen Russell, the author of The Year of Living Danishly (available from the Telegraph Bookshop).
But now it’s a scientific fact: a survey conducted by the University of Zürich has shown that Danes are the most shameless people in the world. A mere 1.62 per cent of Danes suffer from gelotophobia - fear of ridicule - the lowest proportion of the population in any country surveyed. In the UK, we have the highest number of people with the phobia. As a Brit who was also raised a Catholic and went to an all-girls school, I’m practically a lost, hyper-repressed cause. So moving to Denmark proved quite the eye opener. From the encouragement of office-based sing-alongs to a large emphasis on public nudity and a big appreciation for alcohol, Danes seem to be raised utterly uninhibited.
Take school, for example. From the age of six, Danish children participate in a national curriculum sex week to learn how babies are made and by the age of 13, they’ve covered everything from masturbation to transgender rights in frank and open discussions. Having learned about sex from Judy Blume’s Forever and Lady Chatterley’s Lover in my own formative years because our biology teacher blushed beetroot at the mere mention of stamen, this was a revelation. Danish children are also taught to question authority and speak their minds – without worrying about what other people think.
During my adolescence in 1990s British suburbia, swimming was something to be avoided whenever possible. The crushing embarrassment of displaying sprouting pubescent bodies drove many a teen to fake notes from their parents to get out of class and I spent a good 50 per cent of my time on the claggy poolside bench on ‘float-duty’. But not in Denmark. Here, exercise is mandatory, showers are communal and a supervised naked scrub-down is expected of all swimmers before entering the pool. Family nudist nights are not uncommon and many of the beaches along Denmark’s 7,000 km of coastline are clothing-optional.
… Family nudist nights are not uncommon and many of the beaches along Denmark’s 7,000 km of coastline are clothing-optional.
Once they hit 16, Danes can drink, consuming 11 litres of pure alcohol per person per year, according to the World Health Organisation - something that’s bound to stave off shame. At least until morning. And because Denmark still has student grants (remember them?), anyone over the age of 18 is paid to study - for as long as they like. Lubricated, uninhibited and happy to live like a student until their 30s, in some cases, it’s no wonder Danes are so relaxed.
When Danes do make it to the workplace, the fun continues. Birthdays are marked with lots of singing and special man-shaped cakes - everyone screams when you behead the cakeman. Danish celebrations are not for shrinking violets. Many workplaces have leisure clubs or associations attached and several in my area also boast their own office band. Guitars are whipped out at every opportunity and communal music making with Lars from accounts is considered a perfectly normal hygge (‘relaxed’, ‘friendly’ or ‘cosy’) time.