BY SIRI HAARLØV-JOHNSEN
Are you the type of person who always arrives late? Do you like being spontaneous and taking things day by day? Does the idea of owning a calendar filled with meetings and appointments instantly turn you off? If the answer is yes, then let’s just say that if it was up to Tinder, you and Denmark probably wouldn’t be an ideal match.
In Denmark, everyone is terribly punctual and terrifically busy. Danes are punctual to the point that it hurts. In fact, they will most probably arrive not just on time, but ahead of time. The expression fashionably late doesn’t even exist in the Danish language. But how did the Danes become so punctual?
Being Busy is Trendy
I believe that Danish punctuality is a result of the national trend of having busy schedules. Take university students for instance; it is not uncommon to see them juggling course timetables with volunteering, sports, jobs and a social life, all at once.
Indeed, Mandag Morgen, a Danish think tank, has pointed out that 1.9 million Danes over the age of 16 are engaged in voluntary work. That is a lot for a country with only 5 million citizens.
If Danes have their hands tied up with volunteering and a myriad of other appointments, then being punctual suddenly becomes very important. If not, they risk compromising the flow of their busy lives. And maybe if you arrive early, you can leave a little earlier too and even squeeze in an extra activity!
I am convinced that having exhaustingly busy schedules plays a valuable function for the Danish people. Just like in my discussion on jaywalking, I wish to explain this by drawing on the unwritten social Law of Jante, which dictates that Danes must be modest. They must not boast about their achievements nor show off.
My theory is that instead of having to boast directly about all their cool volunteer work and sports achievements, the Danes let their busy schedules do the boasting for them. A busy schedule and a lack of free time to spontaneously hang out serves as a powerful indicator to show that the Danes are occupied with important things, without having to boast about each of their individual activities. If you’re always occupied, you seem popular! Success.
Busyness is the Measure for Success
Being busy has sadly become such a norm that those who have a lot of free time on their hands are sometimes perceived as social outcasts. The Danes often feel restless if they are not busy doing something. For some, busyness has even become the measure of success.
This ideology has recently translated into major educational reform, where politicians urge Danish students to finish their education as soon as possible. You are considered a successful student if you finish your studies without having taken gap years or other sorts of leaves.
Consequences of Arriving Late
I remember I was once having dinner with five of my Danish friends. We were casually browsing through our respective calendars and trying to figure out when we could plan another get together. Finally, we found a date where everyone was available… in three months’ time!
What this means is that when you make a plan with a busy Dane, that Dane has most likely reserved a special timeslot just for you. Once the Dane has done this, he/she will make sure not to take work shifts or engage in other activities during this time. Thus, if you arrive late, Danes will interpret this as taking a piss on the effort they have put into hanging out with you. However, if you arrive on time, you are guaranteed a time slot of concentrated hygge.
So, be nice to Danes and always arrive on time. Because who knows, maybe the next time they’re able to meet you is only in three months’ time! But at the same time, don’t let yourself get forced into leading busy lives like them. I often feel Danes forget how to relax and live in the moment. We need others out there to remind us how to do it and keep us sane!