by Ed West
Wednesday, 7
July 2021
Idea
07:00

Fifteen reasons why Denmark is the best country in the world

England's semi-final opponents come from a truly blessed plot
by Ed West
The great Danes. Credit: Getty

Most of you are probably unaware that there is a football tournament going on right now, and that on today England play Denmark.

Presumably everyone will want Denmark to win; having lost their first two games, and with their star player almost dying on the pitch, they have the best story arc of any football champions since, well, Denmark won it in 1992.

But there are lots of other reasons to cheer on this small Scandinavian country, which is remarkable in many ways.

1. It’s the least corrupt country in the world 

Danish diplomats at the UN in New York always used to pay their parking fines, which is often used as a test of how corrupt a political culture is, since until 2002 diplomats didn’t have to.

2. It is the second happiest country on earth

(And male suicides have almost halved in a decade).

3. The Danes are very impressive at infrastructure building…

… and now they’re going to build an enormous artificial island in Copenhagen. In Britain that would take us 80 years to get done.

4. Copenhagen is the best place to cycle 

As with Amsterdam, this was the result of a conscious decision taken in the 1970s when car use was at its highest point — as were road deaths. They built hundreds of miles of segregated cycle lanes and the majority of people cycle to work…

5. … and when they get there Danes work very few hours, which might explain: 

6. King Canute

Probably one of our finest kings; sure he was bloodthirsty and ruthless in his youth, and cut off some people’s ears in Kent and blinded some other people, but he grew up to be a wise and effective ruler of Denmark, Norway and England.

Also, his point about telling the waves to go back was probably a joke on his sycophants, but one that backfired spectacularly.

7. Vikings

The Danes conquered England in 1016 but they probably fought on the English side at the Battle of Hastings. There is some evidence to suggest that the king of Denmark was alarmed enough about the Normans that he sent troops to help King Harold. There were, of course, hundreds of “settled Danes”, the descendants of Vikings who had settled in the Danelaw and whom by now were becoming English. King Harold himself had a Danish mother. More famously, Viking settlements in Yorkshire and the east Midlands had a huge influence on our language.

8. It ‘punched above its weight’ historically

For a tiny country, Denmark had a surprisingly big empire, with colonies in India, and the Caribbean (Alexander Hamilton grew up in the Danish island of St Croix). Iceland was still a colony until 1918, while Greenland still is. The Faroe Islands voted for independence but they never got around to actually leaving.

9. However… 

… imperialism aside, Denmark was the first country to abolish the slave trade, in 1792.

10. Renewables

Yes, it’s boring but Denmark is a world leader in wind power — almost half of its energy now comes from the renewable source.

11. Trust 

Denmark is such a high trust society that mothers leave their prams outside restaurants — with their babies inside. In Britain, social services would be on your case for that.

12. Even more trust

Likewise, it’s far more common for children to walk around unaccompanied there, while here you’d assume they were feral “hoodies” about to pull a knife on you. (Okay, maybe that’s just me).

13. 

Lego.

14. The men are very popular!

In the 10th century it was observed how Englishwomen weren’t entirely put off by Viking men, who unlike the English washed their hair. Today it seems Danish men are still something of an attraction, providing “almost half of all non-British male reproductive material imported into the country”, in the poetic language of the fertility industry.

15. On a more serious note…

… England fans are not shy of mentioning a certain 20th century conflict, but Denmark’s story under Nazi occupation is remarkable, as Dominic Sandbrook narrates in his excellent new children’s book on the Second War:

When King Christian X heard that the Nazis wanted Denmark’s Jews to wear the yellow star, he said that, in that case, all Danes should wear one, whether Jewish or not. But in the autumn of 1943, a decent German official called Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz found out that the Nazis were planning to round up the Danish Jews and send them to the death camps. Duckwitz tipped off Denmark’s politicians and in the next few days they prepared a rescue plan. Denmark’s Jewish population was small: just eight thousand or so. If they could get to neighbouring Sweden, which had stayed out of the war, they would be safe. But how could they do it without the Germans noticing?

At the end of September, the Danish leaders had a word with the Jews’ religious leader, the Chief Rabbi. On the morning of the 29th, the Rabbi told his congregation that they should go home, pack their bags and tell their friends. The Danes would take care of the rest. Two days later, when the SS burst into Jewish homes in the capital, Copenhagen, they found them deserted. The occupants had vanished. All over the country, ordinary people had taken Jewish families into their homes, hiding them in cellars and attics, back rooms and summer houses. Like their King, they saw it as ‘a human and a national duty’ to help their neighbours in their hour of need.

- Dominic Sandbrook, Adventures in Time

The vast majority of the country’s population reached safety in Sweden, brought over by ordinary Danish men and women, who had got together in an extraordinary fashion.

Join the discussion


  • These generous blurbs about opponent countries always appear when England thinks they’re going to win.

  • Ireland and Poland in the 70s and 80s were both intensely Catholic and I’ve never had worse food except in Nigeria.

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