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.

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Matt M
Matt M
11 months ago

And they’re paving the way for offshore processing of immigrants despite the squeals from the usual quarters. Brave little Denmark!

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt M
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I also spotted that omission!

Niels Georg Bach
Niels Georg Bach
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Sorry, we don’t wan’t to waste money and social energy on non asylum seekers. Real Asylum seekers are treated generously , suberb accommodation in often high class apartments, free education, health care free living. Knowing that they never will return, we the threat them as immigrants after some years.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
11 months ago

Funny that in all these articles over the last few days, praising Denmark as the uber-tolerant liberal paradise (presumably to contrast it unfavourably with nasty Brexit Britain), not one article has mentioned the fact that Denmark’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of banning the Burqa.
Indeed Boris Johnson’s own “burqa row” started with the article he wrote in response to Denmark passing such an illiberal law.
Johnson was accused of “dog-whistle Islamophobia” because he lampooned the burqa as amusing garb – WHILST DEFENDING THE RIGHT TO WEAR IT. Yet Denmark, who had instituted the ban, got a free pass.
Just another example of the ridiculous double-standards that we’ve come to expect from the UK’s media.

Last edited 11 months ago by Paddy Taylor
Sharon Overy
Sharon Overy
11 months ago

Yeah, yeah, we’re rubbish.

I’m still cheering on England in the footie, and I’ll laugh if a Dane falls over.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Sharon Overy

And if the Danes lose you can run all exited through the street shouting: “King Canute! King Canute can you hear me? Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago

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

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
11 months ago

I had no idea that there’s a football match later today but this is a excellent curtain-raiser now I know. Incidentally Denmark also had a colony in West Africa, the Danish Gold Coast, which was sold to the UK in 1850. Christiansborg castle in Accra was Ghana’s seat of government until very recently.

Stephen Rose
Stephen Rose
11 months ago

The Danes have a reputation for partying hard, even by Nordic/Scandinavian standards. The Finns are no slouches but
they warned me and they were right.
Danes have a strong sense of family and national pride, which we would do well to emulate, not boastful,just confident. They don’t go in for the tedious self laceration that the Brits do.

Renown for metalwork, high tech engineering, optics, glass, silver and ceramics,brewing and bacon!
Culturally they stand up well with great painters of the golden age and one of the finest sculptor of the 19th century in Thorvaldsen. Carl Neilsen is their equivalent of Elgar and worth a listen.
I am somewhat surprised that colonialism is in your plus category!
They came off horribly badly against the Prussians in 1860, drawn into a war they couldn’t win, it proved a psychological turning point for them.
They certainly showed great courage against the Nazis, but one must point out Denmark had a Nazi party and many Royal Danish soldiers defected to the SS, accounts agree some 6000+.
Danes visit the UK quite a bit and are certainly one of the UK’s natural allies, they have forgiven us for the defeat at Copenhagen and should you go there, you’ll receive a warm welcome, they are very hospitable.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago

Denmark also has very good roads, in addition to the cycle lanes. Even in Copenhagen – H. C. Andersens Boulevard is a wide six-lane thoroughfare in the city centre.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
11 months ago

Denmark is such a high trust society that mothers leave their prams outside restaurants — with their babies inside.
I remember when that used to be the case in the UK.

Matt B
Matt B
11 months ago

England 2 – 1 Denmark. An amusing article, and we love (and are partly of) Denmark, but deification of Scandinavia often seems to be a product of wistful nostalgia for a simpler past. There is no Utopia.

Last edited 11 months ago by Matt B
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
11 months ago

What’s the food like?
Rule of thumb: country Catholic, food pretty good; country not Catholic, food pretty bad; country not Christian, food spicy.
Austria’s the Catholic exception that proves the rule.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

You can get good food anywhere these days at the top end – Denmark has some famous top-end restaurants, most famous being Noma. The dining scene in Copenhagen is excellent if you’ve got the cash. Then there are the polser carts …

Joa na Henson
Joa na Henson
11 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Everyday Danish food is delicious. Visit their lical supermarkets….be tempted.

Richard Powell
Richard Powell
11 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

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

David Simpson
David Simpson
11 months ago

Just like to point out that on the World Happiness index (which weirdly counts GDP per capita as a big plus, as if poor(er) people are automatically less happy) the UK comes a very respectable 13th, and is only beaten by 12 rather small and very rich countries. Surprise surprise we’re happier than the Germans, Americans and the French.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago

Greenland is NOT a colony. And an interesting factoid – I once was given the OK to go to Denmark (from the Danes) and join their Army but events came up stopping me… The thing in my life I regret the most…..I sometimes think of how exceedingly different I would be now if I had had that past, in that place, rather than the exceedingly rough and low path I ended up taking…. sigh

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
11 months ago

They also have great cartoonists such as Kurt Westergaard.
Not to mention obligingly scoring England’s first goal for them in the interests of equality.

Niels Georg Bach
Niels Georg Bach
11 months ago

You often forget that we are a High Trust society. Everyone is registered and has a personal id. The british will never accept this. It means that we are a highly IT structured society. Most communication between hospitals, municipiality, the State and the citizens runs through an all compassing e-mail system : E- BOks. Which of course is integrated with banks, insurance and more systems.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
11 months ago

Fun fact. Denmark’s flag is the invers of England’s. I remember a multi-national quiz show in the 80s called Going for Gold. At the start the graphics flashed up flags from all competing countries around Europe. Back then, it seems strange but the cross of St George was an unfamiliar sight (look at the 1966 World Cup final for evidence!).
The producers had decided to use the individual UK nations’ flags. So it was rather confusing to remember the flag with a red cross on a white background was for England – rather than Denmark!

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
11 months ago

If that’s not a totale biased article, I wonder what is.
Sure thing, processing migrants in Rwanda or Egypt or any country foolish enough to accept this fishy business, makes it a great country and a great people……or maybe not.
The lack of corruption makes it a stand out…..but frankly asking migrants to give a deposit to stay or cross the country……I feel the grip of dizziness all of a sudden.
If Denmark loses, there will be collective anti climax in one side……and binge drinking on the other.
Sounds like a ball of fun.