14 December 2013

Compassion? Look under imported goods

Once, when I got a nasty cough, the doctor prescribed a strange powdery inhalant. At the pharmacy, they insisted I try it out on the spot, to be sure I understood the procedure. Immediately after I felt dizzy, and I just wanted to get home fast, and pass out. I crossed the street with my bike, unable to ride it, and got about ten steps down a crowded street, before I had to sit down on the ground. So embarrassing. People walked by, pretending not to see me. When their children turned to look, and showed the proper response, they were pulled along.

I managed to wobble into a backyard, to hide my humilation and lie down. This was in December. Finally, someone approached me to ask if I was alright. From his appearance (and the fact that he spoke to me in English, of course) I could tell he was not a native Dane. He was friendly and concerned, and did not accept my reassurance that I was fine, and just needed to lie down. He stuck around for a while, keeping an eye on me, and that made me feel oddly safe.

This was years ago, and I remember feeling so disappointed in my countrymen. A friend of mine pregnant with twins, no less, said she had encountered something similar. Ugh. Last night my shawl got entangled in the back wheel, and I was locked to my bike. I called out to ask if anyone had scissors or a knife, but the only one who offered to help me out, was a non-Dane. He got his hands messy, and worked really hard to liberate me. Afterwards, I wanted to reward him in some way, and he gave me an exasperated look: “this is so typical of Danes, why should I be rewarded for doing the right thing?” “Where I come from, we look out for each other, and help when it is needed.”

If I am ever in need of assistance and compassion in public, I hope there is a non-Dane around. That’s all I’m saying.

Va rager de maj!

Va rager de maj / I couldn't care less
 

15 comments:

  1. ah, this is exactly the same here. I got once in a situation with my then 7 year old in front of a crowded terrace, and we were really needing a telephone. we got help from a Canadian after 1 hour of people staring at us angrily because we were ruining their nice coffee break. I got once attacked by 3 men in the center of Paris in a small street in a traffic jam at 7 AM. I was behind the garbage truck with people watching all around, what was happening to me. I never got help. My mum fell without being able to get back up and stayed there, in my small home town. my brother fell many times from his wheelchair, once his head was near the road, he stayed 20 minutes like that with cars passing 5 cm from his head before someone offered help.
    Well I guess you cannot count on the French to help you either... This tells a lot about Europe I guess.

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    1. That's horrible?! I wonder if it as you say is a European thing, not just a Danish one? But then again I was helped out by the sweetest Frenchmen, that time on the train and that stays with me. After I wrote this blog post, we started talking about it on my Danish Twitter account, and the examples of this behavior keeps pouring in. I think it is a good thing to address it and try to be aware, so we can get our act together.

      Besides, helping others is such a gratifying feeling. Why miss out on that?

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    2. Sandra, that story on the train is a huge mystery to all of us. I was so baffled that I told every body around me and they all were really amazed that something like that could happen in France. Luckily French people are not ALL horrible. Then I try to be super nice when I see somebody angry coming at me or when I see a tourist in need... Trying to balance things out...

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    3. I try to balance it out too. It is the only way we can change things, by starting with ourselves. : )

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  2. Hey Sandra, loved the article. As a non-Dane living in DK for over 12 years, I can relate.
    Solidarity and compassion are two things Danes should learn. Maybe one day...

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    1. It looks like you may have to teach us. Immigrats/expats and exhange students may have to lead the way. I am so happy to have you around. : )

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  3. I needed help once and I was lucky enough that there was an italian guy around :-) Solidarity and compassion are reduced on paying taxes and charity. I used to be a fan of scandinavian model of welfare state, but now, after five years actually living in that, I think that it reduces individual responsibility and human relationships. Don't want to be too critique, nowhere is perfect :-)

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    1. Wow, you took the words right out of a good friends mouth. He calls it the "Big Mother" effect, no one bears any responsibility, besides paying taxes and let someone else take care of it.

      It is crippling to a society, I believe that you (and he) are right. But paying taxes and the occasional donation to charity, does not exempt you from acting like a human being, and assuming some personal responsibility. I am so happy that you too found a foreigner to lean on. : )

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  4. I never noticed, but that might explain why people look surprised when I offer help. I don't understand how anyone can miss out on this: helping out someone out of the blue always make my day! And well, I'm French... I think in France it might depend on the area. People are very friendly and helpful in Northern France, for instance. Maybe not that much in Paris. Could it be a "capital" effect? Aren't Danes more helpful outside Copenhagen?
    Maybe a bit of shyness could also explain the lack of helping? People seem to have a very strict sense of personal space around here.

    Anyway, when I see such nice initative as "cykling uden alder", I see a great deal of hope too.

    Or when I read your blog :-) Tak for det!

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    1. I definitely think there is such a thing as a "capital effect". And I do agree that helping others out, and doing something good in general, is madly rewarding. As for the personal space, I know what you are talking about, and I have it too, but it should not be an excuse for not helping out someone in need.

      Cykling uden alder is a really cool project, and it is now spreading to other parts of the world. So exciting. : )

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    2. Oh, and you are welcome. Haha.

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  5. I am sorry about these experiences- that is absolutely terrible and I am hoping that it is not a negative trend! Although I never needed help in the same way as you did, I had always found the people that I worked with very helpful (but maybe because they were surrounded by foreigners so they had no choice ;) ). One thing that I did notice, though, was the lack of personal greeting between strangers in Danish society. Heck, I talk to EVERYBODY and I think that I spent my time in DK freaking everyone out ;) I should have worn a Canadian t-shirt all the time, maybe it would have helped! xox to you!

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    1. We can learn so much from immigrants/foreigners/expats/exchange students. I am glad that you stuck with greeting people, haha, I am the same. Eventually we will learn, I am sure.

      Imagine someone made a TV show, staging these incidents, and then secretly filming the response. Or non-response, as I predict. All kinds of scenarios could be played out. What if it was a pregnant woman? What if it is a child? A disabled person? How low can you go? It could spark a healthy debate.

      Hugs your way. : )

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  6. There is actually a TV program in Spain where they did that experiment with a hidden camera, for example in a bar where a blind person was being robbed by someone next to him and they filmed people's response in a bar at the capital and in another bar in a small village. In the capital, people noticed about the situation but no Spanish people helped him or did anything at all, just a tourist stood up to defend the blind man. But in the village, all local people defended the man and threatened the fake robber to call the police. So I also believe that people get more distant and careless in big cities and capitals.

    My own experience is, so far, very good. I fell from my bike very badly 2 years ago -fractured hip- and a young man carried me in his arms to my home (it was 2 streets away) while another girl took my bike with us. But... it was in Roskilde. In Copenhagen I haven't had any bad experience like that one but I always find people very helpful for example helping me lifting my bike at the train etc...
    Let's hope we have the right people around when needing help anywhere!

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    1. Maybe it is the thing Hydroju (in comment above) calls the capital-effect? It is strange because I feel safe in a big city, where people are around to hear me call out for help. But, what if they just pretend to not hear me? Ugh.

      In some ways I love that I can be left alone in a big city, without feeling alone. Shitty thing is, if it turns out no one cares whether you live or die. Only thing we can do, is start with ourselves. And Copenhagen is full of foreigners and people who moved here from smaller cities. Hopefully they will remain compassionate, like the sweet people in Roskilde, helping you out. I am so glad they did. : )

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