Seeing Double: A Dispatch From Abroad
Dated April the Thirteenth, in the Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Twenty-One
While most Amherst students spend their semester tranquilly matriculating within the warm embrace of these United States of America, I have been living abroad. I’ve always wanted to dedicate a portion of my life to helping those needy billions who live outside our borders, and the experience has been a revelation. Although I have spent little more than two months abroad, already it feels like two lifetimes. In my time in a foreign land, I have touched and transformed the lives of many paupers, destitute in both body and mind. Yet in reality, through their simple outlook and honest gratitude, the God-forsaken people of Denmark have transformed me far more than I them.
I have accrued a comprehensive perspective on Danish identity over the course of my stay. Some less worldly readers might question whether one could gain such a deep perspective in a few months, but I would cite Alexis de Tocqueville, who sojourned less than a year in the United States and used the experience to compose one of the most renowned volumes ever written about the American identity. I can only hope that this essay achieves some measure of that same notoriety.
My first vivid memory of Denmark came as I drove from the airport and saw all the quaint little houses with specially sloped roofs. A native informed me that this building design decreased energy consumption by over 50 percent.
“Fifty percent?” said I, “But where does the rest go?”
The native tried to convey his meaning, but in his enthusiasm, he reverted into his guttural mother tongue, replete with ungainly phrases like “carbon neutral” and “photovoltaic.” It was then that I realized that I was not in the proverbial Kansas anymore.
O reader, try not to blemish this page by shedding a tear over the plight of poor Denmark. For, the Danes have always preferred a simple life, with affordable preschool and generous government pensions. What is still more astounding than this Danish lifestyle is that they seem happy with their lot. Although I wished with all my heart to bring true American civilization to them, I knew that they were not yet ready for the beneficent touch of ambition and corporate drive. Perhaps when enough American couples, filled with love for their fellow man, decide to adopt Danish orphans, those children can return home as missionaries for a better system.
The Danes even differ in their choice of entertainment. I vividly recall watching an episode of “X Factor,” perhaps Denmark’s most popular reality TV show, in which one finalist had a flight of nerves and proved unable to complete her song. Instead of everyone jumping onto social media and going for the metaphorical jugular, I witnessed the horrific sight of all the contestants running forward and giving the unlucky contestant a mass hug, showering their should-be victim with the sorts of wholesome praise as to make a sensible viewer incontinent. I screamed at the TV for blood, for the figures on screen to amuse me with their misery and despair, but all I saw were tearful thanks and applause. Such is the deplorable state of entertainment in Denmark. At least it still ranks above the entertainment value of that drivel my co-columnist calls writing.
Other travelers to Denmark might note a peculiarity of Danish culture: Dollars can actually buy far less here than they do in the States. In this, the Danes differ from the rest of the Global South. Were a Dane to somehow find their way across the Atlantic and purchase goods in the U.S., they might find themselves in a similar position as an American in, say, Turkey. The sheer irony of this scenario will doubtless tickle the sensibilities of my American readers.
At this point, I began to feel a sense of disquiet regarding the contents of my travelogue. Was I becoming just another slum tourist, seeking to shock myself through the plight of those below me? In search of more high-minded sights, I began to examine politics in Denmark. I had the good fortune to witness an anti-lockdown rally, but rather than the rip-roaring violent entertainment I expected, I found Danish political engagement distressingly sterile. Only a half dozen protesters had bothered to show up, and they merely stood passive and unarmed in a small park, staring placidly at the perplexed onlookers. I felt as though I were watching sheep gape at other, slightly more assertive sheep.
As my sojourn here in the Far North comes to an end, I admit to an overwhelming sense of affection for the people in this little patch of the world. I am certain the feeling is mutual; as far as the locals are concerned, I have become a Dane. In my elderly years, as I sit smoking my pipe in the American utopia, I shall look back with fondness on the days I spent in that Godless, yet innocent realm.