Trump, Greenland and Mette: a story of directness (or rudeness?)

Why is Greenland called this way? And what about Iceland? They actually don’t look like what their names suggest!

This is one of the greatest paradoxes (maybe the greatest of all) about Denmark.

Wait! How do Iceland and Greenland relate to Denmark? The former used to be part of Denmark (until the Germans occupied Denmark, so the Icelanders found it easy to break away). The latter is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.

But have you ever wondered why Greenland that is covered by eternal ice is called “Green-land”? And what about Iceland that its surface is not covered by eternal ice (OK apart from some glaciers) but is called such?

And what does this paradox has to do with the Danes’ behaviour paradox? Polite and kind but direct and rude? Read on to find out!

Paradox #1 explained: green or icy?

Look, we are not historians or geographers. But we dig into the Nordic society and culture. Here is what we found out.

Long story short, Greenland was called this way because when the first settlers from Europe went there they found out there was so much ice all over the place. But they needed more people to be persuaded to come and settle there that they decided to name it Green-land. What an enticing and appealing name, huh? Who would not want to move there? Ask the indigenous Inuit people!

On the other hand, Iceland’s name is also deceiving and was made up for exactly the opposite reason. The myth says that there was an ancient man living on the island that did not want other people from far across the sea to settle there. Who would want to settle to a place called this way? Land of ice? Travellers deterred. Mission accomplished.

Whatever the real reasons, one is for certain: Greenland is not green (or at least has not been green yet but yeah, global warming). And Iceland does not have an eternal ice cap.

Speaking of Greenland

There is no way you haven’t heard about the diplomatic row between the US and Denmark. Most specifically, POTUS himself Donald Trump and the whole Kingdom of Denmark.

Long story short, Trump claimed that the US would be interested in buying Greenland from Denmark. Most people thought it was a joke or something not official or um, serious.

It was indeed. And Denmark’s response was ahem, direct to say the least. Former Danish Prime Minister tweeted that this is an untimely April Fool’s Day joke. Ouch! And the new Danish Prime Minister, girl-power Mette Frederiksen, called this proposal “absurd” and that Greenland, the country and its people, are not for sale.

So, Trump cancelled his scheduled visit to Denmark in September, citing that Frederiksen at least saved the US a lot of money from going to Denmark to discuss something that they find is out of the question. Trump’s cancellation was “deeply insulting to the people of Greenland and Denmark,” former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt wrote on Twitter.

Whoa! Too direct? Or even rude? But who? Trump or the Danes? Wicked!

Paradox #2 explained: polite or rude?

The Danes are considered among the most polite and kind people in the world. Well, at least with their actions. And it is true. Make a Dane your friend and you get them for life. They will be there for you to help forever and ever.

But according to several researchers, they do seem rude. And they blame this to the Danes’ directness. Utter directness is one of the first and most important social norms that foreigners in Denmark have to be accustomed to. No offence! Literally! But the Danes are not rude. Rather they sound rude. They score better with their doings than with their sayings. Why is that?

There are three possible reasons why! Read on!

1. they speak excellent English (thumbs up!) but they lack knowledge of social rules in spoken English. Grammar and pronunciation are OK but it’s not enough some times.

2. the intonation of the Danish language is flat. Thus, they sound very serious and direct when they speak English too. So, people take their every English word too seriously (and too literally). They don’t mean anything (from a social point of view).

3. they sometimes translate Danish directly into English but this is not fair for them. They are often misunderstood or their sayings are taken with no grain of salt. You know, in Danish, there are a lot of small words that tone down the directness or seriousness of the speech. But these little words don’t exist in English.

Plus, sarcasm has its birthplace and home address in Denmark. Danes use black humour and sarcasm a lot. In casual and formal occasions alike.

So, don’t be offended if they ask you “Are you fresh?” when you arrive at the office in the morning. It is not about your hygiene or bad breath. It is about how you feel coming to the office so bloody early.

Or if they tell you “Thanks for the foolishness”, don’t take it personally. And when you bump on them on the bicycle lane and they tell you “Are you drunk or what?”, smile and let it go. They don’t really mean it.