This week I want to reflect a bit on the idea of family, and compare what I know so far of the cultural differences between the US and Denmark.
This sparked from a conversation I had with my host dad. He was shocked to learn that I go to college in Maine which is around 3,000 miles away from where I grew up. He explained how something like this would never happen in Denmark, partial due to the size of the country but also the importance of family. The family has 3 kids, one of them is at a university in Copenhagen, and the other is pursuing post high school education nearby and lives at home. The other is still in primary school. It would only take 30 minutes max from the daughter at university to get home. At the same time, my host dad’s two brothers nearby as well as his mom and dad.
He continued to explain the importance of social connections and how important they are to Danes. When thinking about the future people think in the context of what social connections they would have if they moved for a new job or to a new area. I contrasted this with my own sentiment, and this isn’t something that plays as important of a role in my mind. I think this applies to other Americans as well. In the context of education, students in high school often work really hard to get into college and will sometimes move across the country to go to a certain college or university. The idea that the education with provide opportunities for jobs and future independence is enticing. This ideal reflects the American dream of hard work leading to success. With this often comes an individualistic mindset that one needs to achieve success for themselves in order to garner familial and societal acceptance.
This past weekend I went to a housewarming dinner with my host family. I was astounded how many members of the family were there. The table was set for around 25 people, and my host dad’s brothers, mom, dad and cousins were all there. This wasn’t even a huge holiday but rather a celebration of someone buying their first house. It was very special to witness.
After college, people might find a job near their college or in a surrounding big city. People go where the jobs and opportunities are found, and often don’t prioritize the value of social connections. Not to say one can’t make and meet new friends but moving to a new city is often a daunting and isolating experience. It is more common for families to be spread out in the US, where for example a brother lives in New York, another brother in California, and the sister in North Dakota. As a result there is greater spatial distance which prevents families from getting together as often. Maybe they see each other only during holiday or maybe even less. Denmark has been ranked as one of the worlds happiest countries, and I’m starting to wonder how much the closeness of family plays into it.
Important disclaimer: this reflection is based on my conversation with my host family, and my own experiences with family in the US, so it isn’t a complete picture.