Courtesy of Joanne Dowds MISCP
One of my colleagues asked prior to my leaving on a 5 week immersion in the Danish healthcare system if i was anxious about going. As a social introvert I oscillate between loquacious and mute depending on my energy levels and volume of alcohol. Aside from having to perform an icebreaker, it has been a great, busy few weeks. The Danes have it sorted. Not only is their healthcare one of the best in the world, they are also right up there with the happiest country as measured by the WHO, just pipped to the post last year by near neighbours Finland. Why they are so happy? Denmark is a similar sized land mass, population and weather to Ireland but not the landscape. One of my local guides pointed to the highest mountain in Denmark and at 147m, it is an Irish hill, a small one at that. My sense of it is they are a relaxed, trusting but exact people. If they say something they mean it , a restaurant closing at 9.30 will ask you to leave at 9.31, very well fed (it is the land of Noma) but punctual. There is no bending of the rules, for anyone. It builds trust, the people expect to receive what they have been told they will get. There is also a generous social welfare, a strong volunteer sector and another concept which was completely new to me- hygge. Hygge is hard to describe but easy to feel. A sense of settling, belonging, comfort or safety. Being Danish they have a few techniques to help develop hygge efficiently- lighting, candles preferably. It explains the gorgeous light fittings and lamps to be found everywhere. A comfortable chair or welcoming space to be in, there is a nook in every room I have entered, art hangs everywhere, huge windows both for light and the connection to the outside. While hygge can be generated alone it can also be the effect of good company and the best when a group share an activity together. The group that I am traveling with, all healthcare professionals from different countries , were invited to a Danish house to sample hygge up close. It was a lovely evening helped along by sampling local delicacies and schapps! One of the delicacy’s in question is solaeg or salted eggs- hard boiled eggs placed in heavily salted water for several weeks. Yes, weeks. This turns the yoke a dark blue black colour held by an antique lace coloured white. They smell like long forgotten trainers. A half egg dabbed with mustard, tabasco and vinegar all in one mouthful followed by a shot of schnapps. I wretched my way through it, swallowing only to be polite. It was the most vile thing I have ever had in my mouth. Imagine the smelliest cheese you have ever eaten left out for a few days to go off a bit more. As a group, it was a fabulous shared experience helped along by the copious walnut schnapps. What i will take away is the sense of welcome, generosity in creature comforts such as food and drink and the sense of togetherness. Danes make plans in their week for such intimate time with family, friends and colleagues. And it is credited as a large part of why they are some of the happiest on earth.
The other thing that has struck me is how active they are, everyone cycles. Including inside in particularly long corridors. Cycle lanes are everywhere and bikes have right of way. If you are in their way, the cyclist will tinkle their bell then cycle over you. Evidence of nudging good health behaviours is plentiful, salads placed directly beside hot food make it more likely to chosen rather than the extra steps to get to the salad bar. Exercise equipment outside work places including staff canteens and lots of private facilities for training. My Danish stretches to Hi! and Tak! so to have an yoga studio with English language classes 70m from my hotel was irresistible. A fair bit intimidating too but my desire to go outweighed myterror of looking like a tool so I ploughed on in and sweated through a fortnight of classes. I loved it and the studio couldn’t have been more
While the UK were on the couch watching their royal wedding the Danish Crown prince turned 50, to celebrate there were a series of runs organised in 5 towns and citys where he ran a mile in each and watched his subjects complete 10k runs. In the fifth and final run in Copenhagen he and his entire family did the 10k. What a way to get the populous moving. Run with royalty!
There is also expanses of coast line with pristine beaches. The weather has been relentlessly glorious, at every opportunity I have hopped into the Danish Straits – the Danes tell me it is still too cold but with the water temp at 14C it is a good bit warmer than the Irish sea. So yes it is a work trip but like my hosts I am pursuing a good work-life balance while shopping for new light fittings.