Thursday, 22 November 2012

How to be Danish by Patrick Kingsley: Meatballs and jumpers

A famous Dane
"The king doth wake to-night and takes his rouse,
Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels;
And, as he drains his draughts of Rhenish down,
The kettle-drum and trumpet thus bray out
The triumph of his pledge." (Hamlet)

 To Elsinore! I cried to my squire as he saddled up my raging steed. The sledded Polacks were attacking, and it was time to do some smiting... Well, maybe not quite. To the Danish Embassy! I cried, rather grandly, to my cabbie, who said he thought it was somewhere near Harrods, which it was. Of course I am not always popping in and out of embassies - I was there for a reason, which was to celebrate the launch of Patrick Kingsley's book, How to be Danish.

He wrote it having wept after seeing the first episode of The Killing, and was soon drawn into the friendly, social democratic world that is Denmark, where knitted jumpers are fashionable, and judges earn two and a half times what a cleaner does. Everybody gets a chance to chill out in their teens, and they are the happiest people in the world. Or are they? These were the questions delved into as Patrick chatted to journalist Jenni Russell, and fielded by the ambassador, Anne Hedensted Steffensen, who greeted us warmly (though not wearing a jumper) as we entered the ambassadorial residence, which combined quite severe style with some odd little quirks. The Danes, suggested Patrick, became much more community based after their empire collapsed, and they realised that the only people they ruled were themselves. A lesson for Britain?

It's not all good, though; the Danes have their own problems of social cohesion and immigration, but they certainly make good meatballs, and a pretty marvellous soup, at the bottom of which lurks something that looks a bit grisly but turns out to be another sort of meatball. I must confess that I have never seen The Killing, or any Danish drama; but having spent a couple of hours on Danish soil, I shall certainly seek them out, and look to Patrick's book as an excellent guide. Although, as I left, I did hope for a little bit - just a tiny bit - more wassailing.


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