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But why are they the happiest people?

American mainstream media has been a wee bit obsessed with the happiness of Denmark this past year. Since I'm an American currently living in the supposedly blissed-out Scandinavian paradise, I've been trying to uncover why this (somewhat incorrect) assumption has been made. Maybe it has something to do with comfort in gender identity and ambiguity.

There's a long tradition of using gender-bending characters in Danish comedy, but their growing prominence on TV has made me pay attention to some recent (otherwise unremarkable) commercials. In several ads that regularly show up on my television, multiple roles of different genders are all played by the same actor. My earliest understanding of this phenomenon dates to a now-defunct TV show in which male comedians Rune Klan & Mick Øgendahl regularly appeared in drag.

More recently, Denmark's mass transit/train system starting running commercials in which both male and female characters are played by the same actor. If that isn't mainstream acceptance, it's hard to say what is.

Most entertaining to me are ads for appliance store Skousen. You have to look closely to even realize it's the same actress, but I assure you it is. In the third one, also check out how similar all the choir members look.

I have yet to uncover any particular reason why Danes queer gender identities for comedic purposes. When I ask my Danish friends, they sort of shrug, unaware that this isn't particularly common elsewhere. "Why does this happen?" "Um...it's funny?" What do you think? Why do you think this happens, and does it say anything particular about the acceptance of gender neutrality? Or does it just appear to be more offensive stereotyping?

*Fun fact: the voice of "Harry," the purple muppet in the train commercials, is voiced by the woman who plays all the Skousen characters.

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Danes, Humor, and Happiness

Hello from a fellow American ExPat in Denmark!

I've been surprised at how much the U.S. press has been singing the praises of Denmark as "the happiest place on earth." Danes certainly seem content -- the social system provides for most basic needs, and there's little cultural pressure to excel or achieve great heights. In fact, doing exceptionally well or being very ambitious is rather frowned upon--which helps keep stress levels low. But I wouldn't classify Danish cluture as a happy culture -- there's not an especially vibrant spirit here, nor are people especiallly joyful. There's a sort of settled complacency that is comfortable, but I'm not sure that's how I would define happiness. For instance, when I think of the native Hawaiian culture, there's a lot more joy and happiness there, even though there is also more poverty and social strain.

As far as humor and gender identity goes, I think the Danes simply find these commericals funny. It seems to me that many European culturals have a fondness for low-brow humor. Slapstick comedy and site-gags play well here, and the cross-dressing technique is always good for a laugh.

Also, the culture is very homogenous, so there's not a lot of variety in appearance. In CPH people dress amazingly alike, aren't very self-expressive in public, and certain keep PDA and other phsyical gestures to a minimum. Maybe it's funny then, to see something so flamboyant on TV. (Whereas in my hometown, Seattle, cross dressing and gender flexibitly is an everyday occurance on the street. So it doesn't have as much as a shock value when used in humor.)

That being said, there doesn't seem to be much hype around gender identity, sexual orientation, and the like. Danes are very live-and-let-live about things Americans tend to politicize, and they are certainly more at ease and natural about sex in general.