It’s kind of strange how some things we attribute to a culture can easily be explained by public policy.
One of the first questions I wanted to learn how to ask in Danish was “do you need help?” As much as I’d like to believe that’s because I’m just such a sweet and caring person, it’s really because I found myself wanting to say it all the time, especially on public transport.
In the US, about 30% of the people on the bus are absolutely insane. Like, bath-salts eat-your-face insane. We ignore them. Everyone else is just a person trying to get home and not get their face eaten. Those of us in this category are generally pretty nice and cordial towards eachother. Once in a while, due to circumstance or poor planning, one of these people decides to take the bus or subway carrying a giant suitcase or something. Usually someone sees them struggle, and decides to help.
This is why I wanted to learn that phrase here. I’d see someone that seems mostly sane struggling in some way and I’d want to lend them a helping hand. Then, I realized something. I’ve see someone struggling that way every time I’ve taken public transport. Every. Single. Time.
Basically, you can’t take the bus here without running into some lady trying to bring 40 children on board, or carrying 20 bags of groceries or an aquarium or something home. Even excluding bicycles and strollers, there’s just constantly someone in need of assistance on public transport here every time you take it. Yes, some of them are disabled, but most of them are just trying to jam a sofa or into the entrance of the bus by themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the busses and trains are particularly crowded, it’s just that there’s always a person on there who’s doing something strange and intrusive with a space otherwise meant for sitting. It’s weird because you can’t even just try and be in your own place unassumingly because you know you might get your the area by your feet taken away by a very grateful lady and her extra grocery bag.
I thought about why that is. I think it’s because Denmark has made it prohibitively expensive to own a car or to take a taxi. Both of these are ‘luxuries’. This means people engaging in activities that would normally require a car or other special vehicle (such as grocery shopping, moving things from apartment to apartment or even taking a classroom worth of children on an outing) are now encouraged to try and use public transportation for their needs.
After a couple of weeks of this, I’ve stopped offering to help, just because it gets too taxing. Now, I just want to ride from class to the apartment without getting an aquarium to the head. Everyone else can just deal with themselves and I’ll deal with my stuff. I’ve stopped being the helpful American guy and I’ve become… another member of the Danish public transport crowd.
So it begins.