Why did the Dane cross the road?
Denmark was recently rated the most peaceful country in the world and, apart from a recent rampage by a crazed gun-wielding Islamist hoping for his share of the virgins, the evidence lies in witnessing the fiercely law-abiding behaviour of the Danes. They follow the law to the letter and seem to find it hard to comprehend that anyone would consider disobeying the rules and regulations. There are not quite so many rules and regulations as there are in the UK, for example, so it’s easier to be a law-abiding citizen in Denmark. The regulations range from standing to the right on escalators to keeping a safe following distance on the motorway. Some interpret these regulations in their own way such as standing on the escalator gripping the hand rail to the right, but positioned in the middle of the step so that no-one can pass. I tend to be the type of person who will obey if there is a reasonable justification to do so. For instance, I don’t walk near the propeller of an aeroplane standing on the runway. Besides the area being cordoned off with hazard tape, there’s also a good chance that I could die if the engine suddenly coughed into life by some cruel twist of fate. I will also obey the red “don’t walk” sign on a busy double-carriageway, as I don’t fancy having my day ruined by being hit by a truck. That look of flying through the air screaming, arms and legs flailing is just no good at all for my metrosexual image…or the health for that matter.
The Danes, however, will wait patiently for the green man to illuminate, even if there’s no car in sight, before stepping a toe across the line. I have learned that even this can be hazardous in Denmark, as you run the risk of being hit by a speeding cyclist trying to beat the red light. They do make it easier for impatient people by displaying a countdown of the seconds until the green man makes an appearance. I prefer to use a largely forgotten skill called ‘common sense’. Look one way, then the other, then back again and, if there’s no apparent danger, cross the road. There was the incident in Kolding, a sleepy town in the sleepy Jutland region of Denmark. My family and I were waiting to cross a small cobbled street in the centre of the town. Seeing no vehicles approaching, we crossed the road in spite of the red man sign being illuminated and could hear the muttered disapproval of the Danes as they witnessed this flagrant disregard for the law. Perhaps they were just jealous that they didn’t think of it first.
While working in Berlin some years ago, I noticed that they have two types of red and green walk/don’t walk signs – or ‘Ampelmännchen’ as they are called there. I found out that the more full-figured red and green men (although to be fair they could probably be women in hats too) had come from the days before the Berlin wall came down and belonged to East Germany whilst the more trimly proportioned men were from West Berlin. It seems that there has been a long-running argument about which Ampelmännchen should be adopted as the standard for new pedestrian crossings across the city. I guess, with the modern trend towards health and fitness, that the lean Ampelmännchen should be encouraged over their fat East German cousins. Besides which, the East German sign for don’t walk is a red man in a hat with his arms outstretched signifying: ‘NEIN! You shall not cross ziss road now!’ This, of course, is more in keeping with the aggressive nature of the culture.
When travelling on the motorway in Denmark, it’s always the Danish vehicles that will travel at exactly the right speed and at exactly the right following distance while foreign cars zip past at breakneck speeds trying hard to turn the smiley face speed detector sign at the side of the road into a scowling face. I’m not saying that all Danes are fiercely law-abiding, but a country that’s rated as the most peaceful country in the world has to earn that reputation somehow and it starts with having faith in the authorities and obeying the sometimes debatable rules and regulations.
Why did the Dane cross the road? Because the green man gave permission to do so.
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