I arrived in Los Angeles four weeks ago. This is my first time in the U.S. It took me nearly 16 hours to go from the little airport near my hometown in Denmark to land in the City of Angels. That’s 16 hours of travel, 10 degrees temperature difference, and nine hours time difference.
I started my time in the U.S. with a three-week road trip through California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah together with a friend. We started our road trip exploring Los Angeles and there is where we had our first culture shock.
We had booked a hostel in downtown LA, and within the first hour of our stay three different people told us not to go outside after dark. During our road trip we found out that almost every city we went to has a certain area where it isn’t safe to go outside at night and especially not alone. We don’t have anywhere in Denmark where you can’t go outside at night, so we got a little surprised.
In Aarhus, where I live, I always ride my bicycle home alone at night and I have nothing to worry about. This is the same in Copenhagen and everywhere else you go. We don’t have much crime in Denmark, and it is really rare that people get assaulted by just being outside at night.
I think this is because Denmark has the highest trust level in the world. Seventy-eight out of 100 Danes say they trust other people; compare that to Brazil, where only three out of 100 say they trust others. Danes trust the state, police, media and even strangers. Of course, we also have criminals and bad people in Denmark, but you expect strangers to be nice people until otherwise proven.
To describe how much people actually trust each other in Denmark: People often give the example of how many Danes leave their children sleeping in a stroller outside when they go to a restaurant or a store.
People who live in the countryside in Denmark often have little unmanned shops by the street with vegetables and fruit where you can put your money in a little box, and the owner of the shop always pick up a box full of money when the shop closes.
As I told you in my last column, Denmark is the happiest country in the world and many Danish professors argue that it is because we trust each other. We trust each other because we have a welfare state and we have a welfare state because we trust each other, they say.
I have never really thought about this before, but after moving to the U.S., I actually understand that kind of thinking. The thing about having to be a little afraid going outside at night makes you worried, and worrying doesn’t make you happy. I feel much more safe living in Denmark, and I think that is a shame.
Mathilde Rousseau Bjerregaard is an editorial intern with San Diego Community Newspaper Group, who is from Aarhus, Denmark. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.