An American Momma in Copenhagen - Page 3
I witnessed this custom first hand as I passed a coffee shop in the Latin Quarter. A woman watched the pram with a calm smile from her window-side seat. The baby seemed perfectly safe and the attentive mom looked happy. The whole scene had a peaceful and commonsensical air.
There is a lot of social support behind that woman. Danish parents are entitled to fifty-two weeks of paid maternity leave. Public employees receive full salary during the leave while private employees are guaranteed a "benefit" rate and allowed to negotiate for more. Health care is universal, whether a citizen is employed or not. Even with the international financial crisis, Denmark's unemployment rate, as of November, is less than two percent. The division between rich and poor in this country is one of the smallest in the world. To pay for the extensive social services, Danes pay income taxes that can rise as high as 63% for those earning over 360,000 Kroner (about $70,000) per year.
When I try to understand the Scandinavia acceptance of a greater burden to support the social system, I can't help thinking of the metaphor of the bike bell.
After four days of riding on busy Copenhagen streets, you become attuned to the tiny ding! sound from behind you that signals another rider is passing on your left. It's a necessary perception change, a new focus on a tiny sound in the din around you. The city drivers, and by extension, the Danes in general, also seem to have a different, and more responsible, perception of the vulnerable people around them than your typical American behind the tinted windows of an SUV, jockeying for position on the highway, other drivers be damned.
I feel a considerate attitude in face-to-face interactions with Danes too - the typical Copenhagen citizen speaks immpecable English, makes direct eye contact and offers help nearly before you ask. When I suddenly realized I'd misplaced my wallet, the woman at the takeout restaurant told me to take the food and bring the money back later. A coffee vender who didn't have water for my thirsty daughter ran after us with a plastic cup and instructions how to use a foreign water fountain we never would have noticed without him. "We take care of each other," said the woman on the bus who had offered help when she saw my map.Continued on the next page