During the first day of my Danish Language and Culture class, I was astonished to learn that Denmark was unfamiliar with “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces.” Not only are trigger warnings and safe spaces apparently nonexistent here, but there seems to be a lack of understanding of what they are and why the U.S. has them. I’ve had to defend the idea of a safe space on numerous occasions with several Danes eager for political conversation, but there are times when they struggle to comprehend why the U.S.—or Denmark—would need them in the first place.
I usually tell them that a safe space is where an individual can feel at ease with who they are as an individual without fear of persecution for whichever characteristics their identity encompasses. A trigger warning is simply an alert to the audience that the content following can potentially be alarming. For example, if an individual experiences sexual assault, and struggles to find a community in their environment that is devoid of stress, a safe space is a designated area that just screams “Hey! We won’t judge you and will do our best to make you feel cozy or at least not illicit traumatic episodes!” If rape is to be discussed during a lecture, then a trigger warning can be utilized to warn the student who had been assaulted in the event that the material can cause distress and initiate the onset of traumatic memories.
The usual response that I get is how upsetting it is that America needs these safe spaces actually created for people to feel comfortable (a sentiment that I share). I always have to add that if safe spaces and trigger warnings are foreign to Denmark, these practices should be assimilated to their culture out of respect for those who need them.
Then I later learned on my second day of my Danish Language course that Denmark already has “safe spaces” in their own way: Hygge.
Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a Danish term that means a complete absence of anything that is a nuisance or eradicating any emotionally overwhelming stimuli. It’s a tradition that has existed for many, many years that encapsulates the very purpose of a safe space but has been intertwined with the Danish people as a cultural norm.
A hygge can be anything—a cafe, a beer, a moment, a particular bike ride, a day, a hobby, a relaxing campfire conversation with your best mates, anything! The whole purpose of hygge is that it is cozy for you—no one can dictate whether or not you are in a state of tranquility, and many Danes are very respectful of allowing individuals to achieve that state of bliss. Another complete contrast with Americans.
There are still of course many things that I continue to carry with me to Copenhagen that is intrinsic to my very character. One of those is my desire to establish a perpetual hygge, or at the very least know how to reach a state of mind should I want to. And to be honest, I think I have! It’s very different than this constant stressful environment that seems to pervade the U.S., but Copenhagen and all of its people seem to do a very good job at making people feel right at home and establishing hygge, whether they intend to or not.