To be or not to be (probably isn’t the question)

I have the unique privilege of being Danish when I feel like it. It’s a privilege because for the most part Denmark is a cool notion to be associated with – people from (or in?) that country are apparently “happier” than in most of rest of the world (except for Finland and Norway this year, but whatevs – also garbage in, garbage out, as the clever people say); their whole design game is pretty strong, and the street-food (ie. hotdogs) is good. Also, we know how to hygge without a book (and that if you need a book, you probably don’t get it).

Speaking the language, having (naturally) blonde hair, blue eyes, and a Danish passport also turn out to be pretty useful when travelling. I’m a big fan of Hans Christian Andersen too, who I will happily claim as my heritage when it pleases me. There’s also a family tree which essentially traces me back to Lagertha, so if you ever need a Viking queen to sort something out, Whatsapp me.

I mention such trivialities only because we’ve recently been discussing the idea of “accidents of geography” with students – basically that one’s values, allegiances and, crucially, experiences, are informed by where you were born and/or grew up. There are countless “easy” examples of this, like the child who happened to be born in South Sudan, and who was famously photographed by Kevin Carter in scary-looking proximity to a vulture which (in the viewer’s most likely narrative), was obviously waiting for dinner – but what if this child had been born in Cape Town? Would such a situation have been likely, or even possible? Or the harrowing story (recently dramatised in the film Capernaum), about a 12-year old boy in Beirut who sues his parents for having been born in the first place because his life has had such little promise (with large nods to David Benatar’s Better To Never Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence).

But this post is actually about (Danish) beer.

Carlsberg have for years used the phrase “Probably the world’s best beer” in their marketing campaigns. You may have seen the most recent one, featuring the ultra-cool Mads Mikkelsen (on a bicycle!), which just celebrated Danishness in all its Danishness:

But now, they’ve gone and confused everyone by being a big brand that had previously laid a claim to being “(probably) the best beer in the world”, but now (probably due to falling sales – but probably also due to Mark Zuckerberg in some way or other) acknowledging that they were most likely shite, because they asked the people and that’s what the “people” said:

It’s kind of a clever strategy, because brands are continually fucking up these days, living on apologies rather than defending their choices. So the (my? TBD) Danes are either ahead of the game once again, or they’re just being extremely Danish, which invokes janteloven, or the dictum that you can/should never be better than anyone else.

There’s a wonderful hypocrisy at play here which I both abhor and admire, and is probably best summed up by this ad for a favourite Danish sweet manufacturer. At least they/we don’t pull any punches when it comes to the privileges of the North:

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