Hidden dangers lurk in Denmark

Recent news events have shaken "deeply neurotic" columnist Michael Booth's perceptions of his adopted homeland. Is Denmark less safe than we've been led to believe?

Hidden dangers lurk in Denmark
Aaarggh, Denmark is so scary! Photo: Colourbox
No earthquakes, snakes, or hurricanes: that was the pledge from my Danish wife before she lured me to live in Denmark.
She had me at ‘earthquakes’.
She knew me well, even then. I am a deeply neurotic man. Terrified, if not of my own shadow, then definitely of other people’s. A great big jelly. A scaredy cat. A wimp in a big girl’s blouse. I crave safety and security, seek always to minimise risk, and avoid the merest whiff of danger. I am a fully paid up member of the Self Preservation Society.
So Denmark suited me perfectly. There were no dangerous animals, little crime, no football hooligans, no wars, cholera, flooding and most famously of all in this, the self-proclaimed happiest country in the world, trust levels were also the highest on the planet. I would be able to leave my front door unlocked, purchase goods confident that they would be safe, and live my life secure in the knowledge that the politicians who ran the country were utterly without reproach in matters of morality and ethics.
Last week somewhat tarnished that illusion.
First came the news that 12 people had died as a result of a listeria outbreak from a processed meat company already found guilty of a dubious practice (mixing pork and beef without labelling the products appropriately). This was Jørn A. Rullepølser A/S – now, at last, closed – which sold its products to SuperBest and some Spar supermarkets. 
When asked to defend its systematic mistakes, the company’s CEO admitted he could never guarantee hygiene standards because "it could be that [the cleaner’s] grandmother died the day before". To which one can’t help but ask, "Did she die of listeria?" A total of 24 people were actually infected with the potentially fatal bacteria, luckily 12 survived, but what most shocked me about the story was that it took so long for it to break in the Danish media: the first case was picked up by State Serum Institute in September. That to me smacks of a worrying complacency.
Then came a report which placed Denmark second only to Greece in terms of house break-ins. That was pretty disturbing for someone who lies awake at night alert to every bump and creak from beyond the bedroom door, but for me the most chilling aspect of the story was the allegation that the Danish police don’t even bother to investigate robberies of less than 100,000 kroner (which, now I think of it, means that the robbers would have to steal my actual house to be investigated).
And, now, what to make of the murky deal to save Viborg football club by its then mayor – the new leader of the Conservatives – Søren Pape Poulsen, which involved selling the naming rights to their stadium to a local energy company for a knock-down rate.
It all sounds positively House of Cards to me.
The first two stories are, of course, of greatest concern to those of a frail and nervous disposition, fond of processed pork products and sleeping safely at night without fear of being bludgeoned to death for the sake of an old Samsung flat screen TV and some knackered IKEA cutlery. 
I’m not sure what to do about the number of burglaries, although perhaps the Danes shouldn’t be so trusting after all, but the listeria outbreak is, I am afraid, a symptom of a far deeper and more widespread problem within the Danish food industry: the agricultural lobby, headed by the Danish Agriculture and Food Council (Landbrug & Fødevarer), wields a disproportionate amount of influence and power in Christiansborg. Though Danish agriculture has declined in terms of its contribution to the economy over the last few decades, its farmers still have an uncanny ability to terrify the politicians in Denmark, and no sector of Danish agriculture is more powerful, sacred even, than the pork industry. As a result, it has been allowed to get away with practices – such as the clipping of piglets’ tails and the use of antibiotics – which could have serious long term health consequences for the population (the antibiotics that is, not the tail-docking).
But at least there are no earthquakes, snakes or hurricanes. 
Except, there are. In recent years I have experienced all three right here in Denmark.
Perhaps it’s time to reconsider Sweden…
Michael BoothMichael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.

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The pick-pocket problem in ‘perfect’ Copenhagen

Columnist Michael Booth is currently promoting his book to the North American market, telling everyone who'll listen about how 'almost nearly perfect' Denmark is. But a funny thing happened on the way to one of those media interviews.

The pick-pocket problem in 'perfect' Copenhagen
The hustle and bustle of Nørreport makes it "a kind of pick-pocket amusement park, with no entry fee and free rides for all". Photo: Stig Nygaard/Flickr
Last Thursday I caught a train from Nørreport Station. As an upstanding member of a high trust society, rather than take advantage of the lack of barriers on Copenhagen’s Metro system and ride for free (perish the thought), I bought a ticket at the machine. I used my Dankort.
Ticket in hand, I put my wallet back into the outside pocket of my bag, zipped it shut, slung the bag over my shoulder and hurried down the escalators. My train was already at the platform, so I did what in my world passes for ‘running’ down the last half of the second escalator (a kind of huffy-breathed, galumphing stagger, taking advantage of gravity’s pull), making the train just as the doors closed.
Once in, I squeezed up into a corner of the carriage, and drifted off into my usual brain-dead commuting head-space.
Just past Kongens Nytorv Station, some primal instinct made me check my bag just to make sure I hadn’t been pick-pocketed, or somesuch.
The zipper of the outer pocket was wide open.
My wallet was gone.
I was still doing a kind of tragic Macarena, patting down pockets, twisting to check the rest of my bag, as the train pulled into my destination, DR Byen, where I was heading to a studio to give an interview to Canadian national radio about how wonderful Denmark is.
But the wallet was still gone.
I did what I usually do in times of emergency and stress: I called my wife. She promised to call the bank and cancel my card while I was in the studio. Aside from that, I’d lost a bit of cash – 500 kroner – my driver’s licence, CPR card, and a photograph of the former president of the Philippines, Joseph Estrada, which I always carry around in my wallet. Horrid, but could have been worse.
Half an hour later, having finished my interview, I left the studio and turned on my phone. It rang almost immediately. It was my wife. Apparently, in the time it had taken me to travel three stops on the Metro and conclude my Macarena, the robber and/or robbers had cleared out my bank account, and then some. They had taken tens of thousands of kroner.
Piecing events together, it seems the thief had managed to see my pin code when I bought my ticket and, in the time between me putting my wallet in my bag, and beginning to ‘run’ halfway down the escalator, had parted me from it.
It could have been worse: the thieves didn’t harm me, in fact it was like being robbed by a ghost. Part of me almost admired their skill (although the other part would like to tie them up and place a cage filled with hungry ferrets over their head). Others I have spoken to since have told me tales of being barged into or tripped by the pickpockets that infest Copenhagen’s city centre. I will probably get most of my money back. I was able to replace my cards pretty simply online (although the Estrada pic is now lost forever). They didn’t take my phone either, which would have been terrible. So there’s all that. 
But then I started to think about the police presence in Copenhagen. There is none, as far as I can see, not even outside the office of Jyllands-Posten on the City Hall Square, which you would imagine is a prime target for Islamic extremists (there is a police car, but it is always empty whenever I pass by, which is several times a week). Yet when I reported the theft to the cops, they reacted as if I had rung to inform them that Wednesday follows Tuesday. Nørreport especially seems to be a kind of pick-pocket amusement park, with no entry fee and free rides for all. Everyone knows this, so why aren’t there a couple of cops stationed there round the clock?
"We’d like to, but we don’t have the man power," I was told when I reported the incident.
That evening, a friend of mine posted a photo on Twitter of a police motorcycle blocking a cycle lane: the cop was busy ticketing cyclists for various misdemeanours. For this, they have the manpower. They do this because the government’s budget relies on the revenue from fines issued to cyclists and motorists. Indeed, Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s government recently raised the targets to balance the budget.
So here’s my solution. Clearly, Denmark’s tax rates are not nearly high enough to ensure decent levels of policing and protection of property so I propose that Copenhagen police position one of their number at Nørreport Station with a big collecting bucket. Everyone who enters the station is invited to donate one kroner to cover the cost of their wage. I’d happily pay that to make sure I wasn’t stolen from again. Although, of course, they should probably watch the bucket doesn’t get pinched…

Michael BoothMichael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle