It’s the Irish/Danish Smackdown!: An Eejit Abroad

An Eejit Abroad: It’s the Irish/Danish Smackdown
By Conor Makem

Sure, it consistently ranks as one of the happiest countries on the planet, but what does Denmark have that Ireland doesn’t? Well, for one thing, they have a royal family, which obviously isn’t anything to be envied, but the differences don’t stop there. Oh no they don’t, dear reader.

So, having just set foot back home in Amerikay from a quick trip over to the Land of Danes, I will now provide for you a full comparison of the two countries, which I’m sure upon completion of this column you’ll agree is both accurate and all-encompassing. This won’t be pretty. You should be prepared to roll around in the mud with this article, but in the end, I think you’ll walk away wiser.

Chocolate bars: Advantage Ireland
Let’s jump into the meat of the debate, shall we? One of my guilty pleasures when visiting a country for the first time is delving into their junk food. That’s a huge part of the culture, isn’t it, the potato crisps and choco bars? 

Good people, I ask you, do these not look like they should be chocolate? The Danes have some questions to answer for.

I’m going to come clean and admit that I don’t speak Danish and, if you’ve tried to learn it, you’ll understand why I stopped trying. It’s a tongue twister (much like Irish), with words that are pronounced very differently from how they’re spelled (much like Irish). The best I could do was to visit the Irma shop and look for the good stuff.

On my first attempt, I settled on the Tyrkish Peber and the Pepe XXL. Both looked like respectable chocolate bars. The Tyrkish Peber with illustrations of flames coming out of the chocolate was intriguing. Upon returning to the hotel room, I ripped open the new delectables and chomped down on licorice…not chocolate.

Good people, I ask you, what nation of happy people disguise their licorice as chocolate and claim to still be happy? Their version of the Rolo was admirable, but the licorice was beyond the beyond.

Potato chips: Advantage Ireland
On that first fateful trip, I also purchased a bag of Iberian ham potato crisps. Not so bad, I didn’t think. Quite like kettle cooked chips, and certainly reminiscent of Iberian ham; I was content. Was I content enough to eschew my Tayto Cheese and Onion? Not on your life.

Bicycles: Advantage Denmark.
Next, we move to environmental issues. I was pleasantly surprised to see a complete void of plastic utensils. From the street vendors to the food markets, wooden spoons and forks abound. Likewise, the nation is awash in bicycles. At any Copenhagen stoplight, you’re likely to see as many or more bicycles as motorized vehicles. Ireland has bikes, but Denmark is bicycle Utopia.

Pastries: Advantage Denmark
This one is almost a no-brainer. Ireland has some lovely pastries. I mean, is there a person on the planet who doesn’t love sinking their teeth into shortbread biscuits? But, good people, consider the Danish. The danged word is synonymous with the country. They don’t call them Danish in Denmark, they call them pastries. And they’re goooood.

Tea: Advantage Ireland
Denmark is not the black hole of easily accessible good tea like the United States, but a plain old cuppa does not grow on trees, like it does in Erin. Nose in the uppity direction.

Background music: Advantage Denmark
Let’s face it, we’ve all been there. You stop into a quiet little pub in a quaint Irish village and as soon as you’re settled, you realize that the music over the background speakers was selected by a twelve-year-old. It’s a phenomenon that to this day I can’t explain. 

Ireland is home to some of the best music the planet has ever known and yet, if you were to visit just about any public place in the country, you wouldn’t know it. It’s like businesses have decided that bubblegum pop is the only option, that adults don’t care about music, so let’s just please the wee ones.

Denmark had some of that, but on a whole, when you enter an establishment, you feel like there’s an adult in charge of the music.

Castles Run by Fictitious Danish Kings: Advantage Denmark
We visited Kronborg Castle (aka Hamlet’s Castle) in Elsinore, Denmark. There’s really no competition on this one. I don’t think Ireland even has one of these.

As far as castles associated with fictitious Danish kings, I’m not sure you could do better than Kronborg Castle (aka Hamlet’s Castle), in Elsinore, Denmark. Hard luck, Ireland

Border Crossings: Advantage Denmark
While I’ll admit that crossing between Monaghan, in the Republic, and Keady, Co. Armagh, in the North, via the now derelict British Army barracks is a tonic, the five-mile train bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden, spanning the sea edges out the competition. Bravo Nordic countries. Bravo.

Pedestrian Shopping Streets: Draw
It is darned difficult to top Grafton Street for pedestrian-friendly shops and restaurants, but the Strøget in Copenhagen’s historic district will reel you in with its equally car-free and mobbed walkways. There’s just no clear winner.

Happiness: Advantage Denmark
Alas, this one wasn’t up to me. Ireland ranks pretty high on happiness rankings based on any number of criteria, but the Danish are consistently among the happiest people in the world. Maybe it’s the Irish tendency to center life around alcohol, or their choice of pop music in public places…or perhaps it’s the preponderance of bicycles keeping people active and fit in Denmark, but whatever it is, kudos to them.

Flights: Advantage Ireland
Our direct flight from Boston to Copenhagen was cancelled an hour before we were set to take off. And since we didn’t want to be saddled with a case of Coronavirus as we began our week in Denmark, we donned masks for the journey.

The airline, through much confusion and consternation (and much is not a strong enough word), booked us on another airline through Portugal and onto Copenhagen twelve hours later than we had planned, thus essentially cutting a day off of our holiday.

I’ll add that we were wearing masks for twenty-four hours. With the caveat that Aer Lingus brings us into Dublin from Boston at an ungodly early hour, they’ve never cancelled a flight on me.

Irish Pubs: Advantage Ireland
There were an unusually high number of Irish pubs in Copenhagen, but let’s be honest. There are more in Ireland.

I’m not sure there’s a corner of this planet where you won’t find an Irish pub and Copenhagen is no exception
I’m not sure there’s a corner of this planet where you won’t find an Irish pub and Copenhagen is no exception

Danny Kaye Songs: Advantage Denmark
For weeks leading up to our Danish trip, nearly on a daily basis, the old Danny Kaye standard “Wonderful Copenhagen” was rattling around my brain. It continued through our stay and even for days after returning. I’ll admit that no Danny Kaye song has done that to me any time I’ve been in Ireland. Who knew?

And there you have it, a complete and unvarnished comparison between Ireland and Denmark, the likes of which you’re not likely to find in any periodical outside of iIrish. Put it another way, Denmark is well worth a visit.
*Conor Makem spent 22 years traveling and honing petty gripes as an Irish musician, and enjoyed a further 13 years of people not returning his calls as a journalist. He is fluent in English, American and old Kerry farmer. More of his photos are on Instagram under cb.makem.

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