Denmark's Rules Go Too Far

Living in Denmark was like living in an alternate reality. If you are single and turn 25, you will be covered from head to toe in cinnamon by your friends during the celebration.
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Living in Denmark was like living in an alternate reality. I moved there in early 2010 with hopes of working in renewable energy and the dream of living in such a progressive country. Denmark may be small, but it's a heavyweight in the wind-power industry.

Many would say living in Denmark is boring. The family-oriented culture and friends-for-life social groups that develop during childhood make it difficult to integrate. It gave me the opportunity to look within and discover what I really want out of life.

What interested me was how the society just seemed to work correctly, often through trust and a mild amount of social pressure. Jante's Law, among other things, dictates that everyone is equal. It lays the foundation of Scandinavian culture. Everyone has equal access to first-class healthcare, housing, schooling, childcare, maternity and paternity leave, unemployment insurance, bicycle lanes throughout the country and more -- all at a tax rate lower than I would have paid on the same income in the U.S.

You get used to putting your trust in systems. The trains on the Copenhagen Metro have no conductors. A visit to the doctor entails swiping your health insurance card in a machine and it telling you to take a seat. Most miraculously of all, emailing companies for help and support actually elicits a useful response!

One thing led to another and I ended up quitting my job to start The Happy Nomad Tour. I'm volunteering my way around the world, but my connection to Denmark remains very active. I still have close friends and an uncle there. I also kept my Danish bank account with Sydbank.

As I celebrated my 30th birthday in a village in Laos too rural to be found in Google Maps, I thought about Danish birthday traditions. If you are single and turn 25, you will be covered from head to toe in cinnamon by your friends during the celebration. It resembles the Hindu holiday Holi, but with only one color. Your colleagues at work will probably cover your desk in cinnamon as well.

Turning 30 and being single entails a different kind of public shaming, though. In sticking with the spice theme, one is given a pepper shaker. The tradition dates back hundreds of years to the time of traveling pepper and spice salesmen, where they remained bachelors due to their inability to remain in one place long enough to court potential suitors. Being half a world away, Denmark couldn't give me a pepper shaker, but it definitely gave me something else.

A few weeks before my birthday, my parents received a new PIN in the mail for my debit card. I tried using it to withdraw money, but after three unsuccessful attempts my card was locked. Upon calling my bank, they said they sent a new debit card to me and the PIN I received was for the new card. The new card was never received and it must have gotten lost in the mail.

I didn't understand why I'd get a new card considering my existing one was valid for two more years. Plus, as a nomad I rarely know addresses of where I'll be ahead of time, making it very difficult to receive anything physical.

I emailed my account representative as I have done many times to take care of other issues, and he told me I was sent a new card on account of my becoming more "mature." He's younger than me, so I assume it was his way of avoiding the use of the word old. It's standard practice to welcome or "reward" account holders who round the corner from youth to old age with a new debit card.

I pleaded with them to let me continue using my existing card. They would only send a new card to the address on record, my parents' home in the U.S. My parents would then have to send the card to me somewhere in the world. It ended up being Thailand.

Again, Denmark is very rules-based and they said I had no choice but to accept this new card with absolutely no new benefits. In fact, the card is identical to my old one, besides the card number. My old card would stop working within two months regardless of what happened.

Fine. I can accept this. I get old; Denmark shames me with a new debit card. Not so terrible.

What was terrible was discovering a 350 Kroner ($60) charge on my account a month later. I wrote the same account representative and he told me they decided to send my new card by DHL since the first card got lost in the mail... and charge me for it.

Pepper stings. A $60 fee for a volunteering nomad with no income stings more. Well played, Denmark, well played.

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