Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
I was in Copenhagen for a total of eight weeks, and while there, I was constantly blown away by subtle cultural or geographic differences that changed people’s behavior. For example, one thing I found of note was that, because of the abundance of public space in Copenhagen as well as its wide streets, people tended to gather, interact, and have more fun in public as opposed to private spaces. People were always chatting on benches on the sides of streets, drinking in parks since public drinking was allowed, and most surprisingly, they had no qualms about kissing in public either. Social interactions seemed more fluid, flexible, and visible than they often do in America where cities tend to have less public space that can be easily utilized for various purposes.
Overall, my research went very well but I certainly did encounter many hurdles during the process. I was able to successfully engage in participant observation by taking part in different cultural events and recording what I saw—such as festivals, simple street behavior, and even bar/club behavior---but the interviews were much more difficult to complete than anticipated. I had interview contacts set-up prior to arriving, but because of the craziness of summertime as well as the private nature of many Danes, I ended up with only a few interviews instead of the many I was seeking. This shocked me since Danes are well known for being comfortable speaking about sexuality, but I did not anticipate all the other difficulties that popped up.
Ultimately, my research in Copenhagen that became possible through the help of the CIIS enrichment grant helped me conclude that the concept of “spaciousness” best explains the way Danes express and understand their sexuality in relation to geography. They highly value public space, and because of this, they think people should be able to do whatever they want in public, including sexual behaviors such as kissing or even same-sex cuddling/affections. However, at the same time, they also think that one should “never take up too much space,” that is, one should be able to express oneself sexually, but not at the expense or freedom of other people. I hope to be able to continue exploring this topic throughout my senior year by writing my Senior Honors and can’t wait to see what the finished product turns out as.