04 March 2011

Culture Clash

Culture Clash
Spotted this in the supermarket the other day. Rest assured, most children in Denmark watch Danish channels and read Danish-produced magazines and literature. There are, of course, foreign publications translated into Danish. Which is fine, of course.

This Barbie magazine is one example. There is one aspect of it that is Lost in Translation and a bit of a culture clash. The free plastic bits at the bottom right. It's a Barbie driving licence and a car key. I can't figure out what the red, round thing is. Perhaps it's lipgloss or make-up - because that is an integral part of driving culture, as you can see here.

It's a bit funny this. In Copenhagen, anyway. While many people may get a driving licence at some point after they turn 18, only 40% of Copenhageners own cars. If I look at my friends and contemporaries, most of them got their first car at the same time they had kids. In many cases, when they had their second kid. In the mid-thirties, in other words. In contrast, there are easily 30,000 cargo bikes in Greater Copenhagen. 25% of families with two or more kids have one.

The thought of buying a car when you turn 18 in Copenhagen doesn't really register on your radar. Spending money on a backpacking trip around the world or a new flat or whatever rank much higher on your list of priorities. Even getting a driving licence is often farther down the list, not least because it costs between 5000-10000 kroner ($1000-$2000) to get one. That's a lot of beer money.

So Barbie may be global, but the girl is off target with her free plastic bits in the magazine.

With all that said, one myth persists about cars in Denmark. I still hear people commenting that because Denmark has a 180% tax on cars nobody can afford them. This is not at all true. It's like I said, a question of priority. If you live in Copenhagen with all our safe bicycle infrastructure and public transport offers you simply don't need a car. The same applies to many Danish cities.

However, if you live in the provinces, getting a car IS a priority out there. Many young people, upon turning 18, are quick to get a driving licence and a car. Which shows that purchasing a car is not out of reach of our pocketbooks. The high taxes on cars certainly help discourage buying one but they are not so high as to prohibit people - young or old - who want one from acquiring one.

It wouldn't be fair to paint Barbie purely as a car culture ambassador so here's some more bicycle-friendly Barbie crap:

Euro-Bike Barbie:
Barbie Bicycle

Barbie Ding Ding:
Barbie Ding Ding

Basketcase Barbie:
Cycle Chic Critical Mass 12

And how can we forget that great Danish contribution to popular music. Aqua's Barbie Girl:


BG said...

I think the card with the photo on it also says "credit card." Which used to be something many teenagers in the US got when they turned 18, as well. I'm not sure whether the banks are still playing that game. As for the red disk: no idea.

I also had no idea that "Barbie Girl" was a Danish export. I am now reliving every terrible high school dance and wedding reception DJ I experienced in the '90s. You have now officially undone every ounce of goodwill you have ever created for your country.

examinedspoke said...

Obviously, the cost of driving has to have an effect on its frequency, especially among those people "at the margin." What's more interesting to me is how the government has been able to raise the price so severely without massive protests. Perhaps it was a gradual thing?

Sirius7dk said...

I might be wrong, but I might have read somewhere ages ago that the high taxes were introduced in the 1940's which was a time when not many people could afford a car anyway. If the taxes were introduced back then, people would have gotten used to them in the 60's and 70's when car ownership became more common.

Rasmus Jensen

Frits B said...

Aren't you spotting bulls in every corner? The driving licence is obviously a credit card and the "car key" might just be a key ring with a sample key attached. No car in sight - but maybe subliminally hinted at.
As for the licence, I got mine at 18, bought my first car at 27 and sold the last one at 43 as I didn't need my own car anymore. But my driver's licence was work related. A necessity, you might say.

kfg said...

"the 1940's which was a time when not many people could afford a car"

Not merely not afford one, but not be able to obtain one even if they could. There simply weren't many to be had, period, after the preceding years of "social unrest."

In the US not only did most existing cars survive the war (despite many being melted down for tanks and ships), but so did industrial war capacity which was able to turn to civilian production in a nanosecond to maintain itself. New cars were suddenly plentiful, modern, cheap and the people had jobs (like making cars) by which to afford them.

Driver's license age was 16 (and still is) in most states, but could be lower in farm states (where 12 year olds could operate farm machinery on the roads unlicensed), at which point the bicycle would be abandoned for a prewar car. A new bicycle cost $40, a used car $5.

That's right, five bucks for a car. It's what made the American Hot Rod scene of the 50's possible.

Jim Moore said...

Naughty Barbie not wearing a helmet!

Well, I suppose as she turns 52 this month she is aware of the risks involved in not wearing one. That is, the risks of not looking like a dork, not spreading the culture of fear, and not making cycling appear normal.

Yes I am aware that there are ranges of Barbie helmets available for dolls and real people.

Ryan said...

With how many toy cars I had as a child you'd think I would be driving a car now. Turning 25 next month and still have zer0 interest in even getting my license, which by Canadian standards makes me crazy.
By 15 most kids are preparing for 16 so they can go out and get their license ASAP.

Miguel Barroso said...

Barbie is facing competition:

mary Westmacott said...

Love the Barbie Bell ! I think I need one, not sure i need the whole package though, thanks for posting x

Yokota Fritz said...

"However, if you live in the provinces, getting a car IS a priority out there. Many young people, upon turning 18, are quick to get a driving licence and a car."

And that's one of the issues we have in the United States (though not the only one), much of which is a lot more like your Danish provinces (somewhat rural and spread out) rather than like Copenhagen.

Alexandre à Montréal said...

Indoctrination starts very early in Germany too, but, well, after all, this is Germany.

Picture #5 at the link under my handle is one example from around 2007 found in the weekly shopping flyer (I sometimes briefly inspected the 200g pile of paper before I threw it in the recycling bin). Observe that the brawny "vehicles" are driven by the male subjects, whereas the vehicles and their lady "drivers" on the right handside look quite dorky. The biggest model is even "TÜV geprüft". The stuff can be bought on credit, a really good education to the Konsumgesellschaft.

While we're on the subject of credit, another sample can be found at picture 6 out a Deutsche Bank pamphlet targeted at teen-agers. The blurb over the Manga-figure begins roughly like this:

"The dream of driving - The first car that can be called your own is for the most teen-agers very important. At 18 most of them have no more acute desire than getting their own set of wheels."

(Really? I can think of at least one thing of higher importance for hormone-laden youngsters of reproductive age...)

The ad goes on to invite the reader to pay a visit at the branch, indicating that a certain car model will be on display. As if there wasn't enough junk already robbing space on sidewalks, bike lanes, sidewalks, yards... (Just a tiny sample of sacred cows parked indoors I was able to round up in 5 minutes on my hard disk).