Danes don’t like neon tubes at home


Red and Yellowish Danish “cozy” light. Photo: Mikkel Bille.

by Camilla Simonsen
Light is something we all have an approach to and views about. That is, if “we” are Danes. DHT researcher Mikkel Bille has recently been interviewed for the Danish newspaper Information under the headline “The yellowish exception” about his research on the transition from incandescent bulbs to energy saving bulbs. In this article, Mikkel Bille explains how we Danes are very unusual in our approach to light.

In most parts of the world, strong light is good light. Neon tubes and energy saving light bulbs offer good, clear and efficient illumination.

In Denmark though, people were stocking up when the good old fashioned incandescent bulbs went out of production in 2012. Danes want shaded and dimmed lightening, not too bright and preferably from many different sources. We like lampshades. And candle lights.

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Neon tube lighting in Jordan. Photo: Mikkel Bille.

Jordan: The brighter and whiter the better
In Jordan, where Mikkel Bille made field studies for his PhD and postdoc, it was hard to get people to talk about light and their use of it. “They saw it like this: Light is light. It has to be there,” he explains.

In the Middle East in general, Mikkel Bille tells us, the purpose of light is different than it is in Denmark. The approach to light is to be able to see, but also to make rooms in people’s homes look bigger. The brighter and whiter the better. In addition, light have very strong religious connotations, and thus ties in with social life in a much different way than in Denmark.

Around the world people actually find it very strange to make use of candles and “cosy” yellowish light as we do in Denmark. Englishmen, Italians and Jordanians for instance find it odd, while most people from Latin American countries find it directly bizarre, since people in this part of the world often ascribe associations of death or religious rituals to the use of candles, not something to light in broad daylight at a lunch table.


More Danish light. Photo: Mikkel Bille.

Geography explains some of it
Our geographical location up north on the planet earth with its long, gradual transitions from daylight to nightly darkness can to some extent explain our unusual approach to light in Denmark. When you live around the equator and day and night shift quickly and efficiently almost at the same time of the day all year round, you do not have a naturally imposed tendency to explore the in-between shades of light.

On the other hand, Mikkel Bille explains, Copenhagen is on the same degree of latitude as for instance Moscow and Edinburgh, but in those cities, there is not the same preference for nuances of darkness and light, and not many candles are used. The chicken-or-egg-question is then if our Danish culture of light has somehow been a part of the shaping of our understanding of homey cosiness, or if our mentality of cosiness has shaped our approach to light.

What is certain though is that we do have a special approach to light that can also be seen in our internationally famous Danish architecture and design, and that the approach and tendency to dim light and candles crosses Danish social classes.


Danish lighting. Photo: Mikkel Bille.

*The article about Mikkel Bille’s research in Information can be read here (in Danish): Den gullige undtagelse

*To get more information about Mikkel Bille’s research on the anthropology of light, please contact him at mikkelbille@ruc.dk.

One Comment to "Danes don’t like neon tubes at home"

  1. Jesper Simonsen says:

    Maybe some of the answer lies in the very Danish notion of “hygge”

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