GREENLAND - THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH via PETER PEDERSEN, Police Inspector

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

I have heard that Greenland is the happiest place to live. Can you explain it to somebody who hasn’t been there, who cannot imagine living in total darkness for months and cold weather most of the time.

Greenland is indeed a wonderful paradise.

I have also read that Greenland covers four time zones…

Whether the country has two or four time zones, it depends on how you see it. When it´s 4 am in Eastern Greenland, it is 2 am in Western Greenland (that is why I mentioned two time zones). However; it is true that the country has a “leg” in four different time zones. Maybe even five….

What’s the population / do people live in towns or villages?

I wouldn’t say, Greenland has towns or villages. They’re called settlements. A settlement in Greenland might only have less than a thousand people. Many villages have less than 100 people.

Greenland has 55,992 people living along the coast and many islands. There are no permanent human landlocked settlements or towns in Greenland; the only landlocked human settlements that exist are seasonal research stations.

One of the biggest challenges is the distances between the settlements. For example, my last time in Greenland, I was in a village in the North East. The village has approx. 300 people and the distance to the nearest settlement is 850 kilometers… Can you imagine that?

Give us an example of the darkest and brightest time of the year…

North of the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn´t rise for 2-3 months during winter. Where I am now, Upernavik, the sun rose 3 weeks ago, so now we have daylight. On the other side: when we reach May the sun will be shining 24/7 for 2-3 months. It is a very strange feeling when the sun is shining through the bedroom window at 2.30 in the morning….

Where would you be at this time? I am now 700 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle and 1000 kilometers north of the capital – Nuuk.

How does the brightest and darkest time of the year affect you?

To me, the dark time and the light time don’t have so much impact. I even find the dark time cozy.

And if we talk about the impact of the dark time/bright time on people – in general? People, in general don't like the dark time so much and in the light time, (when the sun is shining 24/7,) some people have difficulties to sleep. In the summer, you find children playing in the streets at 3 am in the morning.

For people with depression, the critical time is when the light is appearing in February/March. Why is it so? According to a psychologist, the reason is as follows: If you are depressed, it is normal for depression to subside with the coming of light. If, during this positive time, you experience sudden decline (losing a girlfriend, unemployment, etc.), the downturn becomes extra significant and you find no other way than sudden, and often unexpected, suicide.

It’s early March; what’s the temperature in your area? These days we have minus 30 degrees Celsius. It might sound horrible for you (and for me). However; the humidity is so low (almost 0 %) that you don´t feel the cold at all. It’s also very strange.

And the weather – overall…

The weather in Greenland is quite stable; mostly nice weather.

When you are north of the Arctic Circle, the sun is shining 24/7 in the summertime. In the winter the sun doesn't rise at all. The temperature goes from +10 down to -40 Celsius.

Like I’ve said, the sun doesn't rise for 2-3 months during the winter. That means, it is not above the horizon. We call it "the dark-time" Opposite - in the summer: the sun doesn't set = sunshine 24/7.

You have been sent (however, you accepted gladly) for a mission. As a sheriff and the only authority; what kind of challenges have you seen in this sector? Some of the biggest challenges in Greenland have to do with bad social conditions, too much alcohol, sexual harassment towards children and suicide.

To make a small correction to my title – my duty in Greenland is "all round police work". I am even the Prosecutor - as I am the only authority here. The Court (Judge) comes twice a year to solve the cases.

So, what’s your mission?

As you already know Greenland is a part of the Danish Kingdom. Since Greenland has only approximately 56.000 inhabitants it is impossible for them to educate enough doctors, nurses, teachers, pilots, policemen etc. Therefore, Danish policemen etc., are employed to Greenland to help solving the tasks on a daily basis. We work alongside the locals.

Any obstacles / issues?

The big issue is the language. Some of them speak Danish but it is quite a challenge. Their language is NOT like any language at all.

Who can, for example read this:

"Isumaqarnarsinnaagaluarpoq Kangaatsiap eqqaata iluamik sikussaarnerata kinguneranik sinerissap qanittuani aalisarneq ingerlalluarnerulersimassasoq." Well; I cannot......

Would it be a strange question if I want to know about the medical system?

Well, that’s another challenge…Every town has one hospital with a minimum of one doctor and one nurse.

Small settlements (up to 5-600 people) have a nurse who, of course, can contact the local doctor if anything serious occurs. The towns have stationed one helicopter used for transport of goods, post and evacuation of patients’ course.

Give us an insight - what fascinates, challenges you - as an outsider?

I’ll tell you a story from real life: As you already know I worked in the small village, named Scoresbysund with only 300 people. Within this year there were 2 murders, 5 suicides, 4 rapes, 2 sexual harassments towards children and a number of domestic violence. And that is all among 300 people. Try to make a proportionate calculation with Vancouver. How many murders would there be in a year? So of course, you may think that people there are crazy. And… in a way they are.

At the same time, they are SO lovely and polite. For example, they – almost - don´t know how to lie; they are very faithful to authorities.

What a contrast! How can this be explained?

I have to say that it is impossible to describe exactly how it is. As one of my Danish friends said: “Peter; I stopped talking about Greenland because I cannot explain how it is” That´s a good way of saying it.

Well, ok….First of all: they are experts in forgiving. “Even if my neighbour kills my mother, I can forgive him” There is one thing you cannot forgive: theft. You find excuses for killing someone and therefore receive forgiveness; but there are NO excuses for stealing. How would I explain this? These “rules of living” have their roots in old culture from before civilisation.

Many people (like myself) can never “let Greenland go” when first being here. We have a saying to describe this: “Greenland took him”. It means that first coming here, you keep going back because you simple can´t let Greenland go…

That explains your repeated visits. How many times have you served in Greenland and how long were your stays?

I have been in Greenland 4 times:

1. Summer of 2007 (6 months)

2. Winter of 2009 (6 months)

3. 2017-2018 (12 months from May - May)

4. Winter of 2020 (present 6 months). I will be returning in July 1st, 2020

When I had to leave after 365 days of duty (24/7/365) I cried a lot. It was so hard to say goodbye to this place – wondering if I see it again. Over the past two years, I have given many lectures on my time in Scoresbysund. Sometimes I started crying while speaking in large assemblies – my time there was so emotional. So many horrible things I experienced, yet, so many wonderful people I met.

Compare nature to the one you grew up with in Denmark. The nature is amazing. I use to say that you have to go to Greenland to understand how small and insignificant you are. Because of an extremely low humidity it is impossible to judge distances (few water molecules in the air). E.g. when you move to Spain where the humidity is high, you can see a distance of maximum 25 kilometres (on a clear day). In Greenland I once was on a hilltop; looking at a mountain tip a 110 kilometres away……. In Scoresbysund the fjord was 45 kilometres wide. Looking towards the other shore we had the feeling that we could cross the ice, to there within 30 minutes by foot. I don’t know if you understand my bad English L

There’s no better or worse English between the two of us ....

Do you remember one of your first fascinating moments? Yes, clearly. I remember my first time in Greenland. I went for a walk outside the village. When I stopped to enjoy the scenery I suddenly – for the first time ever - “heard the sound” of total silence…. It was almost scary.

How do you commute? I am guessing, no main roads around there…

First; every time you think about one village/settlement you must have in mind that NO settlements are connected by roads. Travelling has to be by aircraft, helicopter. Or by boat which is impossible in the winter. In the village of Scoresbysund there are a total of 7 kilometres of roads.

Remember - 850 to the nearest settlement.

Second; in this culture, you have no option but to forgive. Now you know how isolated the villages are. In the past (even nowadays) reality is, that the man you had a conflict with yesterday you will meet in the shop today. You have known this person for your whole life; he is probably your colleague, your neighbor, even your cousin. So what are your options?

I’m trying to picture myself in the “natives’ situation….

I don’t think you can… Imagine growing up in a place like this. The school has approximately 55 students in total. When you reach the age where you get interested in the opposite sex, there will be a maximum of 10 boys in the relevant age. So, when you reach 18-20 years you have probably been engaged with all the boys in the village. When you need to find your permanent partner, the possibilities are not that great. It might even happen that the one you finally fall in love with, is a half-brother. It can be a disaster…

Is there any potential growth that villages may become towns…?

On the contrary. Honestly, villages grow smaller due to too many suicides, too many killings followed by quite a few in prisons, and mainly the well-functioning – the youngsters - leave. They go to Denmark to study and they don't return as there are no jobs here (Greenland).

You deal with crime on a daily basis. You mentioned suicide. Why’s that?

Suicide is mainly committed by the young generation. Probably because they don't see any future. They also have elongation – e.g., they see the outside world on their smartphone. And when they are out, they have homesickness.

You may not know, but Greenland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Are the laws synchronized with the Danish ones?

Greenland has its own laws. However; they are more or less a copy of the Danish Laws. The laws are adapted to the cultural differences.

You might wonder that in Greenland you can be sentenced no longer that a maximum of 10 years. To kill your wife/husband "costs" only 8 years.

Without being judgmental, haven’t the natives gotten frozen at a certain age?

Yes, you can say they got frozen in age.

Remember; until 200 years ago they (Eskimos) lived like we did in the Stone Age. Then suddenly the Scandinavians colonized the country and they had to adapt into our lifestyle within 200 years - what took us 2.000 years... Of course that creates some difficulties and problems.

You love returning to this island; would you be able to live in Greenland?

No, I wouldn't be able to. I love to stay here for some months and then go home for reflection. It is, without doubt, mentally healthy to stay here for a period. Here the nature is IN CHARGE of everything. The nature rules. I experienced three days of snowstorm. The wind was blowing hundred and twenty miles/hour. Nobody left their houses for three days.

I experienced how it is to be helpless.

Who supplies the food? And all other necessities?

The more north you get, the more icy the ocean is.

E.g. in Scoresbysund the ocean is covered with heavy ice most of the year. This means that there are two supply ships a YEAR. The first will arrive around August 1st. The next (and last) will arrive around October 1st. This means that there will be NO SUPPLIES from October until August the following year - nine months without supplies. No need to dream about eggs.......

Please, pardon my statement; but why would anyone live there – permanently?

And the natives here say: "Why does anyone want to live in Vancouver? “There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. You have to be here to understand.

Also, they are born here; they have their roots here.... If you like to live TOGETHER with the nature this is the place to live.

It wouldn't be for me. The cold climate and I don’t complement each other… I have said it thousands of times - and I say it again: IT IS NOT COLD TO BE IN GREENLAND..... Minus 20 here is NOT cold because of the low humidity. I would LOVE if Denmark could exchange climate with Greenland....

How big is Greenland – Compare it to another – let’s say a continent…

I know Canada is huge. But to give you an idea of how big this island is you must imagine an island covering an area from southern part of Norway till the northern region of Africa. This island is 1.500 kilometres wide.

In Scoresbysund I (alone) covered an area at the size of France and Spain - with 300 inhabitants.

Do the natives travel / move to Denmark often?

Natives in Greenland can move to - and live - in Denmark if they want. They have Danish passport. To study, you have to move to DK and some Greenlanders stay there. But they all miss Greenland.

Can you describe one of your typical days?

A typical day starts at 8 am. Most of the day I am in the office, doing different paperwork and questioning. People come to report violence, harassment, etc. We are also dealing with issuing passports and driver’s licenses. The office closes at 4 pm. In the afternoon, evening and nights I can be called when something happens in the village. That happens a couple of times every week (twice this weekend).

How is Greenland spelled in Danish? Does it mean “green land” as well?

The spelling of Greenland is: Grønland. Yes; it means "green land".

The name comes from the time where the Vikings explored the land a thousand years ago. They came to the southern region which in fact is very green in the summer. So they went home telling the story about the new place they found - the green land.


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