Can’t see the forest for all the trees

It would be a shame if we were to go through our entire lives without ever noticing our personal and cultural peculiarities, so thank God we have people from other countries and cultures to point them out for us. In the domain of language, I have always found proverbs to be a great source of cultural and national quirks. It’s always fun to observe how foreigners find some Danish proverbs profound and others completely ridiculous, and for that reason I decided to make proverbs the topic of one of the conversations I had with my Taldansk Online partner.

This would also give me a chance to find out what it is about pieces of cake and easy tasks that makes them similar enough to warrant the expression piece of cake. I just don’t get it. But before I get to that, let’s have a look at some of my favorite Danish idioms.

My favorite Danish proverb is the one about not being able to see the forest for all the trees (ikke se skoven for bare træer) which is used in situations when someone is so consumed with paying attention to the minor details that he overlooks the big picture. It’s a feeling so common that it definitely deserves its own expression, and on a more technical side note, it’s also a great illustration of the philosophical concept of a ‘category mistake’, buts that’s another story.

Another one of my favorites is the idiom stating that even a blind chicken can stumble upon a seed (selv en blind høne kan finde korn), meaning that even an idiot can happen to get something right from time to time. I like this one for two reasons. It’s great for when you want to discredit someone you don’t like. Like if a politician you disagree with happens to say something intelligent. Ideally, you would want to revise your opinions on the subject or of the politician in question in this situation, but sometimes it’s just easier to dismiss it as an instance of a blind chicken stumbling upon a seed. Which brings me to the second reason I like this proverb. I can’t help picturing a blind chicken stumbling around, bobbing its head and marching beak first into everything in its path. God bless, blind chicken…

My partner was quite fond of the expression stating that there is no cow on the ice (ingen ko på isen), which is used when one wants to point out that something is easy and that there is no trouble ahead. Apparently the combination of farm animals and subzero temperatures makes it so Scandinavian that it’s almost too much.

I never did find out what the deal was with things being easy as cake, by the way. To be continued I guess… Do you have any proverbs you like and use?

Stefan

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