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In California’s Danish outpost, Trump’s desire to buy Greenland gets a collective shrug

Solvang
Sue Manning, owner of Elna’s Dress Shop in Solvang, thinks President Trump’s idea of buying Greenland is silly and just a distraction from everything else going on.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

After posing for photos with her family by a statue of Danish fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, Kat Grant pondered what President Trump could do with Greenland, should he buy the icy island from Denmark.

He could put some condos there, said Grant, 38, from Culver City. Maybe slap a catchy new logo on Greenland merchandise.

“People would wear green hats instead of red hats,” she said. “Make Greenland Green Again!”

The thought made her, and just about everyone else, laugh. But Trump was not joking.

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This weekend, the president confirmed reports that he was, in fact, dead serious about buying Greenland, an autonomous territory that is part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Trump likened it to “a large real estate deal.”

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen called the idea “absurd,” prompting the president to announce via tweet Tuesday that he was postponing a planned visit to Copenhagen next month, even though Denmark is “a very special country.”

By Wednesday, Trump was telling reporters that Frederiksen’s comments were “nasty” and tweeting digs at the Danes.

In California’s closest thing to a Scandinavian outpost — Solvang, the self-declared Danish Capital of America — the situation elicited a collective skuldertræk. (That’s “shrug” in Danish.)

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Here, storefront fliers advertised trips to Denmark as the coveted raffle prize in the town’s upcoming Danish Days celebration, not as something to be nixed by tweet.

Solvang is the self-declared Danish Capital of America
Solvang, in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, is the self-declared Danish Capital of America.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

At Solvang Restaurant, where servers crisscrossed the dining room floor with plates of aebleskivers smothered with raspberry jam and powdered sugar, a woman working the counter blinked bemusedly at a Los Angeles Times reporter who asked if she’d heard about Trump wanting to buy Greenland.

“The country?” she asked. “Um ... OK? He’s using his own money, right?”

Two doors down, Iron Art Gift Shop displayed Viking-themed trinkets, ornate wooden clocks, coffee mugs that said HYGGE and books with titles like “Laughing With Lutherans” and “Xenophobe’s Guide to the Danes.” A cashier named Irene — who declined to give her last name because “I don’t want a Twitter from him saying ‘Irene’s an idiot’ ” — said the Greenland gambit left her scratching her head.

“My first thought was, why? It would be so pointless. And the golf’s not good there.”

(The craggy nine-hole golf course in Greenland’s capital city, Nuuk, is only open a few months a year, when it’s not covered in snow.)

Would there be a Solvang in an U.S.-owned Greenland?

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“That would be redundant,” Irene said. “He’d just put up a casino and call it Trumpland or something.”

Walking near the Mole Hole gift shop, Blanca Alvarez, 43, of Rancho Cucamonga, said of Trump’s Greenland musings: “It’s not the silliest thing he’s said.”

That distinction, Alvarez said, would probably go to the president’s claims that global warming is a hoax. She wondered if maybe now that Greenland’s glaciers are melting at what scientists say is an alarming rate, Trump thinks he can develop the country, some 80% of which is covered by an ice sheet.

Trump was returning from his New Jersey golf course Sunday when he told reporters that owning Greenland “would be nice,” though “it’s not No. 1 on the burner.”

On its official website, the government of Greenland posted a statement: “Of course, Greenland is not for sale.” Pernille Skipper, a member of the Danish parliament for the left-wing Red-Green Alliance, tweeted that “Trump lives on another planet. Self-serving and disrespectful.” Søren Espersen, a member of the parliament for the populist right-wing Danish People’s Party, told the Danish newspaper Politiken that Trump was acting like a “spoiled child.”

While Copenhagen still sets Greenland’s foreign and defense policies, the territory of 56,000 has its own parliament and controls most of its domestic affairs. In 1946, President Truman’s administration offered $100 million in gold to Denmark to purchase the island. Denmark refused but agreed in 1951 to let the U.S. build Thule Air Base, the military’s northernmost installation, some 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

Solvang
Solvang was founded in 1911 by three Danish immigrants. Today, California claims more Danes, both foreign-born and of Danish descent, than anywhere else in the U.S.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Back in Solvang, Ellie Shaw and her friend Jeanne Rogers, who had just crawled atop a giant red clog on Copenhagen Drive, laughed at Trump’s overture. The women, from the Lake District in northwest England, were road-tripping from Dallas to San Francisco and initially thought TV news reports about Trump wanting to buy Greenland were satire.

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“It’s like a reality show, ‘Keeping Up With the Trumps on E!’ ” said Shaw, 29.

“Oh my godddd,” said Rogers, 40, when shown a tweet that Trump posted Monday with an altered image of a small Greenland town with a giant gold Trump tower plunked down in the middle of it.

“I promise not to do this to Greenland!” Trump wrote.

Strolling past chocolatiers and wine tasting rooms, Britt and Tom Anderson of Santa Clarita said Trump’s Greenland ordeal is the sort of thing that makes Britt’s family in her native Sweden question what is going on in the U.S.

The couple enjoy Solvang’s Scandinavian influence. The Santa Barbara County town was founded in 1911 by three Danish immigrants. After the Nazi occupation of Denmark in the 1940s, Solvang decided it should celebrate and promote Danish culture and gave its streets Danish names, built windmills and started putting up thatched-roof buildings. Today, California claims more Danes, both foreign-born and of Danish descent, than anywhere else in the U.S.

“I think it’d be a good idea for Denmark to buy the U.S.,” Britt Anderson, 72, said.

“Then he could be an official king!” Tom Anderson, 75, said of Trump.

Noting Greenland’s disappearing ice, he added: “It might be Brownland before long.”

At Elna’s Dress Shop, where there were 77-year-old handmade Danish costumes for sale, owner Sue Manning mused that at least Greenland would be a good cold-weather market for wool clothing.

“I think it’s a way of letting out tension from the stock market doing what it’s doing,” said Manning, 79. “It’s a silly thing. It gives us something else to talk about.”

Eating aebleskivers on a park bench as opportunistic bees hummed beside them, Mary Blair and Jordan Preston of Los Angeles said buying Greenland was a good idea and that the U.S. would improve its economy and boost tourism.

“It’s a beautiful country,” said Blair, 54. “If nothing else, it makes us appreciate Greenland. I’d love to visit.”

Wearing a Trump 2020 T-shirt and a Vietnam veteran hat, Tony Da Costa said the U.S. could benefit from the precious minerals buried in the land there and that buying the island was much better than the historical route of going to war over territory. He said people who were offended by Trump’s proposal “need to get a life.”

“If he can make a deal, why not?” asked the 68-year-old retired general contractor from Oxnard. “Don’t forget, Trump is a real estate investor. Even though he’s the president and he’s busy doing other things, you get sidetracked into your profession. People are in their comfort zone with things they know like the back of their hand.”

But buying Greenland? That seems highly usandsynlig. (That’s Danish for unlikely.)

Tony Da Costa of Oxnard
Tony Da Costa of Oxnard approves of President Trump’s idea to buy Greenland.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Times researcher Scott Wilson contributed to this report.


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