There's a sucker born every minute in Denmark

Margaret Dolley finds the young Danes' addiction to dummies far from soothing

It's about three inches long, it's made of rubber, it comes in primary colours - and it's highly embarrassing. It belongs to my strapping young daughter of three and a half, and it's her dummy.

As we gear up to hit middle England for a family wedding, I shall be bribing, wheedling and maybe using force to keep our guilty little secret out of the picture on the big day. I have become almost resigned to her sucking furiously for hours as she draws, digs, climbs or leafs through books. After all, plenty of our neighbours back in Copenhagen do the same.

When my older children were small, in London, I would have shuddered with revulsion at the thought of a dummy. But when Dorothy started kindergarten eight months ago she was instantly smitten. She sat astride toddling Danes and yanked the dummies from their mouths. She shovelled them into the supermarket trolley as fast as we could shovel them out, until one night we capitulated.

Late starters are often the worst, and now we don't just have a dummy problem. We have pocketfuls - plus one in the car, one in my briefcase and a brand-new three-pack in reserve on a top shelf.

Danes feel the need to suck goes way beyond the simple need for nourishment. Breast-feeding is more widespread than in England, but new-born babies are still regularly offered the dummy for comfort in hospital. The whole nation seems never to have quite outgrown its special, cosy relationship with the dummy: it's a minor cult. The comedian Bubber sits in a bathtub on television, with viewers' choicest dummies piled around him. It's the most prized shape of candy to bring home from the funfair. Sparkly glass dummies were last year's young fashion craze. A special gold one is even sold for charity.

So why do I persist in loathing it? First, I feel it is infantile. Danes believe childhood should be taken very slowly, but on a recent trip to South-east Asia I could see people were appalled by such a large child with a dummy. Playfully, but oh so very firmly, they kept removing it from her mouth. Our English dentist was horrified too, yet I don't see many little Danes with teeth askew or portcullis braces.

But most of all, I don't like the way Dorothy uses it to cope with distress. If she's angry, if she trips or is frustrated, her arms whirl like little windmills until her desperate, pursed mouth finds satisfaction.

Grow too used to that artificial sucking feeling, and can't it become a substitute for addressing your feelings or taking action? Denmark has a big alcohol problem, and it is remarkable how many adults choose to drink their beer straight from the bottle. They also have one of Europe's highest death rates from diseases linked to cigarettes. But then again, they are very peaceful.

Having to fight for her dummy has made Dorothy a hard case. Her friends are starting to set theirs aside, or making contracts with the leading toyshop chain to trade them in for a coveted toy (parents pay, of course).

Stuff that, says Dorothy, I prefer my dummy. It's already been suggested we try the pilgrimage. The small island of Thuroe is home to Denmark's largest dummy tree, adorned with hundreds of offerings hung ceremoniously by small, brave children. They sometimes revisit several times, to make quite sure that their dummy is still there - and that they can do without it.

I am aware that I have yet to see a schoolgirl still using a dummy. I just fear that my iron-willed daughter could be the first.

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