There is nothing like a Dane

June 8th, 2004 § Comments off

Hi there. I’m home now, but I’ll write a bit about the final destination on my trip, Copenhagen (or København, as the cognoscenti call it).

Unlike in France, where the simplest interactions with others require the use of words that reveal your terrible accent (cf. “bonjour”), it’s easy for an American in Denmark to pass as a native while shopping. Being white helps; blond hair is optional. Also, make sure you’re wearing something that might plausibly be owned by a resident of continental Europe. Don’t go crazy here–you’re not in Paris. Just leave the Bermuda shorts and fanny pack at home (which is good advice anywhere, actually). If you meet those conditions, just follow these three simple steps:

  1. When you finish shopping, go up to the cashier, say “Hi,” and place your items on the counter.
  2. Wait for the total to appear on the register, then hand over the appropriate number of kroner. If the cashier asks you if you found everything you needed, or anything of that sort, you lose. Your befuddled look will trigger the use of English.
  3. When you get your change and receipt, say “Tak” (thanks), which sounds pretty much how it looks.

My brother and I took a day trip to Malmö, in Sweden, and the rules are similar there–just double the “hi” and “tak.”

If, on the other hand, you’d rather just speak English in Copenhagen, go ahead. The Danes seem to have recognized that nobody else is going to bother to learn their language, so a ridiculous percentage of them speak English.

Denmark has a reputation for unhealthy living, and the enormous quantity of cigarette butts, broken Carlsberg bottles, and empty methadone bottles near the train station did nothing to undermine it. Nonetheless, Danish people are creepily law-abiding in at least one way: They simply do not jaywalk. Even on a tiny street with no traffic at midnight, if there is a light for pedestrians, Danes will wait for the light to turn green before they cross. I have no idea why this is, but I suspect pedestrian fatalities there are very low.

Bicycles are insanely popular in Copenhagen. The city is ridiculously flat, which helps. Also, all major streets (and many minor ones) have wide, grade-separated bicycle lanes between the sidewalk and the traffic lanes. Both bicycle and traffic lanes seem to be eight feet wide in most places. That’s almost implausibly narrow for traffic lanes, though, so my pace might have been off. (In the US, by comparison, traffic lanes are often 12 feet wide, and even narrow lanes are usually at least 10 feet if they are striped.)

I had other things to say about Copenhagen, but since I don’t remember them at the moment, I’ll just add that we took a day trip to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, up the coast from Copenhagen. They had a terrific exhibition of work by Jørn Utzon, the architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. The museum itself is lovely as well, with a painstakingly landscaped sculpture garden and panoramic views of the sea. Its incongruous name comes from the fact that its construction was financed by the “Louisiana Foundation,” whatever that is.

I would write more, but there are clothes to be washed, groceries to be purchased, and jobs to be applied for. Ah, the aftermath of a two-week vacation.

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