I lived in Denmark from January 2008 to June 2008 — almost seven months in total. I studied at the University of Copenhagen, but I really only took two classes (worth a whopping 8 credits each), besides my Danish class. They each met once per week, so I basically had five free days the whole time I lived there. It was amazing — one of the fabled “experiences of a lifetime.” I could talk about it for hours, really, but I’m going to opt for a few snippets instead of a narrative.
This donut shaped building was my dorm:
There were five floors, each divided into five blocks of 13 kids, with two of them usually being international students. Everyone shared a kitchen and a common room, but had their own bedroom. This was the view from mine:
One of the first things you notice about Denmark once you get there is that it’s expensive. Like, a kilo of ground beef (2lbs) is $20. You’re lucky if you can find a sandwich for lunch for under $10 ($15, really). You don’t go to restaurants unless you want to pay between $20 – $40 per entree, and this is at a no-frills typical sort of place. A half-liter (~ pint) of beer at a restaurant or bar will run you at least $10. Some things were decently priced like bread, milk, granola bars, frikadeller (meatball sort of things). I ate a bit of these things.
Also, grocery store culture in Denmark is weird. You tend to go every day or two because there are so many little ones around, and maybe because things cost so much that buying in small bursts helps you cope. Just a few nights ago, Annika and I were trying to remember how many I had around my semi-isolated dorm. Within a ten, fifteen-minute walk, there was a SuperBrugsen, two Nettos, a Døgn Netto, three Faktas, a Kvickly. At least. The funny thing is that they never were open. Not on Sundays, and they closed really early on Saturdays (like 4 or 5), and early during the week (like 7). You’d have to go to Døgn Netto (“Daily Netto”), the shittiest one, because it stayed open until 9 or 10. Most of these places had three aisles on average.
One great thing about Denmark is the light in summer. It’s not quite midnight sun, but it’s legitimately light out until about 10:30, and this is what midnight looks like:
It’s great. Winter is tough, but when I first got there it was light from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm. Doable, definitely.
Other great things about Denmark:
Public transportation is amazing. Could get almost anywhere by metro, train, bus, or a combo. Easy to take your bike on the metro.
Bike lanes on almost every street. Over 1/3 of all commuters in Copenhagen ride bikes.
You can drink on the streets and in parks, and you can buy single beers at any hour of the day, assuming you can find an open store.
Danish isn’t too different from English, at least in the written form. Pretty much everyone speaks English fluently. Very easy to communicate for English-speakers.
Most landscaping, roads, etc. are very well maintained.
When Danish people have a birthday or a more formal get-together, there are mini Danish flags everywhere. Look:
I never quite understood it.
Fans of yellow houses and orange roofs have a lot to ogle:
All around, a happy, fun, humble sort of place. I can’t wait to go back.
I have a lot of love for showers. When I first wake up, they take me from a resentful, trancelike fog to more of a slightly less resentful mist. There’s the warmth, the cleansing, the increasingly lucid thoughts that still keep a dreamy edge, where ideas wobble between subconscious and conscious. To me, this is one of the best moments of the day (notwithstanding the tiredness). Nonsense makes sense, and goddamn the heat and the water feel good.
Growing up, I liked the shower in my house so much that I felt even felt proud about it. When I’d stay overnight at someone’s house, I’d usually find something off-putting about their showers. Either they were too needly (the kind that stings so much you have to lurch away), or they had really low pressure, or they were too short, or they couldn’t get hot enough, or they were too lopsided (the kind where most of the streams coalesce into one slow, straight down gush, leaving a few regular streams unable to cover your whole body).
What’s funny is that eventually I came to find something off-putting about that same shower at my parents house. When I studied abroad in Denmark I had a crazy bathroom that got me used to a totally different showering experience. First of all, there were heated tiles in the bathroom, which were always set to beachy warm. This made getting out of the shower more comfortable and less of an ordeal. Like a lot of Euro-showers, there wasn’t really much separation between the shower and the rest of the bathroom; the shower floor is the bathroom floor. But this one had a half-inch “ledge” between the shower and the bathroom (with a drain only in the lower “shower area”). That meant I had a half-inch of time to shower before the rest of the bathroom flooded. This shouldn’t have been a big deal, especially because I had spent my first month in Denmark in an apartment where you got the toilet, walls, sink, and mirror wet when you showered. But because this bathroom seemed so luxurious, with its half-inch wall, heated tiles, and sleek Scandinavian design, I didn’t want to get things all wet. Plus, that little ledge was there for a reason. Of course the shower had low water pressure (the Danes are notorious energy and resource savers), which I kind of appreciated because it gave me a few extra moments before the water spilled over. Still, it was always a race to finish before I filled up the bathroom with the soapy suds from my DubbelDusch (hair and body wash). Over time, I got used to the routine and appreciated how the little ledge did a great job in making me take shorter showers and learn the value in it. I’m sure somewhere a Scandinavian designer is nodding solemnly about his job well done.
So, when I got home and first stepped over the two-foot high plastic wall into the shower and turned on the water, the torrential, gale-force surge wasn’t met with the same sort of enjoyment and pride as in my youth. Instead, I my emotions rushed from surprise to genuine awe to the sort of embarrassment you get when you see a picture of yourself from your dorkier days, wearing billowy XL T-shirts on your 13-year-old, 140 pound frame. Like: why didn’t I realize what the hell I was doing?
Like what I assume happens to most people, this embarrassment eventually faded and was replaced by the usual complacency toward comforts of real American living. Plus, now that I have a more efficient showerhead, I can take a little extra time to enjoy my shower, right?
Accents. We all have them, as much as we like to think we don’t.
Here’s some good ones.
You cannot get any more British than this guy:
Danish dude speaking English: http://web.ku.edu/~idea/europe/denmark/denmark4.mp3
Adorable little girl shows you don’t have to be an adult to have an incredibly thick accent.
Ahh.. to be back home…
Let me go on the record: exercise does make me feel better. It’s worth remembering this whenever I’m feeling lazy and or the weather isn’t perfect. Now, despite those years of cross country and track, I don’t love to run. I like it just fine, but I have to admit it kinda hurts and is a little boring.
That’s why hidden exercise is amazing. It doesn’t have to be a chore. It’s just something like playing catch or basketball or biking or yoga or foursquare or kicking around a soccer ball at 2 am in an empty parking lot (one of my favorite activities last summer). It’s fun, it hurts less, and you probably work out more than a long run. And more often than not it’s social.
I realize not everyone is like me and willing to take off running when they feel like it, but I think this sort of exercise is something everyone can get behind.
There’s nothing like being “in the zone” while playing music with others. It’s something everyone should experience at some point. For those who’ve never experienced this “zone,” let me explain what it is (besides a bad cliche). It’s the opposite of what’s commonly experienced when playing music with others (especially when first starting out), which is a whole bunch of self-consciousness and mistakes. Being in the zone means tuning out your thoughts and tuning in wholly to the music and the way you and others shape it. It means not having a plan — not knowing (or worrying about) what you’re going to play next — yet anticipating the next step. It’s like being a nudist — comfortable in spite of all you best and worst qualities being on display. It’s the point where mistakes are discoveries. Really, though, it’s a state of pure understanding. And you don’t even need to acknowledge you understand.
This, right here, is my real Favorite Thing. Music is just a great way to get a little taste.
I don’t want to say that making music with others is a “religious” experience. I think calling it religious implies too many unwarranted notions about rituals, belief, narrative, and what-have-you. So instead I’m tempted to call it a “spiritual” or a “transcendental” experience. After all, there’s something powerful and profound about being on the same wavelength as others and feeling “one” with a larger force. But words like “spiritual” are warm and marshmallowy, and like a real marshmallow we can mash them into whatever shape that suits us, we don’t really understand what the hell they are, and they do a horrible job of pinning something down – in this case, the “something” being the human element of making music. So instead of saying it’s a spiritual experience that transcends our normal lives – which it no doubt feels like – I think making music is essentially still a sort of deeper communication between ourselves and others, not between ourselves and some otherworldly force (otherworldly force, as in thinking that because a song can seemingly write itself, that some force took over). Instead, making music with others is more akin to a linguistic experience. It’s a language you listen to and speak at the same time. The notes, the rhythm, the timbre are the syntax; the song is at once the text and the subtext. The musicians are the writers, as well as the only readers. Each will interpret the meaning a differently, and outside of the realm of music they will find it impossible to fully articulate just what the hell came into existence when they and the other musicians jammed one out. To each, it won’t fully be their own creation, and they might chalk up any sort of seredipitous musical moment to some invisible hand or force. But, really, I think they understood all they needed to know the moment before they started thinking.
If you want to understand further, pick up an instrument and play.
I grew up in Green Bay during the 90s. So the question is not whether I’m a Packers fan, it’s how big of a fan I am. I’d say moderately big. I wouldn’t say I bleed green and gold, or cry green and gold, or even really wear much green and gold. But I gol-darn support the Green and Gold, you bet.
About 100,000 people live in Green Bay. The stadium holds 70,000 people, and the waiting-list for tickets is about half a lifetime. The Packers’ kicker lived on my street growing up, and many more lived in the neighborhood (Gilbert Brown, Robert Brooks, Tyrone Williams, Brett Favre!), albeit in the rich part around back. Some of their kids went to my grade school. Fucking Favre waved to me from his Chevy from Bergstrom Automotive (dealership he advertised) while I was waiting for the school bus. When the team won the Super Bowl in ’96 the town shut down. That night I remember driving around and honking our horns and every person we saw.
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that the Packers are so entrenched into Green Bay and my formative years that I really have a hard time explaining it to people not from there. Maybe you grew up in a city that had an NFL team. But it’s not the same because it’s not Green Bay and it’s not the Packers.
Now, I realize that pro football is pretty much a tremendous waste of resources, nurtures an unhealthy amount of masculinity, distracts people from real issues — all that fun shit. But it gives a lot of people something to look forward to, something to form relationships around, and it (along with the paper industry) pretty much is the reason Green Bay exists. Taking any sport too seriously is a problem, no doubt. But I think you can strike a decent balance. So I can forgive them for the evils they bring. Or at least the Packers.
They say there are cat-people and dog-people, but I don’t buy it. Not for me at least. I used to consider myself a dog-person, but that was probably because I grew up with a dog (a great dog, actually) and never really interacted with cats. Now I’d say I’m neither because I like the qualities of both.
So cats: this post is for you. Mostly because I want to make up for/apologize for lost time, and because I think you are too often misunderstood by so-called dog-people.
Now, dog-people, please don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t mean to be all “cats rule and dogs drool.” But when I think about it, that’s kind of a good place to start. Because dogs do drool. And cats do rule.
First big difference I learned about cats is that they can be very affectionate. I just had to learn that I needed to respect their rules. This was hard for me at first. Because, hey cat, you’re my pet. If I want to pet you now, I should be able to, right? …Nope. Often I sneak a quick pet or two in, but then it’s play time — and sometimes play time hurts. But the affection does eventually come; I just have to be patient. Although it can be frustrating at times, I’ve grown to like this about cats (or at least accept the truth of it). I think it speaks to a larger idea about our desire to enforce our will on our environment and on others — how it’s easy for us to treat everything like an object. Cats, though… they’re not going to let you treat them like an object. Hell, most of time you’re their object, and you just have to get over that fact. Once I did, it became a lot clearer that they do love you and are incredibly interested in you.
Another great thing about cats is how hilarious they are. My favorite thing Maja does is this sideways hop when she gets really playful. It’s kinda like what happens about 0:20 into this video:
Maja and I will have face-offs down the hallway like this. It’s the best. Other hilarious cat things: the chair hang, the tiny eeps (almost meows), the sleep-under-pipes-of-the-kitchen-sink, the incredibly urgent mews, the pounce-on-nothing, the play-with-things-not-even-close-to-toys, and a lot more.
I look forward to a time when I can handle taking care of a dog, but right now I’m glad that I’ve learned to appreciate cats.